Hoovervilles can best be described as a collection of huts and shacks, as at the edge of a city, housing the unemployed during The Great Depression of the 1930s. Many families lost their homes during the era in US history, because they could not pay their mortgages. These people had no choice but to seek alternative forms of shelter. Hoovervilles, named after President Hoover, who was blamed for the problems that led to the depression, sprung up throughout the United States.

S. Lee Kann writes about his visit to a Hooverville in Pennsylvania in Show Places, Know Places, Go Places in Pittsburgh (1932).

    "One of the most unusual sights we've ever seen in any city. Here you will find men living in homemade 'houses' constructed of box wood and lumber, begging description. Many curious folks come out to 'Shantytown' and a guide eagerly shows one around with explanations as to who is who and what is what in 'Shantytown.' Any donation you may give is part of the community chest and shared by all the dwellers. Just out Liberty Avenue about five minutes from downtown. There are no numbers but we'd say about the 1800 block will bring you pretty close."

In 1934 a sociologist student from the University of Washington moved into a Hooverville in King County of Washington state. He paid fifteen dollars for a squatter shack and wrote his master thesis "Hooverville, a Study of a Community of Homeless Men in Seattle." which gives a somewhat prosaic yet sarcastic snapshot of the Pacific Northwest during the Great Depression.

    "From the sandy waste of an abandoned shipyard site, … was swiftly hammered and wired to flower a conglomerate of grotesque dwellings, a Christmas-mix assortment of American junk that stuck together in congested disarray like sea-soaked jetsam spewed on the beach. To honor a distinguished engineer and designer, this unblueprinted , tincanesque, archtecturaloid was named Hooverville." (Herbert Hoover, U. S. president from 1929-1933, was an engineer by profession.)

Roy interviewed 650 residents and from that developed a demographic profile of what he called, "Mr. Hooverville, Seattle’s candidate for all-American oblivion."

Early in the winter of 1932 a lumberjack by the name of Jesse Jackson along with a couple of dozen other homeless men had built shacks on nine acres of empty land owned by the Port of Seattle located a few blocks south of what is called today Pioneer Square. The Seattle Health Department was quick to condemn the 50 shanties and posted notices to vacate within seven days. At the end of the week Seattle police arrived and burned the shacks to the ground. The squatters rebuilt and the city burned them down again a month later. The third time the men dug into the ground and constructed roofs made of tin or steel. The city finally agreed to let them live there on the condition that they adhere to safety and sanitary rules.

From a census taken of the Hoovervile built at the Skinner and Eddy Shipyard Plant 2 (abandoned in 1920) in Washington in March 1934:

    .....counted 632 men and seven women living in 479 shanties. Their ages ranged from 15 to 73. Included were 292 Caucasians foreign born, 186 Caucasians born in the United States, 120 Filipinos, 29 Negroes (African Americans), three Costa Ricans, two Mexicans, two Indians, two Eskimos, and one Chilean.

The Seattle settlement was born of poverty and the failure of society to respond to massive unemployment. Hooverville residents made something out of nothing and survived for a decade as a successful self-managed community.


Hooverville: Shantytown of Seattle's Great Depression :

The Strip District: Shantytown: Looking Southwest:

From Annie the musical:

Act One
Underneath the 59th Street Bridge is a so-called Hooverville, a Depression-style shanty town that is home to an assortment of unemployed New Yorkers who sarcastically let it be known that We'd Like To Thank You, Herbert Hoover. Annie turns up with Sandy, wondering if anyone in the Hooverville had ever left a baby at an orphanage. Her sunny disposition endears Annie to the Hooverville-ites, who invite her to join them in a cup of Mulligan stew. The police raid the Hooverville, and Annie is arrested, although Sandy escapes.

We'd Like To Thank You, Herbert Hoover
Lyrics from the musical Annie by Martin Charnin

Today we're living in a shanty
Today we're scrounging for a meal
Today I'm stealing coal for fires
Who knew I could steal?
I used to winter in the tropics
I spent my summers at the shore
I used to throw away the paper--
We'd like to thank you: Herbert Hoover
For really showing us the way
We'd like to thank you: Herbert Hoover
You made us what we are today

Prosperity was 'round the corner
The cozy cottage built for two
In this blue heaven
That you
Gave us
Yes! We're turning blue!

They offered us AL Smith and Hoover
We paid attention and we chose
Not only did we pay attention
We paid through the nose.

In ev'ry pot he said "a chicken"
But Herbert Hoover he forgot
Not only don't we have the chicken
We ain't got the pot!

Hey Herbie

You left behind a grateful nation
So, Herb, our hats are off to you
We're up to here with admiration
Come down and have a little stew
Come down and share some Christmas dinner
Be sure to bring the missus too
We got no turkey for our stuffing

We'd like to thank you, Herbert Hoover
For really showing us the way
You dirty rat, you
Bureaucrat, you
Made us what we are today

Come and get it, Herb!

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