Federal Allocations for WPA Projects in Jefferson County, 1935-1941

Discovering what happened at the local level is a challenge. WPA funds were given to counties and their departments of public health and public welfare, but also to cities, school boards, park boards, as well as the state highway department, archives, department of health, and geological survey for work in individual counties. Total federal allocations were tracked by state.

WPA funds were for wages only. Local funds provided materials and a match if required. In today’s dollars, a local worker paid $6.00 a day on a road building project would earn the equivalent weekly salary of $470. WPA jobs were not full-time jobs, nor were they permanent jobs. They did pay well.

WPA projects for Jefferson County are identified on index cards preserved on microfilm in the Birmingham Public Library Archives. From transcription of the microfilm, the following list of major projects and total expenditures has been compiled. While the index cards do not always identify individual projects, they do present the fullest picture available of the WPA’s employment relief efforts here.

WPA Allocations in Jefferson County


Millions of Dollars

City Streets 6.8
County Roads 5.2
Public Welfare 4.9
Public Buildings/Administration 4.9
Schools 4.5
Parks 3.7
Industrial Waterworks 3.4
Drainage/Sanitary Sewers 2.9
Public Health 1.9
State and Federal Highways 1.0
Military .7
Aviation .6
Total Allocation $44.3 million*
  * $690 million in today’s dollars

City Streets $6.8 million

Improve streets in Birmingham, Bessemer, Cahaba Village at Trussville, Fairfield, Homewood, Leeds, Lipscomb, Irondale, Tarrant, and Warrior.

Improve streets including grading, surfacing, constructing sidewalks, curbs, gutters and necessary drainage work. Surfacing materials include tar, tar and slag, slag, bit., concrete, and brick.

Repair brick pavement, taking up paving and relaying brick on sand cushions.

Produce slag for base material, bit., and concrete material for use on WPA project, operating “borrow” pits and chert pits.

Resurface alleys.

Beautify public drives.

Set street markers at intersections on city-owned property. The Birmingham city engineer provided the specifications and supervised the project.

County Roads $5.2 million

Improve roads, grading, draining, surfacing, straightening, widening, constructing, and reconstructing bridges and culverts on county and privately owned property. Work on private property includes detours, drainage ditches, and cleaning roadsides.

Bridge construction and repair.

Public Welfare $4.9 million

Sewing Rooms. Provide employment for needy persons in the maintenance and operation of sewing rooms. Products will be distributed free of charge to charitable institutions, or to the needy. Approximately 20 hours per month will be spent in training in methods of childcare and household management, total allocations to Birmingham and Jefferson County, $3 million.

Make mattresses by hand from government surplus cotton and ticking, distribute to needy families.

Weave rugs and other household items for free distribution to charitable institutions.

Renovate donated furniture to be donated to needy families free.

Repair, renovate clothing, mattresses, tents, cots, shoes, household supplies, and goods donated by federal government and local public institutions.

Make toys and gifts from purchased materials, $675,000, 1/36; make and repair cloth, wooden, and composition toys for free distribution in the City of Birmingham, 11/39, $343,404.

County-wide. Furnish free home assistance in housework and care of children in the houses of the needy where the homemaker is totally or partially incapacitated because of ill health or confinement, or in case of temporary emergency, 8/38, $112,498.

Public Buildings/ Administration $4.9 million

Public Buildings and Grounds, $2 million

Bessemer City Hall Addition and Auditorium.

Completion of the Birmingham Municipal Auditorium.

Improvements at Cedar Hill and Oak Hill Cemeteries.

Slossfield Negro Youth Training Center; Administration, Clinic, Education, and Recreational Buildings (North Birmingham).

Snow Rogers Community Center (near Gardendale).

Birmingham City Street and Garbage Department Stable and Garage, 1940.

Additions to Birmingham’s Southside Jail.

A community house and auditorium at East Lake.

Municipal Building, Fairfield, 1940.

Brick and stone jail, welfare building, fire station building, Leeds.

Street decorations, permanent float chassis, costumes, and parade equipment to be used by sponsor (the City of Birmingham) in the decoration of streets and parks.

