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Livingston County History
Celebrating 150 Years, 1821-1981
Published by The Retired Senior Volunteer Program
Livingston County could not escape the impact of the Great Depression of the thirties. With a predominantly rural population of 18,619, farming was the major occupation. The average size farm was 141.7 acres valued at forty dollars per acre. The main crops were corn, wheat and oats; the livestock: cattle, swine and horses. The horse was still the main source of farm power. The county also had a brick plant, iron and steel works, steam and sheet shop, and a number of smaller industries connected with the automobile. The depression conditions of the 30’s began to affect the county by March 1930. The failure of property owners to pay their taxes caused the Girdner and Happy Hollow schools to close. In December, the Strand Theater was having charity night with 25% of the proceeds going to the Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs for distribution to the poor. In 1931 the Red Cross, with a goal of $200, was able to collect only $31. Blaming the Republicans for the depression, the Democrats gained every position except one in the city election of Chillicothe (May 1931). In October the Farmers and Merchants Bank in Chillicothe closed. The Citizens National Bank advertised they had plenty of money and installed a machine gun to prevent a robbery when they opened three windows for withdrawals.
In May 1931, the District Rotary met in Chillicothe where a parade, a governor’s ball and a banquet were part of the entertainment for the delegates who arrived by automobile and Pullman sleeping car. Later in the month, the Chillicothe High School band attended Sousa day in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Also in 1931, another type of entertainment in the making was interrupted when Shorty Hines was arrested and fined $100 for making home brew at Jimtown Bridge south of Chillicothe. Hometown girls were able to compete for $20 in prizes in a bathing suit contest at the Dickinson Theater.
In 1932 Chillicothe school taxes were lowered from one dollar to ninety-five cents, and the number of teachers was reduced by ten; their salaries were also cut. Homecoming at the Chillicothe Business College provided the area with a parade, a dance and a big game with Kemper.
In 1933 “Protective Associations” were organized in Livingston County to stop mortgage foreclosures. The bank holiday, called by President Roosevelt, was joined by Citizens National Bank. Following the holiday, money started flowing from lock boxes and cubbyholes to the banks.
Violation of the liquor laws appeared to have been one of the largest criminal problems in the county. Four liquor raids in February 1933 resulted in one arrest; a raid in March meted a jug of liquor and a boiler hidden in a straw stack.
Shucking corn contests were a popular entertainment in 1933. Eleven competed at Ed Smith’s farm for the county championship. At the Dickinson Theater the movie “I’m No Angel” featured Mae West and Cary Grant; the price for admission was thirty-five cents for adults and ten cents for kids.
Relief projects were started in Livingston County the latter part of 1933. Projects included road graveling, dirt moving in Simpson Park, woodcutting, and statistical information gathering. The Civilian Conservation Corps took young men for jobs in national and state parks. In 1934, eighty boys from Livingston County were sent to reforestation camps; the boys received $30 a month with $20 to be sent home to a dependent. This added $1,600 a month for spending in the county. Community gardens were also used to help provide relief and the produce was canned by relief workers. Gardens and the canning factory provided healthy foods to the reported 909 persons on relief in the county in 1934. Aid to the farmers was given in the Agricultural Adjustment Act. The hog-corn program was an attempt to curtail production.
Prosperity letters were the fad in 1935. These were dime chain letters where you were assured of riches if you did not break the chain. They were illegal, but very difficult to stop….”you can’t put everyone in jail.”
Government relief projects continued and increased in size and number. By January 1936 the Works Progress Administration was sponsoring 16 projects that employed 260 people at a cost of $56,627. Federal money helped to relieve the poverty condition in Livingston County.
The big event of 1937 was the centennial celebration. Livestock judging, horse shows, bank contests, fire works, football games, and a complete outdoor floor show provided entertainment for the crowds. The weekly celebration ended with services in all churches and the grand finale of the pageant.
By election day in 1938 the county was ready for a change. Republicans made a come-back winning six out of nine offices in Livingston County.
Livingston County resident’s life changed during the depression. They received aid from state and federal agencies like other sections of the county. There was no evidence of youth roaming the country side, and since it was a rural community, few if any went hungry. Banks did fail and people were unemployed, but the life style of the county changed little from what it was in the twenties. This rural community had provided its own entertainment in the twenties, and it did the same in the thirties. Though the county did not suffer as much as other areas, it was affected by the depression.Condensed from a paper written by James R. Nashan. Domestic life during the depression 1928-1938 in Livingston County, Mo. May, 1974.