Indiana and the Great Depression

Homeless Hoosiers

Hoovervilles—the shanty towns that contained hundreds of thousands of homeless families—were not as common in Indiana as they were in the West, but they were present and typically tolerated. These rough images above document the Hoovervilles (called “Depressionvilles” here) that lined Washington Street in Indianapolis and housed roughly 120 families. Eventually, the shanty towns were removed as a public works project; the men who lived in those shanties were then paid to remove them.

Honest Labor, Honest Pay

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) provided employment for hundreds of thousands of young men (aged 17-28) and built many public works projects still in use today. Many of the amenities at state and national parks today were originally built by the CCC, including Pokagon State Park in Indiana. The photo above shows the exterior and interior (top and bottom, respectively) of the CCC camp utilized during the 1930s construction of Pokagon State Park, including its famous toboggan run.

A President’s Impossible Task

FDR was one of the few presidents that commanded respect from both sides of the aisle; his visibility remains one of his most effective strategies in earning the same regard from the  American public. In the rare photo above, FDR made a quick stop at the Richmond Train Depot to speak to Hoosiers. The 1937 photo above—FDR reaching for his granddaughter to wave at the Richmond crowd—was likely never published since American reporters rarely mentioned and never displayed FDR’s inability to walk.

Documenting the Plight of Rural Farmers

Few Americans felt the hardships as sharply as rural farmers. With record droughts plaguing the country, some leased farms that wouldn’t produce, or had an abundance of supply but no demand. The Farm Security Administration sent out a small army of photographers to document the lives and faces behind the cold statistics. These photos show a family in Brown County that had subsisted for several months on government relief.

Odd Times, Odd Heroes


Even today, the story of John Dillinger possesses a kind of mystique for Hoosiers  Distrust for the country’s financial institutions and the expansion of organized crime during Prohibition transformed 1930s figures like Dillinger and Al Capone into folk heroes. Dillinger’s daring escape from the “escape-proof” Crown Point jail in 1934 cemented the young bank robber’s reputation. He would be gunned down outside a Chicago theater less than a year after his escape, but Hoosier continue to tell (and often embellish) his story.

The “Castle” at Washington Park Zoo

Not limited to simple infrastructure, Many WPA projects focused on expanding regional recreation. Hoping to attract the beach crowds that frequented Michigan City during the summer months, the WPA redesigned and expanded the Washington Park Zoo in Michigan City, including its famous castle. Since 1937, the zoo’s “castle” has housed a variety of small animals. 

Indiana Mobilizes

Ironically, the pioneering public works projects of the New Deal did not deliver Indiana and the United States from the depths of the Depression; it took waves of European and East Asian nationalism to “scare” the country into production. Even before its entrance into World War II, industry boomed in the US. Indiana was no exception. The Hoosier state contained several of the largest ammunition plants in the country (located in LaPorte, Terre Haute, and Charlestown).

Indiana workers also produced the amphibious transport ships that flooded Normandy on D-Day AND most of the P-47 Thunderbolts which spearheaded the Allied war effort in the air.