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THE 1920s: Optimism, growth marked a booming era in industry and sports

Jan. 15, 2009 @ 10:11 AM

Editor's note: This story was originally published May 3, 1999.

Born in mid-1920s, Keith E. Dean has no firsthand knowledge of the "Roarin' '20s."

But having a father who designed many of Huntington's churches, homes and buildings built during the decade and an older brother playing professional baseball gives Dean an inside perspective on a decade he was too young to experience.

"In the teens and '20s, this was quite a boom area," Dean said. "Undoubtedly, there was a lot going on."

During the 1920s, the nation and Tri-State underwent a tremendous growth spurt. Post-war industrial growth and an economic boom increased Huntington's population to more than 85,000 people and scattered the city's skyline with office buildings such as today's West Virginia and Coal Exchange buildings.

During the decade, Dean's father, Levi J. Dean, designed and built many of Huntington's existing landmarks, such as The Lewis Arcade Building at 825 4th Ave., the Orthodox Temple at 900 9th St. and O.J. Morrison's Department Store at 831 4th Ave.

"Huntington reflected the industrial development of the U.S. in the 1920s," Marshall history professor Paul Lutz said. "The coal industry was booming nearby, and Huntington became a kind of service center for the industry."

While jobs were plentiful and most people enjoyed a successful economy, the country also learned to play.

"It was a booming era in sports," Lutz said. "It was the beginning of America's love affair with professional sports."

Like much of the country, baseball was Huntington's favorite sport. Not necessarily because everyone else was obsessed, but because some area natives made it to the big time.

Dean's brother, Wayland Dean, was a National League pitcher from 1924 to 1927 with the New York Giants, Philadelphia Braves and ended his career at an early age with the Chicago Cubs.

"He was quite a celebrity," Dean said of his brother, who died in 1930 of tuberculosis. Along with being a two-time teammate of baseball legend Hack Wilson, Dean pitched two innings in the 1924 World Series and ended his career with a 24-36 record and a 4.87 earned run average.

Of course, the decade was not all fun and games.

In the '20s, racial tensions hit a new high as the Ku Klux Klan roamed the South and Prohibition developed into something more than a law intended to reduce crime.

"It did the opposite of what it was supposed to do," Lutz said. "Alcohol went underground, and it created a crime spree in America. It created a subculture of night clubs, speakeasies and gambling."

While the country prospered from the "beginning of modern America," Lutz said, it all came to a dramatic end on Oct. 24, 1929.

"The '20s were a vibrant decade and then all the sudden the '30s came and started a dark decade of depression," Lutz said. "The '20s were filled with glitter and excitement. Then boom, the bottom drops out."

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