By Bernard K. Means
Brent McKee, on his blog site New Deal of the Day, has suggested that May 6 should be “National WPA Remembrance Day,” in honor of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s signing of “Executive Order 7034 – Creating Machinery for the Works Progress Administration” on May 6, 1935—following authorization by Congress of the program on April 8, 1935. I certainly agree with Brent that we need more recognition of the lasting legacy of the WPA–and all other New Deal programs as well.
In honor of this hopefully future holiday, I include here excerpts from Edgar E. Augustine’s daily report for May 6, 1936–one full year after the official authorization of the WPA. On that day, Augustine and his work relief crew were laboring at the Montague site. Initial excavations on that site actually first took place in October and November of 1934 as part of a Civil Works Administration project, but most of the work was completed under the WPA from March to July 1936.
Augustine writes on May 6, 1936:
Working on the Montague site south of Somerfield. The southern side of this site on which we have found the burials will be completed tomorrow evening. Quite a number of interesting artifacts have been found on this section but it is probably that the central occupation was on the other end of the site and this section about completed was the burial ground of the village….. Three pits and two middens were hit today. These middens were not much more than shallow trenches of varying depth in which refuse from the camp was buried.
Augustine’s daily reports are invaluable to understanding exactly what happened at this site and other sites whose excavations he directed using WPA-funded work relief crews. As was true for all too many New Deal archaeology projects, little money was set aside to write up detailed results. Assistant Pennsylvania State Archaeologist Mary Butler (1939) did use Augustine’s findings to develop the Monongahela Culture concept to characterize the American Indian artifacts and sites found in Somerset County–but her published report only touches the surface of what Augustine and his men uncovered. Which, of course, leaves considerable research opportunities for today’s rising generation of archaeologists!