Land Utilization Program Headquarters

Location: Briggsdale vicinity
County: Weld County
Date Constructed: 1938
Built by: WPA

Description

The Land Utilization Program Headquarters is located in northern Weld County, and is currently an administrative site for the Pawnee National Grasslands. Located on a largely treeless, short grass prairie, the most prominent feature of the site is its landscaping. A shelterbelt extends across the northern boundary of the site. A row of trees also runs parallel to the road between the shelterbelt and site entrance. The house is surrounding by linearly arranged trees on four sides, forming a windbreak. Additional trees are scattered around the site.

There are three contributing buildings on the site: a house at the southeast corner, facing the road, a shop/warehouse building located to the rear, and a garage to the northwest of the house. There are three non-contributing buildings: a cellar constructed at an unknown date and a pumphouse and trailer added in the 1980s. The headquarters site, including the shelterbelt and other plantings, is considered as one resource.

Significance

The Land Utilization Project Headquarters, established by the Resettlement Administration in 1935, meets Criterion A in the area of Politics/Government for its association with President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal legislative agenda to rescue the United States from the Great Depression. The Land Utilization Project Headquarters is associated with several New Deal agencies including the Resettlement Administration (RA), the Farm Security Administration (FSA), and Soil Conservation Service (SCS). It represents a major shift in government policy relating to land use and agriculture.

Additionally, the Land Utilization Project Headquarters meets Criterion A for its significance in the area of Conservation. The Land Utilization Project was one of many New Deal programs developed to deal with the crisis of the Dust Bowl. These programs sought to reverse the damage caused to the Plains by overgrazing, dryland farming, erosion, and dust. The LUP was part of a comprehensive soil conservation program administered through several New Deal agencies. The conservation program included the withdrawal of marginal lands from crop production, preventing wind erosion with shelterbelts, restoring windblown and overgrazed lands through reseeding native grasses, and controlled grazing. The shelterbelt at LUP Headquarters, as well as the LUP’s work restoring surrounding lands, functioned as a demonstration of soil conservation practices for private landowners in the area.

The Land Utilization Project Headquarters meets Criterion C in the area of Landscape Architecture as a rare intact example of a landscape designed by New Deal conservationists. The headquarters served as a demonstration landscape, exhibiting the conservation philosophy of the Soil Conservation Service (SCS). It is a representation on a small scale of efforts to restore the land throughout northeastern Weld County, both through direct land rehabilitation projects as well as through education. The LUP chose all plantings at the headquarters for their suitability to semi-arid conditions. The two shelterbelts planted represent one of the primary methods promoted by New Deal conservations to fight wind erosion.

Historical Background

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, government policy focused on settling the plains. Under the Homestead Act of 1862, the government distributed land in 160-acre parcels. By the early 20th century, homesteaders had claimed the prime land, leaving only the marginal drylands. The Enlarged Homestead Act in 1909 recognized the difficulty of farming in these areas and encouraged continued settlement by expanding parcels to 320 acres.  The plains population boomed in the 1920s. Fields of wheat replaced native grasses and pastures were overgrazed. When drought hit in the 1930s, there was nothing to hold the fine topsoil in place, resulting in the severe erosion and dust storms of the 1930s. Agricultural experts meeting to discuss the Dust Bowl crisis in Pueblo, Colorado in 1935 estimated that winds had blown 850,000,000 tons of topsoil off the South Plains that year. The Roosevelt administration created a series of New Deal programs including the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, Resettlement Administration, Farm Security Administration, and Soil Conservation Service to address the environmental crisis and change land use in eastern Colorado. One method of achieving this was the Land Utilization Program.

Establishment of the Land Utilization Project

Under the Roosevelt administration, the Homesteading movement initiated by President Lincoln came to a halt. With the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934, the government closed remaining public lands to homesteaders. This land was in the arid and semi-arid West, which was suffering due to overgrazing and dry land farming techniques. New Dealers determined too many people were trying to make a living on too little land, so no more settlement would be allowed in these marginal areas. The act also authorized the Interior Department to establish grazing districts and manage a grazing permit system.

