The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was created in 1935 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a part of the New Deal agency. Many of the projects focused on recreation, education, youth development, and public services as the types of work programs. WPA hosted many projects in southwestern Pennsylvania of which many of the projects focused on infrastructure improvement and development. At the end of its time, the WPA employed over 8.5 million workers nation-wide. Some of the major projects in Connellsville include the construction of Coker Stadium, the Connellsville Fayette Stadium, and East Park. In early January 1936, new projects were in discussion for the land that was East Park. East Park was created within the first decade of the twentieth century as several citizens of Connellsville looked to see the natural amenities of their town, especially James Breading Hogg.
Hogg was born in nearby Bullskin Township in 1857, but soon after his family moved to New Haven (now known as the West Side of Connellsville). Hogg studied and made his living through Civil Engineering which brought him to work most of his life on the West Coast in Washington and Oregon. In 1900, Hogg returned to Connellsville to work for the H.C. Frick Coke Company. “Mr. Hogg had great faith in the future of Connellsville. He believed, not only that the town would grow, and grow rapidly, but was firm in his conviction that eventually there would be a civic awakening resulting in Connellsville being not only a prosperous city, but a more desirable place in which to live.” Hogg admired the popular “city beautiful” movement and looked to adapt in Connellsville with the addition of East Park. Before the land was known as “East Park,” it was “Hogg’s pasture” where the city’s cows would graze on high grass along the ravine. In part with the development of this area, several attractive homes were constructed where Hogg had lived, and he later named this road “Will’s Road” in honor of his brother. This was the initial interpretation of East Park. Unfortunately over the next few decades, East Park turned into a dumping ground for the City of Connellsville.
In January 1936, Connellsville came together for suggestions to transform the dump back into a more recreational attraction. The Daily Courier on January 14, 1936 reported “Lake Proposition Frowned Upon When Put Before Council.” This was a suggestion from Douglas Mcllvaine of the Recreation Board. This idea came from the natural bowl shape of the ravine. Council decided not to proceed with the lake project, but choose for the WPA to construct a park space with a road replacing the city dump. This transformation started in 1936 and continued until 1940. One of the first things to happen at this site was a fence being built to keep out trucks from dumping. One of the first improvements created was a playground area. By August 1939, many were starting to use the playground area for recreation and even boxing exhibitions.
Connellsville’s WPA workers continued construction and several new projects in 1939, but the subject of their wages made headlines for Fayette County. Throughout the country WPA was being revised or adjusted as projects increased, but Connellsville’s mayor, Ira D. Younkin, made protests to what was occurring in this town. WPA workers received their pay structure based on whether they were “rural” or “metro” communities, and this was ultimately based on their “buying center” from previous census questions. Other nearby towns (Uniontown, Brownsville, and Perryopolis) were considered “metro” areas because they claimed their “buying center” to be Pittsburgh. Most Connellsvillians claimed “home” as their “buying center,” and this label resulted in smaller wages for WPA workers. “Metro” workers earned from $ 52.00 -
$ 89.70 while “rural” workers earned $ 42.90 – $ 74.10 doing similar projects. Mayor Younkin takes his effort of protest to Congressman J. Buell Snyder because he believes the “difference is too great to overlook…and should not begin a single project until adjustment” as metro.
As the East Park improvements continued, they were also put on hold with funding. An additional $ 69,997 of federal funds was approved on September 15, 1939 to help finish East Park’s water and drainage systems. Once this was approved in Washington, WPA crews could complete the park improvement that was conceived in 1936.
Finally after several years of consideration and wage differences, East Park was ready to be opened for the City of Connellsville. The openings ceremonies took place over a three day period from Thursday, October 10 to Saturday, October 12, 1940. This celebration was hosted by the Chamber of Commerce and its Merchant division. Featuring a Mardi Gras Theme, special events and activities included a skating derby on Pittsburgh Street, choir festival, Friday night Football versus rival Dunbar Area, dancing, choir festival, parade, and a Mardi Gras Queen coronation. Officials said there may have never been anything like that event before. All of these events culminated in a formal ceremony in which the City formally accepted East Park from the Work Progress Administration. Comments from this day include “sports of all kinds, but it offers quiet nooks,” “they saw recreation as the greatest industry in the county,” and “no place is better located than Connellsville to become the playground of Southwestern Pennsylvania.”
Even though this event marked the official opening of East Park, it was not complete. The band shell was the last piece of the recreational park to be completed. The funding for this project was announced after the October 12 dedication of the WPA and City of Connellsville.