WPA-NYA-TVA Projects Helped Build Benton County

By Nell Morisette
NewsTribune Special Columnist

During the inauguration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in January 1935, several emergency programs were proposed and were later enacted into law. Among these were the Work Progress Administration (W.P.A.), National Youth Administrations (N.Y.A.), and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). The aim of these programs was to provide work for millions of unemployed during the depression of the 1930's and lift the country out of the depression.

The Work Progress Administration was enacted in May 1935. It's purpose was employment and useful projects. It was aimed at the family man who was out of work and needed some kind of assistance. The men were put to work in Benton County building roads, bridges, public buildings and digging drainage ditches. The roads were build with picks, shovels and wheel barrows. The pay was .27¢ per hour or $2.16 per day. Many men had to walk three and a half miles to the job.

It was some what restricted as just anyone could now work for the W.P.A. One hired to work for the W.P.A. had to be in destitute condition. If they owned a team of mules, they were not eligible. Another project of the W.P.A. was building outdoor toilets throughout the country. They were the pit type with a single stool. All of these toilets were built on the same pattern. Approximately four feet by four feet square built over a pit dug into the ground. The pit was approximately four feet square and six feet deep. This was a picture of one. These toilets received many names such as: Roosevelt Bungalows, Roosevelt Backhouse, Pivy, Sugar Shack, necessary House, One Holers and several others.


The W.P.A. also began projects in which women were employed in the different communities. One project was making cotton mattresses. With this project, the cotton mattresses began to be phased out. Then another project was to raise a garden and can the vegetables to be used in the soup kitchens at the schools. The first hot meal program for the Benton County schools was the soup kitchen. The W.P.A. employed woman to do the preparing of the meals at the schools. It was free tot he needy, but cost .02¢ per day to those that could pay to cover the cost of the crackers.

The National Youth Administration was designed to provide work and training for the unmarried teenage boys. They were put to work in building projects and in trade school. The "Soup kitchens" at these schools were started during this time and these young men built the rooms at these schools. They helped build the first picnic pavilion and the first caretaker house at Pilot Knob in 1939. In 1941 they build a greenhouse at Pilot Knob. Some of the young men were sent to Pickwick, McKenzie and to Dickson to N.Y.A. camps, which taught skills in wood working, carpentry, mechanics and other useful skills. The pay for the project was .10¢ per hour, or $1.00 for a ten hour day.

The Tennessee Valley Authority Act was enacted by Congress in May 1933. The T.V.A.'s purpose was flood control, power generation, navigation and recreation. The harnessing of the Tennessee River entailed the building of a series of dual purpose dams for power generation and flood control. The first dams were built up river from Benton County, but in the late 1930's the Gilbertsville, Kentucky dam was proposed and construction began. This project would affect Benton County very drastically. It called for the impounding of Kentucky Land, which would put much of the productive farming land under water.

The bottom land that was to be flooded had to be cleared of all timber and improvements. All houses, barns, schools and fences had to be removed and all cemeteries and roads had to be relocated.

In late 1947, the Benton County board of Public Utilities was chartered and ran T.V.A. power lines to every home in Benton County that wanted it.

The New Johnsonville T.V.A. power generation plant was built in the late 1940's. It provided work during its building and operation for many Benton County people.

During the period of putting in the power lines in the county, a company named Wally's Construction Company also provided jobs for the people in Benton County.

My father, Willie Melton worked for the W.P.A. Wally's Construction Company and later retired from T.V.A.

This picture shown below was made in 1953 of the T.V.A. Steam Plant at New Johnsonville, Tennessee.



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