Established in 1934, the Land Utilization Program (LUP) was one of a range of New Deal programs intended to help alleviate rural poverty and restore the economic vitality of the agricultural industry. The program’s creators argued that rural poverty was tied to soil erosion. They believed the loan defaults, tax delinquency and farm failures were the result misguided settlement patterns and improper land use, rather than individual failure. Through the LUP, the government would purchase submarginal and eroded lands, restore them, and then convert them to grazing, forestry, wildlife or recreation areas. According President Roosevelt, “Many million acres of such land must be returned to grass or trees if we are to prevent a new and man-made Sahara.”(This Land 112)

At first, the LUP was located under the Federal Relief and Recovery Agency (FERA). In 1935, it was relocated to the newly established Resettlement Administration (RA). The RA was given the power to purchase land, resettle farmers from poor lands to better lands, carry out conservation and land restoration projects, and provide loans. The RA had three divisions: Land Utilization, Resettlement, and Rehabilitation. Land Utilization was responsible for the purchasing of land, Resettlement was responsible for organizing new lands for those bought out, and Rehabilitation provided loans and technical assistance. In Colorado, the Land Utilization Division operated in the eastern part of the state in the semi-arid areas hit hard by Dust Storms and the accumulated effects of years of poor farming and ranching practices. The Resettlement Division had offices in the western part of the state including Grand Junction and Fruita, where the government relocated people to new farms to the Grand Valley Reclamation Project. The Resettlement Administration is a good example of the experimental nature of many New Deal programs with various policy makers given an opportunity to try out their ideas and see what worked. A committee was established to determine the appropriate use for the submarginal lands purchased by the government, either agricultural rehabilitation, a recreational park, a wildlife preserve, or a Native American project. Some projects could encompass multiple uses such as the Weld County project, which was primarily devoted to agricultural rehabilitation but also included a recreation park and wildlife preserve. CCC enrollees and WPA laborers were put to work on land restoration and infrastructure improvements.

In 1937, the LUP was transferred to the Farm Security Administration. In early 1938, the Bureau of Agricultural Economics took over the LUP and later the same year control was transferred to the Soil Conservation Service.

Shelterbelts

New Dealers promoted a variety of options to rescue the Plains states. Protection against wind erosion was a priority. Strong winds could remove several inches of topsoil from areas without groundcover and the drifting soil could destroy crops and grasses on adjacent lands. Tree planting was one of the chief methods put forward to fight wind erosion and improve living conditions. This was to be followed by restoration of ground cover (either by planting crops or reseeding native grasses) and improved tillage methods.

The Shelterbelt Project, also known as the Prairie States Forestry Project, focused planting efforts from North Dakota south to Texas, with more than 200 million shelterbelt trees planted between 1935 and 1942. Established by executive order in July 1934, the Shelterbelt Project had the dual purpose of stopping wind erosion and providing employment.

Shelterbelts were planted as part of cooperative agreements between farmers and the federal government. Trees were planted in strips on individual farms, in a patchwork pattern oriented both north-south and east-west, usually along land survey lines. East-west plantings were more common since they protected against north and northeast winds in the winter. The standard design for windbreaks incorporated a mix of deciduous trees, conifers, and shrubs. Tall, fast-growing trees were generally placed in the center with slower growing trees and shrubs on either side. Common species included red cedar, ponderosa pine, green ash, hackberry, and elm. All were chosen for their ability to resist drought. The most common design was ten rows of trees, but shelterbelts ranged from three to twenty-one rows in width. The distance between rows was eight to ten feet. Trees were spaced six to eight feet apart and shrubs three to four feet apart. Shelterbelts were typically one-fourth to one-half mile in length but could be up to a mile in length. Plants were grown from local seeds as much as possible.

