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Works Progress Administration (WPA) in New Mexico and Texas – An Update

A previous blog post discussed a small sample of Works Progress Administration (WPA) sites from the midwest as an addendum to my El Palacio Magazine winter 2020 article on New Mexico WPA sites. Since the publication of that article, I have travelled through New Mexico and other other parts of the United States to find and photograph other WPA sites. Future travel will take me to the east coast of the United States which will add even more WPA sites to my portfolio. This post updates my previous post on WPA sites located in the midwest. You can also see images of WPA sites I have taken in New Mexico.

An integral part of the history of the United States in the 1930s was the Dust Bowl. The areas most severely affected included southeastern Colorado, western Kansas, southwestern Nebraska, the Oklahoma panhandle, northwest Texas including the Texas panhandle, and northeastern New Mexico. One New Mexico community particularly hard hit by the Dust Bowl was Clayton, New Mexico, located in Union Country in the northeast corner of New Mexico. The Herzstein Memorial Museum in Clayton includes exhibits on the Dust Bowl and WPA and is well worth the visit. While not a WPA site, the front facade of Art’s Barber Shop in Clayton pays homage to the Dust Bowl (see above door and air conditioner in image below). The WPA inset is located just to the left of this building on the sidewalk

Color Archival Pigment Print Works Dust Bowl Progress Administration WPA FDR Franklin Roosevelt New Deal Great Depression American Southwest Clayton New Mexico
Art’s Barber Shop, Clayton, New Mexico, June 8, 2022 (with WPA sidewalk inset)

The image below is of one of the buildings that make up the Clayton School Complex built by WPA. This Pueblo Revivalist building is on the campus of the Clayton High School but is currently not in use. The main school building adjacent to this building includes furniture and other items built by WPA. The Max Geary Ag Building on South 6th Street of the School Complex was also built by WPA.

Color Archival Pigment Print Works Progress Administration WPA FDR Franklin Roosevelt New Deal Great Depression American Southwest Clayton School Building Clayton New Mexico
Clayton School Building, Clayton, New Mexico, June 8, 2022

I also visited the Village of Maxwell, New Mexico which is located between Springer and Raton, New Mexico along Highway 25. Two WPA buildings are in Maxwell, a gymnasium and a village hall which are both still in use.

Color Archival Pigment Print Works Progress Administration WPA FDR Franklin Roosevelt New Deal Great Depression American Southwest School Gym Gymnasium Maxwell New Mexico
School Gym, Maxwell, New Mexico, June 7, 2022
Color Archival Pigment Print Works Progress Administration WPA FDR Franklin Roosevelt New Deal Great Depression American Southwest Village Hall Maxwell New Mexico
Village Hall, Maxwell, New Mexico, June 7, 2022

I made separate trips to Texas in March and October (the October trip included travel to Las Cruces and other parts of southern New Mexico). The March trip to Texas covered many cities and towns along Highway 287 that connects Amarillo and Fort Worth and while the return trip included many parts of southwest Texas. One particularly beautiful building is the Childress High School Gymnasium which was built in 1939 using WPA sister agency Public Works Administration (PWA) funding. Evident in the image below is the intricate brick work in this Italian Renaissance style building.

Color Archival Pigment Print Works Progress Administration WPA FDR Franklin Roosevelt New Deal Great Depression American Southwest Childress High School Gymnasium Childress Texas American Southwest
Childress High School Gymnasium, Childress, Texas, March 16, 2022

One of the more famous (or infamous) WPA sites is the Dealey Plaza Park. Completed in 1941, it was built to honor G.B. Dealey, an important civic leader in Dallas. The Texas School Book Depository and grassy knoll can be seen in the background of the image below.

