MISHAWAKA, Indiana — Stones from the Great Depression era have been discovered at the Eberhart-Petro Golf Course for the second year in a row, exposing the results of the historic Works Progress Administration program that provided jobs for millions of Americans in the midst of depression.
Mayor Dave Wood announced in a recent social media post that an island, rock bridge, creek fork and paved paths were discovered during routine maintenance of Willow Creek by crews from the St. Joseph County Drainage Board.
About a year ago, stone walls built in the 1930s by the WPA on hole No. 16 were discovered when an underground pipe that carried Willow Creek began to fail.
At the time, Wood had county crews dig the pipe and open up the creek.
John Law, construction supervisor for the drainage board, said that although the recent discovery has historical significance, the excavations at the golf course were carried out in the service of flood control efforts.
About two weeks ago, crews spent three days uncovering the workings, probing the ground to locate WPA structures below ground.
“Normally we would just dig it up, but we took metal rods and found the walls and marked them,” Law said.
Wood said the historic nature of the WPA walls was an educational opportunity to show the results of Depression-era work done on the golf course and throughout the city.
Petro Park History
The WPA masonry on the golf course is an original feature of Petro Park.
According to a Mishawaka Historic Preservation Commission listing, Petro Park was completed in 1934 and added in 1936. Former Mayor Mason Petro secured funding from the Civil Works Administration (a short-lived precursor to the WPA ), to create a second public park for residents on the north side of the Saint-Joseph River.
Wood said that in 1949 or 1950 the park was combined with the then private nine-hole course to the west to create the city’s current public 18-hole course. Although there is no documentation of how Petro Park was changed to the route of the Eberhart-Petro course, he said much of the masonry in the park was covered and Willow Creek was rerouted through the route with underground pipes.
The WPA built streets, sewers, and recreation facilities throughout Mishawaka between 1935 and 1941, and the program put people who had lost their jobs during the Great Depression to work.
Some of the other WPA projects in Mishawaka are the Battell Park Rock Garden, the Monkey Island Bridge, and the many walls along Wilson Boulevard near the St. Joseph River.
When the WPA was in operation, the federal government paid 90% of the labor costs for the projects, but the materials were left for purchase by cities and towns.
Discovery of more 1930s WPA stones along Willow Creek in Eberhart GC as part of routine ditch maintenance. Discovery of an island, a branch of a stream, a stone bridge and paved paths. One-of-a-kind historical treasures made by the citizens of Mishawaka. Very cool! Thank you County Drainage for the work. pic.twitter.com/f4GwJgzrsH
— Dave Wood, Mayor (@MishawakaMayor) February 20, 2022
‘A unique feature’
Wood said he grew up near the site of the recently exposed masonry.
The city will try to keep the work going, and Wood said a plaque is planned to mark the accomplishments of the new structures.
It is also exploring options for allowing the public to view and share the find due to the historic nature of the stonework, despite being on the golf course.
“It’s one of a kind, a unique feature,” Wood said of the findings. “These things are a treasure trove, built by the citizens of Mishawaka who were trying to put food on their tables.”
Email South Bend Tribune reporter Greg Swiercz at [email protected]