Here’s an update on my recent blog post about the Robert R. Livingston Educational Center in Hudson, which today includes the Montgomery C. Smith Elementary School and athletic fields.
My brother, Ken, has done extensive research on how the center came to be. I will let him tell the full story in his own time but it involves four remarkable leaders with ties to this area: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt; FDR’s long-time aide Harry Hopkins; New York Chancellor Robert R. Livingston; and, Hudson’s own dynamic School Superintendent Montgomery C. Smith.
The project became an early test of FDR’s and Hopkin’s plans to put Americans to work on infrastructure construction during the depths of the Great Depression. They paid close attention to its progress, demanding regular updates on how many people were being put to work on the 28-acre school complex.
Here’s an example. In June 1933, Harry Deacon, manager of the Hudson Temporary Emergency Relief Bureau, submitted a report on work at the athletic field during the preceding month of May. He wrote (as reported by the Hudson Daily Star on June 16, 1933):
“N-1 athletic field — Number of different persons employed, 129; number of single persons employed, 21; number of heads of families employed, 108, number of persons represented, 483; amount paid for wages, $3,363.48; average per employee per month $26.07; days lost, none.”
On the same day, the Daily Star ran a drawing, “The Gates of Paradise,” by national political cartoonist, Herbert Block, depicting a needy man reading a “Men Wanted” sign outside a construction site gate. My grandfather, Elmer Sheffer, later president of the Common Council and mayor of Hudson, passed through such a gate and found work at the Hudson school construction site.
It seems the Livingston Center project played a role in Roosevelt’s early thinking on how to bring the country back from economic devastation through the New Deal. It clearly was given special handling by FDR and Hopkins and may have become a model that was reproduced in thousands of locations across the country. Its importance was demonstrated by the presence of the Public Works Administration’s General Counsel Maxwell H. Tretter at the October 25, 1937, dedication ceremony for the Livingston Center. Tretter said:
“I am sure you have not forgotten the breadlines, the riots and the general despair of millions, all due to widespread unemployment. Something had to be done to check the demoralization of our people. It soon became evident that in order to put the idle millions back to work it was necessary to stimulate the construction industry. As a result…millions of our citizens found employment. The result is that Hudson obtained a new high school which it needed…”
Sounds like a story that should be remembered. Along these lines, I am looking for people to talk with who had family members or friends who worked on the Livingston Center project. My goal is to develop a narrative of what the project meant to these people, their families and the community. I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.