Just as the Albion National Bank Crisis of 1912 indicated a profound instability of the local economy and the inability of local leaders to grapple with that, the Great Depression indicated instability at the national level. For the first time in our nation’s history, people realized that economic power was held by people far outside of their city limits, and that local economies were subject to sometimes dramatic transformation these outside forces.
The Great Depression brought unprecedented conditions of scarcity to Albion and cities throughout the country. Massive unemployment made it difficult for people to survive. Some moved to find work elsewhere, but many quickly realized there were few jobs available, few places to go.
National leaders became so concerned about the economic failure, and doubt this created about the future of the country, that they felt compelled to stage a response equally dramatic to the crisis going on.President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his New Deal provided work for people, even if the work did not have a clear purpose. It was seen as better that people were working than doing nothing at all. The Works Progress Administration, Civilian Conservation Corps, and other agencies were created to “make work.”
Four Depression era projects in Albion included construction of a new City Hall on Cass Street, repaving of the brick main street, construction of a band shell in Victory Park, and construction of several miles of stone wall along the Kalamazoo River.
Ribbon-cutting of Superior Street, October 17, 1940. Mayor Norman Weiner (left), Patricia VanWagoner then a student at Albion College (center), and Michigan State Highway Commissioner Murray D. VanWagoner who was also her uncle (right).
These projects were powerful signs of advancement and progress, though at the cost of loss of local control. For a federal government with expanding power was behind these initiatives, and once in power, would continue to hold power long after the Great Depression was over. And these supposed symbols of progress actually revealed the deepening economic transformation sweeping throughout the world.
While noteworthy public improvements were made with support of the federal government evidence of this crisis may be best seen in the failure to maintain private property and non-public buildings (like churches). Deferred maintenance of property indicated a dramatic loss of confidence in the future of Albion. This wear on people, machines, and buildings became perceptible over time. The Great Depression years were closely followed by World War II, where scarcity of resources became even more acute. So by the time the nation emerged from the war, American cities like Albion had taken a perceptible pounding and needed substantial help to overcome sustained neglect.