Weathering hard times: Groveport in The Great Depression

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 Photos courtesy of the Groveport Heritage Museum
 The Groveport Bank on Front Street. The bank was established in 1904, but failed in 1931.
 
 Ice truck in Groveport, 1936. The ice business remained steady during the Depression due to the need for ice for refrigeration purposes.
 
 Big Walnut Power Station workers in 1938.

In 2008 the nation is facing a mortgage crisis, high costs for gasoline, and job losses on a wide scale. These problems bring to mind another era when times were even tougher – The Great Depression of the 1930s.

What was Groveport like then? Prior to the stock market crash of 1929, Groveport’s relative isolation and agricultural economy had made the village a self-sufficient, stable, comfortable community. The Great Depression that followed the stock market crash brought challenges to the community’s sense of self-sufficient independence.

The Great Depression hit Ohio hard. Businesses and individuals struggled to stay afloat amidst bank failures and scarce money. Unemployment in Ohio rose from 13.3 percent in 1930 to 37.3 percent in 1932.

However, evidence suggests Groveport and its neighboring farms weathered the Depression better than larger urban areas.

My mother, Jeannette (Woods) Palsgrove, who grew up on a farm in western Madison Township, was a little girl in the 1930s and remembers, "We didn’t feel the Depression much. We made everything we needed on the farm, except for salt and sugar, we had to buy that. We had our garden, our crops, made our own clothes, butchered our own animals…we rarely went to town except for school."

Like the local farms, the village adapted to the economic situation. Groveport in the 1930s was still primarily a farm town of small businesses and homes that hugged shady streets, many of which were still dirt paths. It was a quiet community of 946 people described by historian Opha Moore in 1930 as "among the best and prettiest in Central Ohio."

Businesses react

The Groveport Bank, once located on Front Street behind Groveport Town Hall, failed in 1931. The bank’s closure wiped out the savings of many of its customers and made money scarce in Groveport.

But besides the bank’s collapse other business failures in town appear to have been rare. For mutual survival, businesses negotiated payment plans with customers or worked out barter agreements.

Some businesses branched out to garner more business or made efforts to cut costs, like pharmacist Kenneth "Doc" Ackerman who operated Ackerman Drugs on Main Street. Ackerman compounded his own medicines, ointments, and powders using a book of formulas. He also carried and prepared veterinary medicines for farmers’ livestock. He kept his store open long hours to accommodate customers and would open up at odd hours when a customer had an urgent need.

While the small business people were hanging on, other people had to deal with job losses and no money. Sometimes a person could piece together several small jobs like husking corn or minor repair work.

The steadiest jobs belonged to those who worked at the Big Walnut Power Station west of Groveport and those who worked at the ice plant in the village. The power station paid 40 cents an hour for a five hour shift over a five day work week. The City Ice and Fuel  Company on Blacklick Street made several tons of ice a day for both commercial and residential refrigeration use.

Kids find a way

Children also found ways to make money. Kids sneaked into the rear of the ice plant and took small chunks of ice – or they would take pieces of ice off the ice delivery truck while other kids distracted the driver. These young "entrepreneurs" then sold bits of ice to area laborers on hot summer days for a penny a piece.

Kids also would sell lumps of coal obtained by harassing unemployed wanderers who were riding the rails through town. Boys would race to the railroad tracks when a train came rumbling through. They would taunt the men on the train by hurling rotten produce and rocks at them. The men would respond by throwing coal at the boys who would then gather up the coal and sell it around town for a penny a lump.

Social scene

Despite the hard economic times, social life in the village continued, with Groveport Madison High School and Groveport Town Hall as the hubs of activity. The boys varsity basketball team, led by Mac Sims, went undefeated in 1938 and drew large, noisy crowds to the gym at Groveport School on Main Street. The high school auditorium and Town Hall hosted concerts, plays, lectures, and exhibitions.

The WPA

By the mid-1930s President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal programs began to have an impact on the village, particularly the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA). The WPA: helped build the village’s water system and water plant in 1936;  laid concrete sidewalks throughout the village in 1935; washed and painted the walls and ceilings of the high school; and built several outhouses in the village and area farms.

One plum WPA project slated for Groveport did not come to pass as records show that the construction of a public library was proposed for Groveport in 1935, but then rescinded with no explanation in 1937.

In the end

The village and surrounding area survived the Great Depression by not giving in to the hardships and by sticking together. Not an easy thing to do, but a good lesson to remember.


Sources: (interviews) Betty Ackerman; Jeannette (Woods) Palsgrove; the late Bill Rarey; (books) "A History of Ohio," by Eugene H. Roseboom and Francis P. Weisenburger; "History of Franklin County Vol. I," by Opha Moore; "The Changing Village," by Richard Lee Palsgrove; (other) Groveport Heritage Museum archives;   City Ice and Fuel Company Papers; "Works Progress Administration Construction and Repair Project Records, 1935-39."

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