Establishment of the Land Utilization Program Headquarters

In 1935, the RA began looking for a place to establish a headquarters for a LUP in Weld County. They selected the farm of L.R. Kent, located northwest of Briggsdale. Kent had acquired a farm of 160 acres in 1925 and added an additional 80 acres in 1930. Drought and dust storms had apparently driven Kent to give up on farming the land, since LUP records describe it as “abandoned.” An appraisal of the farm (from 1935) lists four buildings: a house, a horse barn, a chicken house, and a granary. According to the appraisal, the house, horse barn, and granary were constructed in 1927. The construction date for the chicken house was listed as 1920, predating Kent’s acquiring of the property. Other property features listed on the appraisal were a well and mill, natural water holes, and fencing. The farm included 75 acres of crop land valued at $3 per acre and 165 acres of grazing land valued at $2.50 per acre. The government purchased the farm in 1936 for $4,836.

By 1937, the Kent farmhouse had become a “fully equipped and modern office being operated industriously by a small but efficient office force.” (The Banner (Briggsdale), 12/16/37). A.E. Hyde was the project manager. There were also four office staff, three engineers, a range rider, a warehouse and distributing clerk, and three WPA labor supervisors based at the headquarters.  The headquarters complex included “an electrically equipped carpenter and blacksmith shop, a large warehouse for general storage use, electric water system and storage yards.”

In addition to being the base of operations for the federal land acquisition and restoration being carried out under the LUP, the headquarters also served as the public face of the New Deal land programs. The Briggsdale paper reported that extensive information on the project was available to anyone visiting the administrative office, and that such a visit showed that “very careful planning is being done to build up an economically sound program of future control of this area which will prove most beneficial to residents of the territory.” (Briggsdale paper 12/9/37)

In December 1937, The Banner reported that the landscaping of the headquarters grounds was “largely accomplished.” WPA labor carried out much of the work. Completed work included planting 25 Chinese Elms and native shrubs. The LUP chose a native Buffalo sod lawn instead of the more usual blue grass. According to the project manager the “buffalo sod makes a neat appearance, takes very little sprinkling and practically no mowing.” (The Banner (Briggsdale), 12/16/37). The landscaping of the LUP headquarters was designed to demonstrate the recommended plantings and techniques to the surrounding area. Plants were to be compatible with the local climate, soil, and rainfall levels. Plantings were also designed to aid in soil conservation efforts.

At the same time WPA laborers were landscaping the LUP headquarters, they were also landscaping a new recreational park established nearby on Crow Creek. For planting in the park, government laborers dug up and transplanted native trees and shrubs from along Crow Creek. Government laborers also salvaged trees and shrubs from abandoned farmsteads in the project area as well as transplanting evergreens from forest lands. Most of the plantings used at the headquarters were obtained at the same time.

Financial records for the initial formation of the headquarters in 1936 and 1937 have not been located. Records from 1938 indicate that the headquarters established during the previous two years was still being developed. There was a budget of $4,635 in 1938 for WPA laborers working on the headquarters. This included the creation of an engineer’s office in a building moved to the site from government purchased land. The remodeled building had a single room with walls and ceiling covered in celotex. Other projects included installing an irrigation system for the lawn and shrubs, completing the warehouse/shop building, and erecting telephone lines to connect the headquarters to the switchboard in Briggsdale.

The emphasis in the development of the headquarters was function and frugality. The LUP reused buildings already on the site when purchased, moved buildings from other homesteads purchased by the government, or constructed new buildings using materials reclaimed from abandoned homesteads. WPA laborers carried out most of the work. According to LUP files, “only those structures essential to the neat appearance and efficient operation of a project have been built or are to be built at the project headquarters” (LUP files at NARA-Ft. Worth). By 1941, the headquarters included: an administration building, engineer’s office, warehouse and general storeroom, machine and blacksmith shop, garages, Kohler light and power system, domestic water system, gas house, storage yard, and fencing.