Color Archival Pigment Print Dealey Plaza Dallas Texas Works Progress Administration WPA Kennedy Assassination Texas Book Depository American History Sothwest
Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas, March 19, 2022

There were quite a few Art Deco buildings built by WPA or PWA (including the Roosevelt County Courthouse in Portales, New Mexico and the Will Rogers High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma). One of Texas Art Deco buildings is the Childress County Courthouse in Childress, Texas. It was designed by Amarillo architects Townes & Funk, completed in 1939, and replaced an earlier courthouse built in 1891. Townes & Funk also designed other courthouses in the Texas Panhandle.

Color Archival Pigment Print Works Progress Administration WPA FDR Franklin Roosevelt New Deal Great Depression American Southwest Childress County Courthouse Childress Texas American Southwest Art Deco Architecture
Childress County Courthouse, Childress, Texas, March 16, 2022

Located northeast of Dallas, Denison Texas has three PWA school projects, including the Houston Elementary School in the image below. Built in 1939, it educates 202 students in Prekindergarten through 4th grade.

Color Archival Pigment Print Houston Elementary School Denison Texas American Southwest Works Progress Administration WPA FDR Franklin Roosevelt Great Depression New Deal American History
Houston Elementary School, Denison, Texas, March 18, 2022

The second trip to Texas included a trip to the Fort Bliss National Cemetery just east of El Paso. WPA built the stone wall that encompasses the cemetery which was completed in 1940. In making the image below, I was careful not to show the faces of the tombstones per the request of Ft. Bliss personnel.

Color Archival Pigment Print New Mexico Works Progress Administration WPA FDR Franklin Roosevelt New Deal Great Depression American Southwest Fort Bliss National Cemetery El Paso Texas Stone Rock Wall
Fort Bliss National Cemetery, Fort Bliss, Texas, October 27, 2022

One of the issues that comes up when shooting WPA and PWA sites is that the condition of these sites varies greatly. Many of the site are maintained but some are less so. Since many of these sites were built in the 1930s, it is not surprising that some have fallen into disrepair. One such site is the Socorro Grade School built in 1936. According to a local resident, the building is soon to be demolished. I was fortunate to capture what appears to be what was once the entrance to the school. The WPA sign is just above the entrance.

Color Archival Pigment Print New Mexico Works Progress Administration WPA FDR Franklin Roosevelt New Deal Great Depression American Southwest Socorro Grade School Garfield Edward Torrres
Socorro Grade School, Socorro, New Mexico, October 26, 2022

South of Socorro is the city of Truth or Consequences. Originally known as Hot Springs, the city agreed to change its name to Truth or Consequences in response to an offer from the Truth or Consequences radio program game host Ralph Edwards to broadcast the 10th anniversary episode from the first city to rename itself to Truth or Consequences. The Sierra County Courthouse was built by WPA in 1938-1939 in the territorial Spanish architectural style. The architect was Wilfred Steadman. The WPA sign can be seen just outside the front entrance.

Color Archival Pigment Print New Mexico Works Progress Administration WPA FDR Franklin Roosevelt New Deal Great Depression American Southwest Sierra County Courthouse Truth or Consequences New Mexico
Sierra County Courthouse, Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, October 26, 2022

Located in the southeast part of New Mexico is the small town of Orogrande in Otero County. Orogrande (translates to “Big Gold”) is in the Jarilla Mountains of the Tularosa Basin located northeast of El Paso, southeast of White Sands National Park, and south of Alamogordo, New Mexico. A gold rush in 1905 brought the population to roughly 2,000 but the 2020 census indicates a population of 35. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oversees numerous abandoned mines in the area and other land in the area is managed by Fort Bliss. The Orogrande School was built by WPA in 1935 and served as a grade school until 1958. It also served as a community center from 1971 until its closing and is now abandoned. The bell above the front entrance can be seen in the image below.

Color Archival Pigment Print Orogrande School New Mexico Works Progress Administration WPA FDR Franklin Roosevelt New Deal Great Depression American Southwest Pueblo Revivalist Architecture
Orogrande School, Orogrande, New Mexico, October 29, 2022
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