Texas Plains Trail Region

Participant in the Texas Historical Commission's
Texas Heritage Trails Program

New Deal Projects



The stock market crash in 1929 sent the U.S. economy plummeting along with it. By 1932, U.S. domestic industrial output had fallen more than 50 percent and unemployment was reaching 30 percent. Texas, a member of the predominantly rural South, was undergoing its own Dust Bowl disaster and suffered particular hardships all its own. But 1932 also saw the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who ushered in a dramatic change for the economy. Roosevelt introduced a package of federal regulations and massive public works programs designed to reinvigorate the country and provide Americans, including Texans, with jobs.

Called "The New Deal," Roosevelt's plan replaced the laissez-faire policies of the previous administration and created a lasting legacy of jobs, restoration, and cultural progress that can still be seen in our parks, museums, public institutions, music, and art. Programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps and those spearheaded by the Works Progress Administration provided employment, services, and infrastructure throughout Texas as well as the rest of the country. While the most important results were felt by Texans at the time—getting back to work—Roosevelt's New Deal legacy survives in post office murals, state park facilities, and public works projects across the state.

Map of Theme

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Legacy of Labor

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), part of Roosevelt’s plan to put Americans back to work, employed 2.5 million young men from 1933 to 1942, including almost 50,000 Texans. Men between the ages of 17 and 25 from families on relief were paid $30 a month ($25 of that was sent directly to their families) for two six-month terms of outdoor labor.

Although results of the massive jobs program can be seen in our park system (including facilities at Davis Mountains, Bastrop, Garner, and Palo Duro Canyon state parks), most of the work was devoted to soil conservation and erosion-control projects including seeding, planting trees, flood and forest fire prevention, and constructing new or improving existing roads, dams, and service buildings.

State assignments were random (thus, young men from across the country worked in the Texas camps), but the program also hired local craftsmen, teachers, architects, and engineers to assist in carrying out the vast number of projects. And because much of the architectural work performed by the CCC utilized native materials and vernacular designs, the program created a beautiful style all its own, one that can still be appreciated for its simple, rustic beauty in the pavilions, shelters, and cabins found in many of our state parks and historic sites.

Best Views Out of Town

Next time you’re driving across Texas and pass a roadside park—a group of sheltered picnic tables along remote stretches of the states highways and byways—do yourself (or your passengers and the family dog) a favor and stop for a break. Surprisingly, more than 200 roadside parks were built in Texas between 1935 and 1942 by taking advantage of a young labor force sponsored by the National Youth Administration (NYA), part of Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Employing American’s between 16 and 25 years of age who were not already full-time students helped accomplished the NYA’s four-part mission—education, employment, vocational training, and profitable use of time. As a result, dozens of simple, rustic-style roadside stops with picnic table and benches, shade trees, shelters, pathways, landscaping, and trash bins provided respite for thousands of Texans on the road. These Depression-era parks are distinct in their low profile, pleasant surroundings, and site selection—usually based on a terrific panorama of the countryside. So next time you’re on the road, give yourself a break and enjoy the view!


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Read more about New Deal agencies and programs in the Handbook of Texas Online.