Public Administration, $2.9 million

Conduct studies for the Housing Authority of the Birmingham District: 1. a real property survey of the metropolitan area of Birmingham, land use, land coverage and type, construction, condition, facilities, rental value, # of persons per room of dwelling units and structures. Data on family income within a limited area also collated and tabulated. Results will provide up-to-date information on substandard housing, vacancies, doubling up income levels, and other matters necessary for developing plans for low-rent housing and slum clearance as well as other types of zoning. 2. A study of the demand for low rent housing in Birmingham, Bessemer, Brighton, Fairfield, Homewood, Irondale, Tarrant, and Jefferson County for the Housing Authority of the Birmingham District cost, $850,000.

Inventory, catalog, index, and transcribe archival materials.

Prepare maps of sanitary sewers, tunnels, water mains, service lines, manholes and catch basins.

Provide employment for needy professionals, educational and clerical persons who will assist in organizing library services for the Birmingham Public Library, indexing, typing cards, and copying records and reports.

Prepare a study of juvenile delinquency.

Index Jefferson County Circuit Court records, Sheriff’s execution dockets, case records of the Court of Domestic Relations and Juvenile Court, and a record of prisoners received and discharged from the county jail, 1895-1935.

For the county, prepare report on expenditures, 1921-1935; install a new record and procedure for taking and maintaining an inventory of equipment and supplies owned by the county.

For the county, install a new record and procedure for real property evaluation for tax assessment purposes by preparing and revising records of real property, etc. 41% sponsor funds. Today these tax assessor records located at BPL Archives, provide researchers valuable documentation on historic properties, including photographs from the late 1930s.

Schools $4.5 million

Birmingham schools painting and repairs to all elementary and high schools; new construction of the Snow Rogers School and a community house;  additions to Industrial High (Parker), Ramsey High (auditorium, cafeteria, classrooms), and West End High School (auditorium, cafeteria, and home economics wing); conversion of existing buildings for Tuggle, Lincoln, and South Highland Schools; additions to Barrett, Belview Heights, Council, Curry, Gibson (amphitheatre seats), Graymont, Minnie Holman, Inglenook, Lakeview, Lincoln, 17th Avenue, 30th Street, Tuggle, Wilson, and Woodlawn Schools; WPA-NYA additions to Public School Buildings; facilities improvement at Alley, Baker, Council, Gate City, Gorgas, and West End Schools; school lunch program, $2 million.

Jefferson County schools, repairs to more than 135 schools: new schools at McAdory and Gardendale; additions to Riley, Gardendale, Huffman, and Hooper City Schools; improvements to grounds and athletic facilities, including landscaping, draining, constructing driveways, walkways, walls, steps, and curbs; cleaning, grubbing, excavating, installing drainage facilities, sodding, planting grass and shrubs; school lunch program, $1.7 million.

Fairfield, repairs, additions to several schools, a new high school at 59th Street; athletic fields, stadium, bleacher seats at Fairfield High School.

Homewood, construct Rosedale School.

Tarrant High School, addition.

Warrior, school auditorium, landscape grounds.

Alabama Boy’s Industrial School at Roebuck, additions to existing campus, $184,000.

Alabama Training School for Girls at Chalkville, construction of a new campus, $506,631.

Draining, grading, and landscaping school grounds at city and county schools.

Improvements to school playgrounds and athletic facilities, including constructing bleacher seats, walks, landscaping, steps, backstops, tennis courts, and drives and operating quarries to produce materials for use on this project.

School lunch program for needy students in Jefferson County, 1937-38, $54,435.

Support to school administrative personnel.

Bind, rebind, and repair books; make and repair window shades, renovate bus cushions, clean, scrape, sand, and varnish school furniture and equipment, plant shrubbery and trim trees on school grounds, repaint interior and replaster schools.

Parks $3.7 million

Oak Mountain State Park, $.8 million (for the Recreational Demonstrational area, not including the CCC improvements, these allocations to Jefferson and Shelby Counties, $.8 million.

Birmingham Parks, $1.7 million, improvements to Avondale, East Lake, Lane, McLendon, Woodrow Wilson and 24 other parks, build 4 swimming pools, improve playgrounds, build 20 roller skating rinks, construct a community center in Central Park, improve Municipal Stadium (Legion Field).

Improve drainage and build masonry dams on the Roebuck Springs Golf Course (Hawkins Park).