The LUP in Weld County

The LUP project in Weld County included the retirement of marginal farmlands through government purchase, the restoration of lands, encouragement of grazing over farming, and promotion of soil conservation methods. Before beginning land purchases, the LUP evaluated the condition of farmsteads and local soils. They also looked for the cause of the current agricultural crisis. Studies determined that the average rainfall of 12 to 14 inches per year was not sufficient for the intensive dryland farming underway in Weld County.  The government identified several factors as leading to the crisis: the light, sandy soil of Weld County eroded easily and was not suitable for dryland farming methods used during the Homesteading boom of the 1920s; the practice of ‘tramp herding’ or allowing livestock to graze on lands not owned by the grazer resulted in overgrazing; tax delinquencies and the abandonment of farming units; and the settlement of 160 acre units under the Homestead Act which was not enough land for profitable livestock raising. According to a 1937 LUP report:
“Greed has caused the scourge of the ‘suit-case farmers’ who have plowed up large acreages for wheat, later to be abandoned; it has caused speculation in real estate that has ultimately resulted in excessive non-resident ownerships; it has caused through local pride and smooth promoters, many community services to be established such as roads and schools at unbearable costs; it has brought on nomad herds of sheep and cattle to utilize forage which might be used by residents of the area; it has caused over-grazing and over-cropping by residents who wanted a ‘killing’ and then move elsewhere or retire.”

A LUP survey of local farm buildings evaluated the success of agriculture in the area. Of 517 houses, the report classified only 28 farmhouses as being in good condition. The LUP classified the majority of houses as fair and 133 were evaluated as poor. Hard times had forced many to abandon their land; 207 houses were empty. There were also 51 sites where only the foundations of houses remained. Between 1927 and 1935, school enrollment in the area dropped by one half. The decline in population left remaining residents with an increased burden to pay for public services like schools. Tax delinquency was a problem.

The goal of the LUP was to “correct mal-adjustments in land-use and thereby effect an improvement in the economic condition of the land area represented.” (LUP report 1941) In 1937, the LUP proposed to displace 183 of 580 local families through federal land purchases. The government sought to purchase all units that were less than 320 acres and at least 40 percent of farm units between 320 and 640 acres. Government plans included returning the purchased land to grazing, condemning cash grain farming in the area, and encouraging the use of contour farming and crop rotation in the areas remaining in production for feed crops.

The government provided loans, grants, and assistance to help those displaced resettle elsewhere. Those displaced could choose to either give up farming and take a government payment for their land, or accept government assistance with relocation. The elderly were moved to larger population centers such as Greeley. The FSA helped farmers find more suitable farmland, including irrigated tracts around Greeley and Fort Collins as well as the western slope of Colorado.

The LUP project in Weld County consisted of two parts: the original project that purchased land north of Briggsdale and an expansion project (Site II) located 20 miles east of Briggsdale around Buckingham and New Raymer. By the beginning of 1938, the government had purchased or was in the process of acquiring 90,000 acres within the original project area of 300,000 acres. A.E. Hyde reported that in an area that once had 800 farmsteads, there were now 84 families. Hyde estimated that the area might eventually be able to support about 100 families with each running about 150 head of cattle. Farming would not be eliminated, but would be reduced to growing the winter feed needed for cattle. After land rehabilitation in the original project area was well underway, the LUP began developing Site II. The project area covered approximately 500,000 acres, though the government only planned to purchase 10 to 20 percent of the land in this area. As in the original project area, the focus of land purchases was on farms that were considered too small, mostly quarter and half sections, to operate efficiently.

Separate grazing associations managed the two sites: the Crow Valley Association managed the original project and the Pawnee Grazing Association managed the second site. The LUP established a second “field” headquarters on an abandoned farmstead 3 miles northeast of Buckingham to serve Site II. In 1942, a Civilian Public Service camp, housing 30-50 conscientious objectors, was established at the field headquarters. The camp was started because of the scarcity of civilian labor to complete the development work on Site II after the U.S. entered World War II. (Today only a few remnants of foundations mark the site of the field headquarters).

Land Rehabilitation

The LUP goal was to restore the land it purchased and then return it to grazing pasture. The government first removed any houses, sheds, fences, and other improvements on the land that might interfere with grazing activities or encourage people to return to the land in future years of high precipitation. The WPA worked with the LUP to provide labor for the land improvements.

