Newport News Virginia New Deal Projects - Photo #31 - Ferguson Park

Photo: US Library of Congress (1941) [1].

Historical marker Should pre-WWII projects paid out of FDR-administration military budgets to provide off-base housing for civilian families working on military projects be considered New Deal?

Under Public Act 671, approved June 28, 1940, the United States Housing Authority was authorized, with the approval of the President, to cooperate in making necessary housing available for persons engaged in national defense activities. Under this act, the Housing Authority and the Navy and the War Departments were permitted to construct public housing at or near military or naval posts for married enlisted men and for employees of the Navy and the War Departments who were assigned to duty at naval or military posts. The determination of which agency of the government should construct the housing rested with the President. When housing was built by the Army or the Navy, the Housing Authority was authorized to furnish funds and technical assistance for such construction. Such housing was to be leased to, and operated by, the War or the Navy Departments, with the title remaining with the United States Housing Authority.[3]

On September 9, 1940, Public Act No. 781 (76th Congress) gave funds amounting to $100,000,000 to the President, for allocation to the Navy and the War Departments, for the acquisition of land and the construction of housing unit near posts and bases and privately owned industrial plants engaged in defense activities. The average unit cost of such housing projects was not to exceed $3,500 per family unit, including the acquisition of land, installation of necessary utilities, roads, walks, accessories, and collateral costs. By the close of 1940, the Navy had been granted a total of $56,822,500 for the construction of defense housing. Part of this amount came from funds granted by Congress to the Federal Works Administrator (under the Lanham Act, Public Act No. 849, approved October 14, 1940) to provide housing for persons engaged in national-defense activities, including the Army and the Navy.[4]

Ferguson Park was a housing development for Newport News shipyard workers located at the James River Bridge in Newport News and named after Homer L. Ferguson, President of the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company through two world wars and the Great Depression.[6] “Defense housing. Ferguson Park, Newport News, Virginia. A 1200-unit project built by the Navy at a cost of $3,500,882 to house civilian workers employed in the shipbuilding yards. Units have from one to four bedrooms and rentals range from $30 to $35 a month, including up to $3.70 worth of utilities.“[1]  Nearby Aberdeen Gardens, a PWA project, also housed mainly Newport News shipyard workers.
The primary problem in construction was obtaining and holding labor. This was attributable to the site's relative isolation and to the fact that there was plenty of work to be done at the nearest population centers, Norfolk, Newport News, and other Hampton Roads communities. It was especially difficult to get pier builders.[2]
Newport News, Va. - As a result of the expansion of shipbuilding activities at Newport News, Va., housing accommodations for the influx of workers were inadequate and gradually became nonexistent. To establish suitable and sufficient living quarters for workers and their families, a 1,200-unit defense housing project was put under construction on November 1, 1940. Construction consisted of 100 twelve-family units with all necessary utilities, roads, and accessories. Foundations were of concrete; exterior walls and roofs, of prefabricated metal sections. Exterior walls were covered with asphalt-impregnated fiber board and asbestos shingles. Roof covering was of metal. Each twelve-family unit was a two-story structure with several one-story extensions. One of the main factors underlying the choice of design was the bolted type of construction which would facilitate the removal of the structures with the utmost dispatch and the least waste should the occasion arise. Furthermore, this type was particularly adaptable to speed of erection. This housing project, named Ferguson Park, was usably complete on July 29, 1941.[5]

To provide emergency accommodation for shipbuilders on the eve of World War II, the U. S. Navy set up a 5,000 person housing development in 1940 on 68 acres between Warwick Road and James River. The first tenants moved into 100 prefab buildings in the fall of 1941. Ferguson Park, which honored Shipyard President Homer L. Ferguson (1873-1953), was vacated and razed beginning Sept. 1, 1965. Nine streets bore names of Newport News-built warships.[6]

  1. Defense Housing, Ferguson Park, Newport News, Virginia, US Library of Congress, Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection, LC-USE6-D-000949, accessed 20 July 2017.
  2. Building the Navy's Bases in World War II: History of the Bureau of Yards and Docks and the Civil Engineer Corps, 1940-1946, Part II, The Continental Bases, Department of the Navy Bureau of Yards and Docks, p.312. Accessed at 20 July 2017.
  3. ibid., p.370.
  4. ibid., p.378.
  5. ibid., p.372. This goes on and on, e.g. " the end of August, 95 per cent of all housing facilities started with these funds were occupied in whole or in part by tenants. In the last half of 1941, the Navy received $5,118,336 from the Federal Works Agency..."  At times the line between between civilian and military New Deal expenditures were fuzzy (as when the PWA paid to build warships).
  6. Ferguson Park Historical Marker (1967), HMdb: The Historical Marker Database, accessed 20 July 2017.
  7. VA Southside Archives... Postings here suggest there was another community like this, called Copeland Park, 39th to 48th Street (but what avenue?), bulldozed in the 1950s. And another for Black workers called Newsome Park, which still exists (see this oral history for some memories and photos). A similar development, Hilton Village was built for World War I Newport News shipyard workers; it is recognized as the United States' first federal war-housing project.