The Civilian Conservation Corps was born out of hard times in our country. The stock market crash occurred in October, 1929. The Great Economic Depression set in, and jobs were hard to come by.
When Franklin Delano Roosevelt became a Democratic candidate for president in 1932, he campaigned on the platform of restoring our country “to its former beauty,” providing jobs for young men, and taking measures that would conserve America’s natural resources. He was elected president and his “New Deal” proposals began. Someone, looking back on President Roosevelt’s terms in office, have noted that he instituted an “Alphabet Soup” of programs to begin the process of making America economically secure and growing a strong nation. One of FDR’s first acts to sign into law on March 31, 1933 was for the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Right away, in April of 1933, the first induction began.
The plan was to enlist men between the ages of 18 and 25, at first 250,000 strong, to “preserve the natural resources of these United States.” Before it was dissolved in 1942, the CCC had enrolled over two million young men working coast to coast, with up to 300,000 of them serving at a given time. When the United States entered World War II, many of the young men who had been in the CCC were inducted into military service. They were already accustomed to barracks life, discipline and hard work.
What was life like in the Civilian Conservation Corps? First, each young man inducted was guaranteed a salary of $30.00 per month. This does not sound like much money now, but in a period of deep depression when cash was scarce, a regular salary was a God-send. Of the $30.00, each enlistee was required to send $25.00 home to wife or parents or guardians to help them with finances. The CCC boy could keep $5.00 per month, his allowance for items at the commissary, for postage, or even for savings when he should be out of the CCC. Barracks, much like a military base, made up the living quarters. The men had rotating duties like KP (Kitchen Patrol), guard duty, clean-up detail, and their regular assignments of work.
Reforestation was one of the major tasks of “FDR’s Tree Army,” and became the job from which the Corps received its nickname. Large timber companies had moved in previously with sawmills and riddled the virgin forests in most places where trees once grew in abundance. The camps throughout the area that is now the Chattahoochee and Oconee National Forest had the men working to replant trees. This task alone was of great benefit to America and fulfilled one of President Roosevelt’s aims, “of restoring the country to its former beauty.” This project of conservation set the pace for subsequent forest management and wilderness areas.
Fire prevention was another of the conservation projects, with fire towers built at strategic locations to provide a watch for conflagration that could easily destroy acres of timberland. The first tower at Brasstown Bald Mountain was built by Ranger Arthur Woody and a crew of CCC boys.
Building roads was another major task. Automobiles were becoming a little more common as the economic depression lifted. But roads in many areas were little more than buggy or wagon routes. Crews graded and paved roads, making them more accessible to automotive travel.
Building dams on streams to help control flood damage was a major project. In certain areas where hydro-electric power was to be generated, these dams proved invaluable to future economic conditions and in providing electricity. The dam at Vogel State Park, though not one in the system of hydro-electric dams, is an example of the work of the CCC and was an early Georgia State Parks construction project. Likewise, the dam at Lake Winfield Scott in Union County was built by the CCC.
Camps to house the recruits to the CCC were at first in tents near work sites. Then part of the work was to build barracks, more permanent housing for the enlistees. Within the CCC campground would be the sleeping barracks, a common building used for cafeteria, classrooms, and meetings, and storage buildings for equipment and vehicles. Camp Enotah near Vogel State Park was one of the barracks locations. Camp Woody at Suches was another in Union County.
Those who remember their days at the CCC Camp say they expected to work hard. They received three “square” meals a day, pay for their labor, and some were given opportunity to learn to read and write if they were illiterate when they joined, or to take more advanced classes after work hours.
For the hard years of the 1930s, it was as good a way of life as some young men could find. Their needs were provided, including clothing, shelter, food, education, transportation and religious services. Each camp had a chaplain, and, unlike today when a great hue and cry arises about the mention of God in government functions, the men could attend regular religious services if they chose to do so.
Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, writing later about some of her husband’s accomplishments as president, stated: “I realize that the one project in which my husband took the greatest pleasure was the establishment of the three Cs.”
Vogel State Park, built on land donated by the Vogel Family, was a major project in Union Country resulting from CCC work. A small museum is housed there today, and annually the Park holds the Civilian Conservation Corps Reunion. The lodge at Walisi-yi Inn at the top of Neel Gap was another CCC project. Adding onto the tea room the Vogel Family used to entertain guests, the lodge was constructed of native stones and sealed inside with chestnut wood. A stop along the Appalachian Trail, Walisi-yi is and has been a noted destination since its construction.
More than seven decades have passed since the CCC was active in Union County. Monuments to their work still stand today for us to enjoy. If you know a “CCC boy” or a member of his family, give him a belated thanks from all of us.
c2004 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Apr. 29, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.