Thanks to Cherokee Service for their support.
The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was a major government jobs program during the Great Depression that employed 8.5 million people between 1935 and 1943. The WPA included infrastructure and cultural projects and left a tremendous legacy. The remnants of several WPA projects can still be found in West St. Paul today.
WPA Projects in West St. Paul
There are a few known WPA projects right here in West St. Paul:
On the west side of Harmon Park, along Charlton, there’s an old stone wall that’s part of the original WPA work to improve the park and fields. Before the 2015 rebuild of the park, this wall surrounded a parking lot near the ball fields. A portion of the wall was preserved in 2015 and you can still see the “WPA 1941” stamps in a couple places on the wall.
There’s also a plaque near the corner of Charlton and Bernard memorializing the “Development of Harmon Play Field” as well as a number of stones and a “WPA 1940” block preserved from the original wall.
Sibley Junior High School
The WPA also constructed Sibley Junior High School at the corner of Bernard and Bidwell. It was the second of three schools named for Henry Sibley that would serve West St. Paul:
- Sibley Elementary (1887-1964)
- Sibley Junior High School (1936-1971) – The WPA building was expanded and renamed Sibley High School in 1952.
- Henry Sibley High School (1971-current)
The WPA work at Sibley happened between 1936 and 1941 (there are some conflicting dates). A decade later the building was expanded to the south and became the high school. In 1960, Frances Grass Junior High School was added to the school complex. In the late 1990s it was all torn down, except the gym and swimming pool, and replaced by Heritage Middle School.
Today there’s nothing left of the original WPA building.
For a grainy look at history, here’s a short film clip of the construction of Sibley High School in 1951. You get a glimpse of the original Sibley Junior High at 1:03 to 1:06 in the film—that newish looking brick building is likely the one built by the WPA.
The WPA’s infrastructure projects included roads, bridges, sewers, curbs, and even sidewalks. Some of those sidewalks can still be found in West St. Paul.
Of course a lot of West St. Paul sidewalk has been reconstructed since the 1930s. “But only the broken/settled/heaved concrete walk would have been replaced,” according to City Engineer Ross Beckwith. “Concrete can last a long time!”
The telltale WPA stamp will let you know it’s original WPA sidewalk, though with slabs being replaced as needed, there aren’t very many of those stamps left.
So far we’ve discovered three separate sections of sidewalk with WPA stamps:
- A two block stretch of Stryker Avenue has a total of seven WPA stamps from 1938.
- On Gorman there’s a sidewalk slab with a 1941 WPA stamp.
- On Dodd near Hedge Street there’s another slab with a 1941 stamp.
- It’s not a WPA stamp, but Cherokee has a stretch of sidewalk with multiple stamps from 1927.
Here’s a map showing those locations:
There are likely plenty of other WPA sidewalks, though it’s hard to know unless the slab with the WPA stamp and date was preserved. According to a Dakota County Historical Society article, there’s a stretch of sidewalk at Haskell and Gorman Avenues that the WPA built in 1937—but no handy stamps to confirm that info.
Take a walk and keep an eye out for WPA stamps. You’ll be looking for older sidewalk, which means areas of the city that would have had sidewalks 80 years ago. That’s mostly going to be the northern part of town. Let us know if you find any and we’ll add them to the map.
Nearby WPA Projects
If you want more WPA history, you can venture to nearby projects outside West St. Paul:
- Kaposia Park – 1937 – South St. Paul
- Mendota Overlook – 1938 – Mendota
- Baker Playground Building – 1938 – St. Paul
- Holman Airfield Administration Building – 1939 – St. Paul
- Wigington Pavilion – 1941 – St. Paul
(Both the Holman field building and Harriet Island pavilion were designed by Clarence “Cap” Wigington and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.)
Mendota also housed a WPA work camp on Highway 13, just south of Highway 62. The recreation hall chimney remains and the spot is marked with a historical marker. Learn more about this camp and the work of the WPA in Dakota County.
Learn how you can support West St. Paul Reader.