New Deal in Mississippi: National Youth Administration

Jackson Youth Center WP 4708 (1)

From ìW.P. 4708, Application #28: Jackson Youth Center Building. Courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

It has been a while since we have featured any New Deal projects, so I thought it time to update on some of the Mississippi examples.  One of my favorite programs was the National Youth Administration arm of the WPA.  Formed to provide training and employment to unemployed 17-25 year olds who were not in school, by 1939, the NYA in Mississippi had contributed over $750,000 of additional education facilities, such as school buildings, teachers homes, gymnasiums, and vocational shop buildings, many of which have been featured on Preservation in Mississippi. [See for example, Water Valley’s Jeff Davis Vocational Building, Hickory Flat’s Teacherage and Cafeteria, and Longview’s Vocational-Agricultural Building].

The Jackson Youth Center at 430 Hiawatha Street was constructed by the NYA in 1937 (Clarion-Ledger, October 11, 1939).  Architect Frank P. Gates and the NYA completed the construction of the early facility (MDAH Historic Resources Inventory) conceptualized by the Jackson Exchange Club in 1936 (History, Boys & Girls Club of Central Mississippi).  The Hiawatha Street facility served the Boys Club until a new facility was constructed in 1957 on Capitol Street.

Tupelo Woodworking and Auto Shop (1)

Front view of building housing Tupelo Woodworking and Auto Shop. This building, an old jail, had been abandoned by the city after a tornado, has been completely remodeled by the NYA. Courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History

After a new Tupelo jail was constructed in 1937, the National Youth Administration remodeled the former jail and utilized it as a training center and workshop.  The Tupelo NYA training included blacksmithing, cabinet making, metal working, painting, and office routine (Enterprise-Tocsin [Indianola], 9 Nov 1939, p. 1. The photo above (from the 1937-1939 NYA scrapbook) indicates the location on W. Jefferson by my best guess, as that appears to be the backside of the Jefferson Davis hotel visible in the right corner of the frame.  According to Joel Williamson’s Elvis Presley: A Southern Life (2014, Oxford University Press), when Vernon Presley was in jail 1937, it was most likely in the new jail built “recently” by the WPA.  Williamson referenced that county prisoners had been previously housed in the “run-down town jail” but after a new facility was constructed, white prisoners were transferred.  The reference to the NYA acquiring the tornado-damaged facility would have meant this facility was standing during the 1936 tornado of Tupelo.  Searching the newspaper archives has not yet revealed a definitive answer.

National Youth Administration training centers were established throughout Mississippi, and were similar to the CCC camps in that there were barracks for housing, dining hall, laundry facility, recreation facilities, and other structures needed to serve a resident population.  I can find no indication that any of the work training centers survived the wrecking ball, likely due to temporary construction and location on the outskirts of towns rendering reuse unlikely.  The map below is the architect’s rendering for the Greenwood center.

The_Greenwood_Commonwealth_Sat__Dec_21__1940_ (1)

Greenwood Commonwealth, December 21, 1940.

The notation of US Highway 82, the lake, and presence of a river provide a clue as to the location of the facility.  The Commonwealth (7 Sept 1940) described the location of the new training center as east of the Country Club, and adjoining Little Blue Lake, east of the lake.  Highway 82 crossed the lake.  That would have placed the location in the area of present day Greenwood in the annotated area of the map:

Screen shot of former Greenwood NYA training center

The Greenwood facility was expected to be operational by October 15th following the completion of the $100,000 construction.  A similar training center opened in October in Brookhaven.

Clarion_Ledger_Tue__Oct_7__1941_ (1)

Clarion-Ledger, Oct. 7, 1941

See more NYA in Mississippi:

Categories: Architectural Research, Brookhaven, Cool Old Places, Greenwood, Jackson, New Deal, Schools, Tupelo, Water Valley


4 replies

  1. The Greenwood buildings may have been utilized during WWII for a VD hospital and later as part of the original Golden Age Nursing Home, opened in 1954. I remember the frame structures from trips out to see “the old folks” in the late 1950s.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This is fascinating! I had no idea there was a Youth Administration.

    Liked by 1 person

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