The LUP also planted trees to provide shelter for livestock. By the summer of 1937, WPA workers had planted around 15,000 trees in northern Weld County. Groups of trees were planted in areas where natural ground moisture was found to be continually available so that the trees could be self-supporting within a few years. Locations included old lake beds, low lying lands adjacent to creek channels, near water holes, and near irrigation and small check dams. Some of these areas could also serve a dual purpose as habitats for birds and other wildlife. According to a LUP report, “Wildlife conservation is gradually being promoted as a part of the community plan of controlled grazing. Such improvements to the lands as stock ponds, springs, deferred grazing areas and meadow developments serve as a substantial aid in wildlife development.” (undated report at Pawnee National Grasslands office)

In 1938, work began on a $45,048 project to improve lands in the eastern portion of the project area. This covered 122,880 acres and included both newly purchased government land and private land. (Records were not located for improvements to the western portion of the project). Improvements, carried out by WPA laborers, included developing 4 springs, building 2 stock water wells, creating 1 impounding dam, building 7 check dams and diversion structures, installing 6 cattle guards, erecting 18 miles of new fencing, and demolishing 92 miles of fencing. WPA laborers demolished 38 homesteads, removing buildings, filling in basements and wells, and cleaning up the homestead sites, while salvaging as much as possible to be stored at the headquarters and reused. Workers also contoured 12,462 acres, reseeded 8,012 acres with crested wheatgrass, and planted 14 shelter belts.

After completing the land restoration, the government opened the land to grazing. The government aimed to maintain optimal use of the land by carefully controlling the number of cattle grazed. Rights to graze on federal lands were allotted to those within the project area based on the number of stock run before the project began, winter range and feed available to the applicant, and dependency upon the government range lands. The government charged 20 cents per animal per month for grazing. The county received 25% of the fees collected. Beyond the land it purchased, the LUP also encouraged proper land use methods and the conservation of natural resources on the surrounding land. The government established joint management of federal and private lands under cooperative grazing associations.

Restoration and development work on the land proceeded quickly, both to address the soil erosion and drought conditions and in order to provide jobs for the local community. By the summer of 1941, the LUP program had impacted a total of 124,860 acres. This included: contour furrowing on range lands- 9,970 acres, land stabilization and reseeding- 9,970 acres, meadow improvements through check damming and flood water spreading- 585 acres, land set aside for wildlife conservation- 85,480 acres, land used for controlled grazing- 85,480 acres, and land temporarily withheld from grazing for land stabilization- 18,710 acres. However, the land still had a long way to come to recover from earlier abuses. Ranges were reported to be at 40 to 50 percent of normal due to the accumulated impact of drought, damage from plowing lands, dust blown onto grazing lands from adjacent farmlands, and severe overgrazing.

By 1941, the work of the LUP to purchase lands, restore lands, and initiate a change in land use practices had been achieved. The full recovery of the land would depend on time and wise use. As a result, the LUP reduced staff and activities at the headquarters. A LUP report in July 1941 stated that much of the current office space at the headquarters would no longer be needed. It recommended that the administration building become housing for project personnel since it is difficult to find suitable housing in Briggsdale or the surrounding area. The report recommended that the engineer’s office be used as quarters for a caretaker or range rider.

Impact and Reception

The LUP program had an immediate financial impact on northern Weld County. The federal government spent close to a million dollars on the LUP program in Weld County. By the mid-1940s, the government had purchased 200,000 acres at an average cost of $3 per acre (approximating $600,000). The LUP spent approximately $390,000 on land improvements including check dams, springs, range seeding, and stabilization. Much of this money went directly into the local community through worker salaries. The work restoring land provided a significant amount of employment to the local area. For example, for work during the first half of November 1937, paychecks totaling $4,000 were distributed to 111 families.