Improve parks throughout the city, work includes construction of recreation facilities, shelter buildings, walks, bleacher seats, and baseball diamonds, surfacing tennis courts, opening quarries to produce materials for use in the project.

Construct fish hatchery basins in Lane Park (today’s zoo ponds).

Construct a concrete shaft and move and erect Vulcan statue in Park on Red Mountain, near Birmingham (today’s Vulcan Park).

Fairfield, a colored playground, $60,000.

To Birmingham, Bessemer, Homewood, Leeds, and Jefferson County funds for park and playground staff.

Waterwork $3.5 million

The Industrial Waterworks System Construct a Distribution Reservoir and Distribution Line for the Birmingham Industrial Water Supply System located in Jefferson County, near Mt. Pinson, and the opening and operating of a limestone quarry, stone crushers, and screens for furnishing stone and [illegible] for impounding the Dam for the above system located in Blount Co., near Inland. Quarry is a public quarry, work on public property in addition to projects specifically approved. No local match. Funded 12/35, 10/36, 4/37, 2/38.

Construct water system for Pleasant Grove.

Construct waterline to children’s fresh air camp, located 7 miles south of Birmingham on Shades Mt.

Drainage/Sanitary Sewers $2.9 million

Citywide storm water drainage and sanitary sewer construction projects in Birmingham, Bessemer, Homewood, Leeds, and Tarrant City. Typical project included excavating, cleaning, grussing, constructing manholes, drainage ditches, culverts, and retaining walls; deepening, widening and straightening banks and shaping canals and ditches. Grade, clean, slope banks and rip-rap masonry for ditches.

Projects mentioned by name:

  • Cahaba River at Leeds, deepened, widened, straightened.
  • Greenwood Homestead, drainage canals and ditches straightened and shaped.
  • Village Creek Canal, widened and straightened.
  • Sanitary sewers in Enon Ridge, Ensley, Hollywood sections of Homewood, Hyde Park Settlement, Milner Heights, Mountain Brook Estates, near Powderly, Titusville, Trotwood district, and Wylam.

Public Health $1.9 million

Abandoned coal mines were sealed to prevent spillage into area water supplies.

Hillman Hospital Clinic for needy patients was constructed and staffed by needy physicians and nurses. $400,000. Until the completion of the Jefferson Hospital (now Tower) in 1940 (funded by the Public Works Administration-PWA), Hillman was the principal hospital providing services to indigent persons.

TB Clinics and the Sanatorium Building (the latter at today’s Lakeshore Foundation in Homewood) were constructed and staffed by needy nurses and doctors.

Conduct a public health education program, lecturing before civic groups; promoting and organizing local study groups; preparing, delivering, and distributing copies of a series of radio health talks; preparing and distributing health pamphlets, posters, recordings for phonographs and radio use, and preparing and displaying health exhibits.

Clean and spray vacant lots to prevent mosquito and rodent breeding.

Prepare an inventory and record of dogs in Jefferson County, showing the names and addresses of owners, number and breed, sex and age, and date of immunization or inoculation against rabies. To aid in controlling and preventing rabies.

Transcribe birth and death records.

Survey blighted areas to determine cost of necessary sewers and health improvements.

Investigate coagulation of sewage using salt.

State and Federal Highways $1.0 million

Improve US 31 including surfacing and shoulders.

Grade, drain, and improve US 31 from North Birmingham to Lewisburg, 1936.

Improve US 31 from Homewood to top of Shades Mountain, operate borrow pits.

Improve US 11 on First Avenue from 85th Street to Cozy Corner.

Improve Third Avenue.

Improve state highway from Avondale to Irondale, operate borrow pits to produce materials.

Improve county-owned road from Shades Tavern to Walkers Gap and from Green Springs to Avenue G in Birmingham.

Military $.7 million

National Guard armories were built at McLendon Park (the Graymont Armory) and Lewisburg. At the Municipal Airport, an administrative building, taxiways, and a hanger were built. Armory additions, truck sheds, and rifle ranges were also built at locations not identified.

Aviation $.6 million

Roberts Field was improved and a hanger, shop, garage, groundwork, runways and lighting were built at the Birmingham Municipal Airport. Airports were built at Bessemer and Warrior.

--from the Birmingham Historical Society Newsletter, November 2009

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