President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1935 to provide jobs during a period of massive unemployment in the U.S. From 1935 to 1943, the WPA provided approximately 8 million jobs at a cost of over $11 billion. The project funded a great number of public buildings and facilities until prosperity returned in 1943 when Roosevelt terminated the WPA. The WPA, according to a February 13, 1936 Edmond Sun article, employed over 93,000 Oklahomans – the highest number of people employed with the 12 states comprising the southern region, with the exception of Texas which had a much higher number of employment. Edmond, Oklahoma is home to eight Works Progress Administration Projects.
In late 1934, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) announced it would provide funds to construct a rock wall on the east and south sides of Grace Lawn. WPA workers completed the wall in 1940. A WPA shield embedded in the cemetery wall reads: “USA, 1940, WPA, Oklahoma.”
The original section of Grace Lawn Cemetery is designed to resemble a wagon wheel in honor of the 1889ers that settled the town of Edmond.
In March 1934, the Edmond Kiwanis Club petitioned to have the park on Boulevard between fourth and fifth street, named in honor of Fred M. Stephenson for his services. The historic park is the central location of three W.P.A. projects including the Park’s northeast entrance and northwest marker (pictured above), stone walls and stone bridges that cross the waterway that runs through Stephenson Park and the historic Edmond Armory and American Legion Hut. Formerly known as “South Park,” the newly refurbished Stephenson Park of the thirties boasted of tennis and croquet courts, an elaborate rock garden in the ravine and the planting of trees and shrubs in 1934. The Park has many historic W.P.A. markers dating from 1934 to 1936.
The Civil Works Administration (C.W.A.), a Works Progress Administration branch, supplied funds for public projects such as building streets, bridges and schoolhouses as well as cleaning parks. In Edmond, the CWA improved Stephenson park by planting flowers, trees, shrubs, and building a large central rock garden.
The February 6, 1936, Edmond Sun edition announced plans to construct a needed community center between second and third Street, west of Broadway. The project, estimated to cost $15,000 – $20,000, was made real by the efforts of the Federated Women’s Club.
A copper box laid in the cornerstone on March 30, 1936, contained various items including a bible, history of early Edmond, rosters from local clubs and the March 1, 1917 and March 26, 1936 Edmond Sun. The community center opened on October 2, 1936. The interior consisted of a large auditorium and stage, clubroom and kitchen. The Edmond Senior Citizen Center was located in the building until 2005. The building formerly housed the City of Edmond Administrative Offices and is now the home of UR Special Ministries.
4. Edmond Armory, 1936431 S. Boulevard, Edmond OK
(Current day: Edmond History Museum & Museum)
In 1936, Edmond was allotted $45,000 to build a National Guard Armory. The WPA built this sandstone building, designed by Colonel Bryan Nolan, on the southeast corner of Stephenson Park. In 1972, the armory was given to the City of Edmond and used by the Parks and Recreation Department until 1983 when it became the Edmond Historic Community Center. The Edmond Historic Preservation Trust helped rehabilitate the facility into the Museum in the 1980s. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.
The armory housed the 179th Infantry Regiment of the 45th Division. The regiment was mobilized on September 16, 1940. It served in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France and Central Europe. In 1950, the 179th was called in to Korea.
The WPA sponsored 51 armories in Oklahoma, making the state a leader in armory buildings. A total of 126 armories, constructed of native stone or brick, were built in the United States. Each building contained a large drill hall as the principle enclosure and seated about 2,000 people. The armories had a modern target range for pistol and rifle practice in their basements. All of the armories were built from the same general plan; however, each had an individuality of construction.
East Edwards Street, Edmond OK (just North of the Art & Design Building)
On February 11, 1936, the PWA approved a $1,700,000 grant to seven state teachers’ colleges for construction of dormitories. At Central State Teacher College, two dorms, one to house 300 women and one to house 150 men, were planned. The Architect Guy Reid promised comfortable buildings that were more serviceable and “superior in design.”
Murdaugh Hall was the first to be built. It had two wings, a connecting terrace and a cafeteria open to all students. Accommodations in both dorms were the same. Dormitory rooms had two of everything: closets, beds, chest of drawers, desks, chairs and bookcases all made of high-grade maple as well as a lavatory and medicine cabinet.
