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Relief Programs in McHenry County

Melanie Gray
Crystal Lake South High School, Crystal Lake

On Tuesday, October 29, 1929, the stock market plunged and the country's already-weak economy worsened. The Great Depression, as the following troubled time is called, lasted from 1929 to 1939. It affected people from all walks of life and had a great impact on McHenry County as well. Many federal and local programs organized to help lift the country out of the Depression.

Many of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal programs were established in McHenry County. The Civil Works Administration (CWA) was among them. The purpose of the CWA was to provide jobs and income for the unemployed. It was established in November 1933. Soon after its founding, the CWA was hard at work in McHenry County. By December 7, 1933, forty-nine men were already employed on city-wide projects in Crystal Lake. Those men were paid fifty cents per hour for a thirty-hour week. The new employees helped to improve the community. They improved schools, filled in sidewalks, and built parks.

The CWA continued its efforts to keep people employed in McHenry County through several additional projects. The men employed by the Civil Works Administration also built playgrounds and provided tree-trimming services. By January 1933 more than two thousand people had registered for work in McHenry County, and a second request for funds was made to the federal government. At the end of January 1934 CWA working hours were shortened to three days a week for six hours a day. That revision allowed for all 851 men to stay on the payroll. All seemed well until February, when 178 workers were dismissed, reducing the local CWA work force from 758 to 575 men. On March 31,1934, the Civil Works Administration was discontinued in McHenry County, but not all was lost. The CWA helped many people survive through the winter of 1933-34.

Government programs operating under many different names put people to work on community improvement projects. This community building in Glen Ellyn was constructed with New Deal money.

Glen Ellyn Community Building


Other federal organizations also existed in McHenry County during the Great Depression. Among them were the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Agricultural Adjustment Association (AAA). The CCC was formed to employ the needy people of America. It provided jobs for young men, usually between the ages of 18 to 25, to clean up forests or national parks. In July 1934 about forty-four boys were sent from McHenry County to work for the CCC. The AAA also played a critical role in McHenry County. A corn-hog program was developed to balance the supply and demand of both corn and hogs. In March 1934 the dairy farmers of Illinois were given a proposal from the AAA. The plan regulated the purchase of dairy goods. The AAA also directed a soil conservation effort in McHenry County. These were two more of FDR's New Deal programs that worked to benefit McHenry County.

Financial programs were also part of Roosevelt's plan for recovery. Two touched McHenry County. They were the Home Owner's Loan Corporation (HOLC) and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). The purpose of the HOLC was to grant loans so people could make house payments; the HOLC was present in Crystal Lake by January 1934. The attorney for the Home Owner's Loan Corporation wrote a letter to the Crystal Lake Herald explaining why there was a delay in granting loans. Supposedly, the delay was due to incomplete or inaccurate loan applications. Later the HOLC granted loans more quickly.

The FDIC first made its debut in Crystal Lake and the surrounding area in January 1934. The local banks were required to insure all deposits up to $2,500. After July 1, 1934, the banks insured investments of up to $10,000. This meant that investors were insured against all losses, therefore restoring confidence in the banks. Interest rates were also reduced from three to two percent on July 1, 1934. Those two programs immensely aided the financial recovery of McHenry County.

Federal programs were not the only means for McHenry County to acquire aid. There were many locally based efforts during the Depression. For example, several charity benefits were held. Most were sponsored by the Lion's Club. For many of the events, admission was an article of food or clothing. The collected goods were then distributed to the needy throughout the county. At one such event, held at the El Trovar Theater, one thousand people attended. The Crystal Lake Park District was also there to serve the needy. The Park District donated several hundred dollars to the Public Welfare Association in December 1933.

The Great Depression lasted from 1929 to 1939. Throughout those years many efforts developed in McHenry County to help ease both the financial and unemployment problems of the area. Many were federally funded programs from Roosevelt's New Deal. Others were locally based. Many accomplished their goals.[From Crystal Lake Herald, Dec. 7, 14, and 21, 1933; Jan. 4, 11, 25, Feb. 22, Mar. 29, May 10, July 1 and 18, 1934.]


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