top of page

Did You Know? The Depression Years

By Audrey Schiesser | Local Happenings

Stories Inspired From "The Story of Portsmouth" by Elmer Sword

In our seventh edition of “Did You Know?” with local tales from our county’s history, we are headed to the Depression Years.

The year 1929 ran headlines in Portsmouth City that read “STOCKS CRASH; ONE OF THE WORST IN HISTORY”. That day, more than three billion dollars of paper profits were wiped out.

Just on the previous day the Selby Shoe Company was expecting record breaking business. The company was operating at its fullest capacity with 9,000 shoes in production daily.

When unemployment was rolling out after the Wall Street crash it did not immediately follow suit in Portsmouth. Manufacturers began taking precautions by reducing their operations.

Still Raided on Court Street

Prohibition was in its tenth year and had proven to be widely unpopular. Homemade stills were discovered in many places.

On October 27, 1929, four patrolmen Kenneth Carter, Leslie Hunt, William Aubrey, and George Sheets went to a house at 3rd and Court Streets in search of liquor. They went into the basement where they found a trap door in the wall of the basement. Officer Hunt opened the door by hitting it with his shoulder. Inside they found 10 gallons of home-brewed mash.

Present Railroad Station Built

The railroad station and office building were completed in 1931 by the Norfolk and Western Railroad. The project started in 1904 and capped at seven million dollars in building costs. This was a huge development for the city.

City Kept Dry During 1933 Flood

In 1933, the city’s flood defense met its greatest test up to that time. It saved the city from a loss that would have very much surpassed those who suffered in 1884 and 1913. The flood wall held back a river that was more than 60 feet high.

The Banks Close

Saturday, March 4, 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave his inauguration speech. That following Monday, March 6, Portsmouth was ready for a normal business week-except the banks. They had opened only to explain what had happened.

That day, Portsmouth Times put out an advertisement that read “First National Bank, Security Central Bank, Portsmouth National Bank; President Declares Bank Holiday March 6th to March 9th Inclusive Under Authority Enemy Trading Act. Penalty for Violation Ten Thousand Dollars or Imprisonment or Both”.

That next day, banks were given authority to conduct essential business only. They were still supposed to act as if they were closed.

Relief Projects

The year 1933 was a low point of the depression. Unemployment continued to get worse until alarming proportions were reached. The city and state funds were not making any headway and federal government assistance was needed.

In March of 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was founded to provide work for male citizens between the ages of 18 and 25. These men were placed in jobs doing reforestation, road construction, prevention of soil erosion, national park building and flood control projects under the direction of army officers.

Work camps were established where enrollees received food, clothing, equipment, shelter and transportation at no cost to them.

In June of 1933, the Civil Work Administration (CWA) was established for public construction. In December of that same year, Portsmouth had 1,340 men at work on these projects.

Shortly before Christmas, direct relief came to the Scioto County Relief Commission. This was in the form of flour, butter, and pork. They received 31,450 pounds of pork, 31,450 pounds of flour, and 12,580 pounds of butter for the 3,145 families on the relief lists.

Prohibition Ends

On December 5, 1933, prohibition came to an end as the 34th state ratified the 21st Amendment to the constitution. Ohio was the 35th state to ratify on that same date. Saturday, December 23, 1933, was the first time liquor went on sale in 14 years.

Thank you for joining us on another “Did You Know” story with Local Happenings and WNXT! Check back next Monday as we talk about the 1937 flood.


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page