Under the LUP project, the government also created two recreational parks for the local community. At Owl Creek, the government set aside 10 acres in agreement with the Owl Creek Community Church School. The government paid for the rehabilitation of the old school building on the site into a community hall and planted 600 trees. (Nothing remains today- the building has been removed and the trees have died.) North of Briggsdale, the government set aside 40 acres to establish the Crow Valley Campground (the campground is managed by the Forest Service as part of the Pawnee National Grasslands).

Local response to the LUP ranged from gratefulness for government assistance to condemnation of government interference. According to an article in The Banner, “Since 1930 or longer it has been a tough job for both farmer and townspeople in this community to make ends meet. Therefore most residents still remaining realize what a tremendous help the Government Land project has been” (12/9/37). Some argued that only the government had the capability to address the scale of the current disaster, “Undoubtedly the buying of badly used lands in the Great Plains area is the only means for Government control in reclaiming large areas from dust storms, devastating land losses from erosion and general loss of soil fertility that is especially serious in the shallow soils of this region” (The Banner (Briggsdale), 12/9/37). At a public meeting, one local landowner declared that “he had lived for 30 years in the area, seen his neighbors go half clothed, without proper food and housing for years and then, after having sunk all their funds, be forced to leave, ‘broken in spirit and body.’” (newspaper clipping 1/8/38) He believed the LUP land purchases were the only thing to keep the foolhardy from attempting to farm where only grazing was appropriate.

Some may not have initially agreed with government purchasing of land, but were convinced by the outcome. The LUP arranged tours of the project area to show how conditions had improved. The Briggsdale paper reported that “those who have completed inspection of this work on the entire project claim results are of a sane and sound nature and far ahead of the conditions which existed before such work was done” (The Banner(Briggsdale),12/9/37). Others argued that the government could have achieved land use changes through other means, such as range control laws. Sheep raisers declared the LUP project a “freeze out” of sheep raisers since the government refused grazing leases for sheep on the government lands. Some parents in rural areas opposed the LUP, afraid that the government land purchases would result in the closure of rural schools, as there would be fewer residents and less tax revenue to support them.

In March 1939, the Crow Valley Association wrote a letter to Senator Edwin Johnson reporting on the success of the project:
We have elected to operate on a livestock production basis, rather than to continue to follow out the rather hazardous method of small cash crop farming. Most of our members have been primarily farmers but are very agreeable to changing their practices to a livestock basis, because most of use went broke trying to farm. It has been determined that most of the farms were too small. After a period of years, the soils have begun to blow, which has proved very detrimental to the pasture areas, as well as to the farmed lands. It has become apparent to most of use that some sort of a cooperative community control of the situation has been necessary. The Government’s Land Utilization program has given us this kind of control, and most of those who live within the project area appreciate this fact. . . . Last year many of our members made good money, for the first time in 10 years. There were fewer cash crops grown and more feed crops than has been the case in years. . . . Because of the protection that has been offered by the Government’s Land Utilization Program, and by the Association’s efforts, the members have been looking forward to the future.” (SCS records at NARA- Ft. Worth)

The government established similar LUP projects across the Northern Great Plains. The government eventually purchased more than 4,700,000 acres of submarginal farmland and overgrazed rangeland. The land was being rehabilitated and turned over to well-managed grazing. Through the local grazing associations managing the purchased lands jointly with other publically and privately owned lands, the improved land use affected more than 30 million acres.

LUP since 1941

In 1953, the management of lands purchased under the LUP was transferred within the U.S. Department of Agriculture from the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) to the Forest Service. On June 20, 1960 LUP lands were reformed into the National Grasslands. The Weld LUP became the Pawnee National Grasslands.

The LUP Headquarters has remained in use by government employees managing the surrounding government lands. It has been renamed the Briggsdale Work Camp. The Forest Service removed several unneeded buildings from the headquarters site in the 1960s. The carpenter shop and bunkhouse were sold and moved in 1966. The granary was sold and moved in 1969. Today, the Forest Service uses the headquarters site as a maintenance and storage site as well as providing occasional housing for seasonal employees. The Forest Service continues to manage grazing on Grasslands.

 

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