First Pinchot Road in York County example of Great Depression-era stimulus project
Gov. George M. Leader signs plans on March 19, 1958, for constructing the dam which formed the lake that became the centerpiece of Gifford Pinchot State Park in northern York County. Legislative aid and brother Henry B. Leader looks on. The location was chosen, according to The Gazette and Daily where this photograph was taken, because it was equidistant between York and Harrisburg. Background posts: Gov. George Leader cleared dam plan and Historians, journalists draw on work of forebears and Central Pennsylvania histories make smart part of summer reading stack.
York County – specifically Newberry Township – was home to the first Pinchot road, a highway program designed in the early 1930s “to get the farmer out of the mud.”
That was the start of construction of some 20,000 miles of roads in Pennsylvania designed to aid farmers and to create jobs during the growing Great Depression.
That program took then-Gov. Gifford Pinchot’s name, as did the nearby state park that grew under the administration of York County native George Leader.
York County farmers might have felt some conflict at the time of the road program in 1931… .
They had long eschewed big government or government intervention into private affairs.
Then comes this big highway program.
History shows that horrible times sometimes spawn expensive responses from government. For better or worse, that happened then, and it’s happening today in the form of stimulus legislation.
The following story from the York Daily Record/Sunday News (7/22/06) explains the Pinchot Road program in York County:
Friday, several dozen people gathered on Bull Road in Newberry Township to remember an event that changed Pennsylvania forever.
Seventy-five years ago, during a small civil ceremony at what was then known as Smith’s Grove, Gov. Gifford Pinchot started construction of some 20,000 miles worth of roads in Pennsylvania. It marked the beginning of Pinchot’s Rural Roads Program.
His goal was to get the farmers out of the mud and make it easier for them to get their goods to market.
It was 1931, and the roads, as well as the work the project provided, was desperately needed. The estimated unemployment rate in Pennsylvania stood between 27 and 37 percent at the time.
Eventually, the road program employed about 55,000 workers.
Just three years after Pinchot’s civil ceremony, a plaque was erected on a large rock on the site. Two girls, Phyllis and Zola Smith, the daughter of one of the day’s organizers, Luther B. Smith, unveiled the memorial plaque.
Later, road work realigned Route 177 to accommodate faster traffic. By doing so, the road was moved away from the monument. And the plaque was forgotten for a time.
Earlier this year, members of the Harrisburg Section of the American Society of Highway Engineers and Pennsylvania Department of Transportation restored it. And on Friday, it was rededicated.
There for the unveiling were Luther Bruce Smith Hetrick – son of one of the girls who first unveiled the marker – and his son, Gregory Hetrick.
Also present Friday was the car Pinchot rode in to the groundbreaking in 1931: a Presidential Studebaker convertible.
The car is owned by sisters Marlene Stiffler and Gayle Kolivras of Dillsburg. It has been in their family since 1950, when their father purchased it.
Their father’s life was touched by Pinchot. As a farmer, he profited from the new roads; as a sawmiller, his life was affected by Pinchot’s efforts in forestry, Stiffler said.
The rededication was a nice thing to do, Hetrick said.
“The public,” Hetrick said, “doesn’t realize all that he (Pinchot) did.”
To see the historical marker highlighting the site, click here.