On Oct. 29, 1929, the Great Stock Market Crash brought American prosperity to its knees. 16 million shares changed hands on that day− a dramatic occurrence− but it was no more devastating than the creeping depression that had been sucking the life from small businesses and snatching land away from farmers.
The Federal government had tried various measures to slow the downward spiral, but when an intellectual and worldly Herbert Hoover inherited the problem, even his successful administrative experience was inadequate to stop it. It would take another war to pull the nation out of the depression, but unparalleled programs under President Franklin Roosevelt gave work to great numbers of the unemployed.
The Works Progress (later changed to Projects) Administration provided jobs for everyone from artists to road construction workers. The Civilian Conservation Corps provided work and training for a quarter of a million young men nationwide between 1933 and 1943.
CCC Camp #782 in Solon had about 100 workers engaged in conservation projects. In 1934, they worked at various soil erosion prevention projects, assisted farmers in building barriers for the control of cinch bugs, constructed the dam and cleared the lake bed for the most outstanding conservation and recreation project of its kind in the state – Lake Macbride.
The park included 900 acres and a 234-acre lake. When the lake bed was cleared and the dam finished, the diverted Mill Creek and Jordan Creek were turned back to fill the lake.
It was first called Mill Lake or Johnson Lake, but the official Lake Macbride was announced at the formal dedication on May 30, the name being the result of a contest sponsored by the Iowa City Chamber of Commerce with the winner receiving a $50 prize.
Part of the purpose of the CCC, aside from providing jobs and accomplishing valuable conservation measures, was to prepare the trainees for jobs outside of the Corps. In July, 1934, all trainees who had been at the Solon camp for one year or longer were mustered out to make room for new ones. This became a sort of graduation ceremony and celebration for the parents and friends of the trainees and the community at large. More than half of the men had been at the camp for the one-year limit, and they were considered qualified for a variety of different occupations, from bookkeeping to operating steam shovels.
The celebration started in the afternoon with baseball games and a three-round boxing match, an original song about CCC sung by trainee George Scott (with encores) and a performance by a Cedar Rapids dance school. After presentation of awards to the three most valuable men in the camp, Iowa City magician Leroy McGinnis entertained for a half hour, followed by a one-hour concert by the Penick and Ford concert band from Cedar Rapids.
It was expected that the lake would fill by September and the large shelter house and swimming beach would be completed. About half the available private home sites had sold, the roadways graded and about a mile of sewage pipe was waiting to be laid. The lake was expected to be ready, as scheduled, for its first official season the following summer.
Federally funded business started up across the nation to give out-of-work laborers honest work to earn a living. One such enterprise was a mattress factory in Iowa City. The citizens of Solon started their own recovery project, namely what was known as the “Renovizing” project. It urged home owners to raise the value of their property and prevent further deterioration by hiring out-of-work men to paint, repair and otherwise improve their homes. Now, in 2009, President Obama has put forth a similar proposal that would provide work for a number of laborers and craftsmen by hiring them to winterize the homes of certain qualified recipients. I seem to recall a similar project that was in existence during one of our “energy crises” 20-some years ago. Aimed at winterizing the homes of low-income families and the elderly, they performed such services as caulking windows, repairing roofs and installing storm windows and doors. The few examples I saw of the results of this program were not very impressive, but these were very limited examples. Even though the proposed project is intended to provide work, to conserve energy by making these homes more energy-efficient and, consequently, help reduce our dependency on fossil fuel, I have my doubts about its effectiveness. These measures have been tried before – none too successfully.