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Originally published Friday, July 4, 2014 at 10:03 AM

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When the Great Depression hit, county’s citizens rallied

Many relief efforts in the 1930s were started by concerned citizens. In King County, the self-help group called the Unemployed Citizens League was especially effective.


Special to The Seattle Times

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THE LONGEST pile in this Columbia City wood yard extended about 430 feet, stretching east of 32nd Avenue South along the south side of Alaska Street. The photograph’s caption dates it Sept. 26, 1934. We may say that this wood was paid for by the charisma of the president. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s popularity was almost spiritual. Under FDR’s command and with a new Congress’ cooperation, it was possible to fund both relief and public-works projects. Most of the federal money was managed by states. Here, it was the Washington Emergency Relief Administration that stacked these cords of fuel.

Many relief efforts in the 1930s were started by concerned citizens. In King County the self-help group called the Unemployed Citizens League was especially effective. After the financial crash of late 1929, unemployment snowballed through the cold months and kept rolling for years to come. The league responded. By New Year’s Day, 1932, the league’s swelling membership had harvested eight railroad carloads of surplus potatoes, pears and apples in Eastern Washington, borrowed fishing boats to catch and preserve 120,000 barrels of fish, and cut more than 10,000 cords of firewood.

Unemployment reached 25 percent in 1931. While government at most levels still did little, the league opened 18 commissaries throughout King County to distribute fuel and food into their “Republic of the Penniless.” When all was soon consumed, the new federals in the “other Washington” started spreading the wealth — from taxes — among the down-and-out with FDR’s New Deal of relief and public-works agencies.

This was government wood headed for delivery to the needy. Hawthorne School at 4100 39th Ave. S. appears on the right horizon in the “Then” photo by an unnamed photographer.

The gift of wood was a brief one. A 1936 aerial shows the block cleared of everything.

Check out Paul Dorpat and Jean Sherrard’s blog at www.pauldorpat.com.



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