New Deal Agencies Built 233 Buildings in Utah

Becky Bartholomew
History Blazer, June 1996

The Great Depression hit Utah even harder than most other states. From 1932 to 1940 Utah’s unemployment rate averaged twenty-five percent. In 1933 it reached thirty-three percent. Only three other states suffered more severely. Because of this, federal relief efforts were especially intensive in Utah. Soon the state ranked ninth among the then forty-eight states in per capita federal spending. The percentage of Utahns employed in federal works programs was also far above the national average. Most of these works programs involved building construction.

Five different New Deal agencies administered the building programs during the depression: the Civil Works (CWA), Federal Emergency Relief (FERA), National Youth (NYA), Works Progress (WPA), and Public Works administrations (PWA). During the 1930s and early 1940s these five agencies funded 233 Utah public buildings.

One such building was the Minersville City Hall funded in Beaver County by FERA. It was built in 1935 to house the town’s post office, library, municipal offices, and Daughters of the Utah Pioneers camp. To save costs, stone for the hall was brought from a demolished building of the old Murdock Academy, which had been standing empty since 1922. Civilian Conservation Corps crews dismantled and hauled the stone to Minersville.

To the north, in Brigham City, the PWA sponsored another public building, the Box Elder High School Gymnasium. This was a more ambitious project, one of twenty Utah school gymnasiums built during the 1930s. Of red brick, the building cost $106,000. Its construction provided work not just for Brigham City laborers but for the Joseph Nelson architectural firm, an Idaho general contractor, a city building inspector, a Utah plumbing/heating/ventilating contractor, and a roofing/sheet metal specialist.

The design, acceptable for the time, provided for two gyms: a 7,000-square-foot boys’ gym with seating for 1,000 and a girls’ gym one-fourth that size. There was also a tiled swimming pool, locker rooms, classrooms, and a handball court.

Neither the Minersville City Hall nor the Box Elder Gymnasium—nor, for that matter, the other 231 courthouses, city halls, fire stations, armories, and school buildings that went up in Utah during the depression—would have been possible without New Deal assistance.

Source: Nomination Forms, National Register of Historic Places, for Minersville City Hall and Box Elder High School Gymnasium in Preservation Office files, Utah Division of State History.