The American Legion Hut, located on the southwest corner of Stephenson Park, was built in 1936 through help from the WPA. The native stone building cost approximately $7,000 to construct of which the Federal government provided all but $2,000. The American Legion post furnished the balance.
The building committee consisted of Sam Johnson, chairman; Frank Buell, Jr.; Fred Settle and William Thompson. John Drennon served as foreman. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993.
101 East First Street, Edmond, OK
Oil on Canvas Mural
Artist: Ila McAfee Turner
Painted in 1939 at the Edmond Post Office, Originally located at 101 E First.
This mural was a WPA project, commissioned in 1939. The painting hung in the lobby of the Edmond Post Office for decades. When the old post office was closed and the building was remodeled to eventually house the Edmond Municipal Courts, the new lobby did not have a location to hang the mural. The Turner mural is now hanging in the City Council Chambers of the same building.
Ila Mae McAfee (Turner) was born 1897 in the small ranching community of Sargents in southwestern Colorado near Gunnison. She died in 1995 in Pueblo, Colorado, where she moved after leaving her adobe home in Taos, New Mexico in late summer 1993.
She was raised on her family’s ranch south of Gunnison, and attended Logan County School, riding ten miles each way to school. In 1916, she graduated from Gunnison High School and then spent time in Los Angeles at the West Lake School before enrolling in Western State College (then a 2-year school) in 1917. After graduating in 1919, she went to Chicago and studied painting with the noted muralist James E. McBurney until 1924. Training at the Taft Studio with other art students, she obtained a substantial knowledge of sculpture and by assisting them when their work included animals.
During 1925 and 1926 she continued her studies in New York at the Art Students League and the National Academy of Design. In 1926 she married Elmer Page Turner, a fellow artist whom she had met at McBurney’s studio. The couple honeymooned in Taos and moved there permanently in 1928. They built the White Horse Studio on Armory Place, two blocks from the Plaza, and settled in for a lifetime of painting (with occasional forays into the decorative arts).
In addition to over a thousand easel paintings, which are represented in numerous public and private collections, Ila’s murals were placed in the post offices of Clifton, TX, Cordell and Edmond, OK and Gunnison, CO, as well as in the public library of Greeley, CO. She was a particular friend of the noted Western art collector, Lutcher Stark and painted fifteen portraits of Lutcher’s longhorns at ‘Shangri-La.’ She also received every award that could be won at the New Mexico State Fair professional juried show.
McAfee Turner’s paintings are featured in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Gilcrease Museum, the Museum of New Mexico and other art galleries across the southwest.
completed in 1946
Russell Dougherty was an Edmond, OK, native and the first graduate of Edmond High School killed in action during World War II at the age of 24. Dougherty was an Army Air Corps bomber pilot with the 307th Bomb Group known as the “Long Rangers.” He was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart. Russell Dougherty Elementary School was a W.P.A. project, named to honor him in 1947. In 2009, a statue of him was placed in front of the school.
Stones from the former Kingsley/Lowell School were used to build Russell Dougherty Elementary. The building served as a Junior High School until 1957, and then became an Elementary School, still in use today.
Russell Dougherty Biography
Russell Dougherty was born on August 7, 1918 and was the first Edmond High School graduate to die in World War II on April 19, 1943. He grew up on a farm in Edmond, Oklahoma and attended Edmond High School graduating in 1935. While in high school he was active in farmer club work, was on the wrestling team, and was voted outstanding citizen in his senior year. Russell went on to Central State College where he met and married his wife Winifred.
Dougherty enlisted in the army while attending Central State College on February 25, 1941 and was sent overseas in 1942 after he joined the Air Force. In the Air Force he became a pilot in the 307th Bombardment Group called the “Long Rangers” and was a Second Lieutenant stationed at Guadalcanal and was awarded an Air Medal with three Oak Clusters for missions there. On April 19, 1943 Dougherty and his crew took off on a mission when something went wrong with the plane and it crashed.
His son Russell Chris Dougherty was born June 28, 1943 two months after his death.
For more information about the W.P.A. in Oklahoma or to purchase the book: Leaning on Legacy: The WPA in Oklahoma by Marjorie Barton, CLICK HERE.