Moving Forward

As the immediate rescue and relief efforts neared completion, Gainesville citizens began to turn their attention to the long range task of rebuilding the devastated city. This immense recovery effort took place against the backdrop of a city, state, and nation still recovering from the Great Depression – and indeed some of the New Deal tools developed to cope with that great challenge would help in Gainesville’s eventual recovery.

thumbnail of film clip torn072

Film clip torn072 pans across damaged buildings along the Bradford Street frontage of the Public Square – but note the early signs of recovery. Debris no longer blocks the street, some stores have reopened for business, workmen operate a cement mixer to make repairs, and pedestrians and vehicles are returning to pre-storm patterns of activity.

After hearing about the severe tornado strike, President Franklin D. Roosevelt cut short his Florida vacation and made arrangements to visit Gainesville on his way back to Washington. During his Gainesville visit on April 9 – only three days after the storm – he met with representatives of the American Red Cross, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Works Progress Administration, and other local officials. After the meeting, he spoke from his railroad car’s observation platform to a crowd of about 2,000 citizens, conveying his condolences and assuring them that the federal government would assist in rebuilding Gainesville (speech transcript).

Federal officials distributed $2,500,000 in immediate relief funds to cope with the Tupelo-Gainesville Tornado Outbreak, and the U.S. Senate passed a bill that provided $50,000,000 in rehabilitation loans for those in communities affected by the storms. The Reconstruction Finance Corporation invested nearly $1,000,000 in Gainesville. The Public Works Administration helped with projects for schools, water works, a jail, and (what was then known as) an “almshouse.” The Works Progress Administration assisted in repairing sewers and sidewalks, street lighting, repaving, parks, and schools. These federal resources, along with additional local resources and many generous donations, helped Gainesville to recover.

Even as the physical rebuilding continued, litigation moved through the courts settling a number of lawsuits growing out of the tornado tragedy. As the months passed, Gainesville increasingly recovered what the tornado had taken away – indeed in many ways it came back a better place than it was before the tornado strike. The extensive recovery work continued throughout the rest of 1936 and into the fall of 1937, when a complex of new civic buildings was completed, and President Roosevelt returned in spring of 1938 to dedicate that new civic center.