What to do with a Saturday?

Decide whether it's a watershed new deal or a boondoggle.

Either way, immerse yourself in brick buildings, highways, hydroelectric dams, water systems, airports, hospitals and bridges.

"The New Deal was a watershed event in American history. It greatly expanded the role of government in the everyday lives of citizens," said Robert Vogel, Chatfield's preservation planner, speaking of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal. Vogel explained it was the name given to a number of federal government programs created by the late Mr. Roosevelt to deal with the national emergency created by the Great Depression, which began in 1929 and lasted until 1940.

"It also helped to rescue millions of working people from economic ruin caused by the Great Depression," Vogel continued. "And it invested billions of dollars in badly needed infrastructure improvements - schools, highways, bridges, airports, hospitals, public housing, parks, hydroelectric dams, public buildings, sewers and water systems - which helped the country to grow and prosper after the Great Depression."

Vogel added that most of these programs were put in place between 1933 and 1936 as part of the Roosevelt administration's national recovery effort, the largest peacetime expansion of the federal government in U.S. history. New Deal programs focused particularly upon the problems of unemployment as more than 20 percent of the country's workforce was laid off by 1933. It also implemented government regulation of business.

Vogel noted that Republicans of the day regarded the New Deal as "an enormous government boondoggle foisted upon them by tax-and-spend liberals," and Democrats saw it as "one of the great moments in modern history."

He, however, is excited to present a daylong symposium on the New Deal this Saturday, Nov. 2, at a most fitting venue - a designated Chatfield Heritage Landmark, Potter Auditorium.

The presentation is being offered in cooperation with the Chatfield Heritage Preservation Commission.

Vogel explained, "Built in 1936 under the auspices of the Public Works Administration, the historic Potter Auditorium is a product of the New Deal. Older residents probably remember that the auditorium was built during the Great Depression, but younger folks are less aware of the building's historical connections, unless, of course, they happen to be studying the era in school. Almost no one seems to remember that over half the cost of construction came from the federal government."

He continued, "The New Deal, through several different programs, including the Public Works Administration, the Works Progress Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps and the National Youth Administration, changed the face of Chatfield forever through the construction of essential public infrastructure, much of which remains in use today - including the Potter auditorium and the city's wastewater treatment plant."

New Deal programs also provided critical aid and support to dozens of local families during the hard times of the Great Depression, Vogel also explained.

"The Potter Auditorium is a legacy of the New Deal, so it's very exciting for us to have a gathering of historians in this kind of setting," he added.

Presenters at the free public symposium include Vogel; architectural historian and preservationist Rolf T. Anderson; senior historian at Mead & Hunt, Inc., Robert M. Frame, III; Emily Ganzel, a public historian specializing in historic preservation; mechanical engineer Steven C. Harmon from Dunham Associates, Inc.; Mead & Hunt, Inc., historian Katherine Haun; Chatfield High School history teacher Tom Hilgren; architectural historian and author Paul Clifford Larson; Kathryn J. McFadden, a landscape architect and program manager of historic roadside properties with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT); and Kristen Zschomler, a historian with MnDOT's Cultural Resources Unit.

Vogel invited as many people as will fit into Potter Auditorium to attend the symposium.

"We'll be talking history more or less non-stop until at least 4:30 in the afternoon. There is plenty of good seating since the auditorium seats over 800, and we encourage people to come and go as their schedules allow," he added.

The symposium begins at 8 a.m. with greetings and opening remarks set for 8:30 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. Vogel speaks from 8:45 to 9:30 a.m. on "The New Deal Comes to Chatfield: Building the Potter Auditorium." Then a break follows. Haun will come next, sharing a presentation "Getting Oklahoma Out of the Mud: How the New Deal Road and Bridge Projects Reshaped One State's Landscape" at 9:45 a.m. McFadden tells about "Preserving New Deal Historic Structures on Minnesota Trunk Highways" at 10:05 a.m., Frame and Zschomler present on "Austin's Roosevelt Bridge: A Rare CWA Project, Then and Now" at 10:25 a.m., ensued by Rolf Anderson and "The St. Croix Recreational Demonstration Area: Minnesota's New Deal Playground" at 10:45 to 11:30 a.m.

At noon, Hilgren's "The New Deal in the High School Classroom" will round out the morning presentations.

Lunch is set for noon to 1 p.m., with a tour of the Chatfield Center for the Arts from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.

Harmon will present "A Breath of Fresh Air: A Comparative Review of School Ventilation in 1916 and 1936" at 2 p.m.; Ganzel tells about "Breaking New Ground: Elbow Lake and the First PWA Building in Minnesota" at 3 p.m., followed by a break from 3 to 3:15 p.m. The final presentation will be given by Larson, with "Present at the Birth: The New Deal and the 'Prettiest Drive in America'." Comments and questions from the audience will be taken from 4 to 4:30 p.m.

Vogel elaborated on the achievements the New Deal made and why it's important that citizens join the speakers for the afternoon of history.

"Most historians agree the New Deal was successful in achieving its humanitarian objectives but had mixed results as economic policy - there was, in fact, very little that was new in the New Deal, most of the Roosevelt initiatives being extensions or continuations of older, well established liberal policies," he said. "A good deal of misinformation about the New Deal programs continues to find a ready audience on the Internet, which indicates a measure of continuing public interest in the topic."

Vogel concluded, "We would like people of all ages and backgrounds to attend the symposium. Presenters have been told to expect a diverse crowd. This is a great opportunity for history-minded people to interact with professional historians inside a nationally significant historic building - to immerse themselves in the past, both literally and figuratively."

Potter Auditorium is located at 405 Main St. S., Chatfield, in the Chatfield Center for the Arts.