The Great Depression was at its peak in 1933 when the local lumber company, Cashway Lumber, hosted its annual contest for all of Craig’s grade school children.
The contest, which challenged the participants to construct unique birdhouses, appears to have been a very popular one as demonstrated by the 125 entries presented that year. Prizes were awarded for birdhouses of extraordinary merit, based on workmanship, originality and compliance with contest specifications.
The April 4, 1933, issue of The Craig Empire-Courier noted the entries that particular year tended to lean more toward the rustic bungalow look rather than painted frame-type houses. Log cabin birdhouses were major contenders in the competition, and there even was a little blue birdhouse constructed of cornstalks.
Gene Murphy, Class of 1942, recalled participating in the contest the following year with a birdhouse he had created using willow twigs. The shortness of cash in the rural community during that time might well have contributed to the countrified handiwork used in making the little dwellings.
Despite the hard economic times, the newspaper, the local movie house and the creamery all stepped up to the plate to reward each child for his or her entry. Declaring all of the children as winners for having put forth the effort to enter, each child was given a free ticket to the Victory Theatre. That would have a value of about $5 in today’s dollars. The Craig-Empire Courier and the Moffat County Creamery also teamed up to give each child a free ice cream cone, again representing a substantial dollar amount during the Depression.
The photographs that were used in the newspaper at that time showed a wide variety of birdhouses, but truly the most delightful image shows all of the children — and a dog — lined up outside the newspaper office on the following Saturday to receive their free ice cream cones. That sweet reward most likely was a rare treat during the Depression, and the contest certainly was a test of ingenuity and how to make something on a shoestring budget or less.
The Museum of Northwest Colorado would like to know more about those birdhouse contests. If anyone knows how many years the contests were held or has any other information on them, please contact the museum at 970-824-6360.
Mary Pat Dunn is the registrar for the Museum of Northwest Colorado.