I know it won't be much consolation to those who've recently lost their jobs. I've been there a couple of times during my career, during the recession in the 1990s.

However, we all know things could be much worse than they are right now.

Recent unemployment figures have shown a rate of 7.2 percent, and some say 2008 was the worst year for jobs since 1945. Those working back in 1945 can probably remember what was going on just 11 years earlier, during the Great Depression. Some considered 1934 to be the turning point toward better times.

Average unemployment was 21.7 percent in 1934, having peaked at 24.9 percent just the year before. By 1939, the rate had fallen to 17.2 percent.

Then, like now, there were some "economic stimulus programs" going on, putting people back to work.

Many unemployed people desperately went to find work wherever they could. In local newspapers they were referred to as transients.

In the spring of 1934, plans were in the works for all police departments, city, state and railroad, to conduct a drive to arrest every transient. After arraignment in court, the wanderer would be paroled to a transient center.

There were a few such centers in Otsego County, one each in Oaksville, Schenevus and Otego, and two in Oneonta. In Oneonta, one was in the YMCA, then on Broad Street, and a second was in what was left of the Hathaway House, which was found nearly across from today's Stella Luna Ristorante on Market Street, then the corner of Broad and Prospect streets. That spring, all of these sites were consolidated into a relief center at the former Hartwick Seminary, near Cooperstown.

The people staying at this Relief Center could take advantage of supervised work opportunities and a recreation program "established for their rehabilitation."

Local residents sought work, as well. The Feb. 15 edition of The Oneonta Herald reported how an office of the National Re-employment Service had recently opened in the Municipal Building, today's 242 Main St.

"With so little fanfare is the Oneonta office of the National Re-employment Service conducted that few Oneontans are aware of its existence. Yet that office, which is directed by John Lambrecht, has been a boon to many Oneonta residents."

"It's the best job I've ever had in all my life," said one Oneonta woman for whom Lambrecht had secured a housekeeper job. While a reporter was at the office, the phone rang several times with calls for help at workplaces. Lambrecht went through his files and matched people to the jobs. Many people from all trades and professions had previously registered with the Oneonta office.

Elsewhere in the city, there were 10 approved Civil Works Administration projects planned for 1934. Some overlapped with Temporary Emergency Relief Administration programs. Many projects provided improvements and repairs to Neahwa and Wilber parks.

In Wilber Park, "two hard surfaced tennis courts have been built and the three clay courts have been resurfaced," the Herald reported. Numerous new foot trails were established.

In Neahwa Park, Webb Island became more attractive, with the addition of a new quarter-mile cinder racetrack, a football and baseball field, and a grandstand.

Webb Island was changed drastically in the 1970s with the construction of Interstate 88. The James F. Lettis Highway presently runs through the middle of the former island, now known as Catella Park.

Not far away in Laurens, many men were hard at work on a variety of improvement projects at Gilbert Lake State Park. Additionally, they went on assignments outside the camp to fight fires, plant trees and repair flood damage. The Civilian Conservation Corps Camp S.P. 11 had opened just a year earlier.

On Monday: You'll meet Dr. Herman Keiter, who in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr., was deeply involved in the Civil Rights movement during the 1960s.

City Historian Mark Simonson's column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, e-mail him at simmark@stny.rr.com.

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