The CCC Years
From 1933 to 1942, hundreds of thousands of unemployed men worked in camps throughout Pennsylvania. Some camps were on army bases, some were in national parks, some worked with the soil conservation service, but most camps were in state parks and forests. The men built roads, fought forest fires and constructed park facilities, all for a small paycheck, most of which went home to their families.
Following years of prosperity, the stock market abruptly crashed in October 1929. Despite the efforts of the government's unprecedented but limited recovery programs under President Herbert Hoover, the United States slid into the Great Depression. Many banks failed, loans and mortgages were foreclosed, unemployment mushroomed to around 40 percent, factories shut down, farms were abandoned and bread lines grew in cities.
Almost immediately after taking office in 1933, new President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed a flurry of government programs designed to lift the country out of the depression. Convening a special session of Congress, Roosevelt outlined relief measures targeting high unemployment, low wages, unstable banks, and providing aid for industry and agriculture. Almost all of Roosevelt's proposed bills were passed by Congress. A top priority of the programs was to get the people out of bread lines and into sustainable work.
Thirty-seven days after Roosevelt's inauguration, the first enrollee signed into the Emergency Conservation Work, later re-named the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Unmarried, unemployed men age 18-25 were the first enrollees. Later the age limit changed to 17-23. World War I veterans also had separate camps. Enrollment was for six months and could be extended up to a total of two years.
Many young men came to the camps hungry and poorly clothed. They were issued uniforms and given three meals a day. Most young men gained about 40 pounds while in the CCC. The men earned $30 a month, most of which was sent home to their families.
Run by the U.S. Army, the regimented life of camp was new to most new enrollees. A typical day began at 6 a.m. with breakfast at 6:30 a.m. followed by sick call and policing of the camp. At 7:15 a.m. trucks were loaded with tools and men for the day. "Local experienced men" usually served as foremen for the work. Lunch was usually half of an hour. At 4 p.m. the trucks headed back to camp for the flag lowering ceremony, inspection and announcements. After dinner, the men had free time until lights out at 10 p.m.
The U.S. Army ran the camps, but foresters, carpenters and other people directed the work. The CCC fought forest fires, planted trees, built roads, buildings, picnic areas, swimming areas, campgrounds and created many state parks. When not working, the men socialized and had opportunities to learn crafts and skills.
Each camp had about 200 men, including an army officer and junior officer, camp doctor, educational advisor and the project supervisor. The average camp had about 24 buildings, including kitchen, mess hall, barracks and quarters for the officers. Many camps began as tent cities until the permanent camp could be built.
Pennsylvania had the second highest number of camps (151) to California. Pennsylvania received so many camps because it already had a plan in place for the camps, thanks to the forward thinking of Governor Gifford Pinchot.
In 1935, Roosevelt created the WPA (Works Progress Administration) which was similar to the CCC but used local people who lived at home. Many roads, buildings and bridges were built in Pennsylvania State Parks.
The National Park Service built five Recreation Demonstration Areas through CCC and WPA labor. Near big cities to provide open-air recreation for urban dwellers, the areas were Blue Knob, Hickory Run, French Creek, Laurel Hill and Raccoon Creek. In 1945, these parks were given to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and became state parks.
A total of 194,500 Pennsylvania citizens served in the CCC nationwide. The value of the work completed by the CCC nationwide is estimated at $8 billion. The outbreak of World War II caused the ending of the CCC on June 30, 1942.
The CCC transformed the forests and natural areas of Pennsylvania and the United States and transformed all of the young men who were involved. Although it was a dark time for the economy and the many unemployed people, the conservation programs like the CCC and WPA greatly enhanced the Pennsylvania Bureau of State Parks.
Go to the Pennsylvania Civilian Conservation Corps Online Archive for extensive information on the CCC in Pennsylvania. www.apps.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/ccc/index.aspx
The CCC and WPA had the biggest impact on the vitality of Pennsylvania's state parks up to the Goddard Era.
Cowen, Stan. The Tree Army, Pictural Histories Publishing Co., Second Revised Printing, 1996
Cupper, Dan. Our Priceless Heritage, Pennsylvania State Parks, 1893-1993 Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Department of Environmental Resources, Bureau of State Parks, 1993.
National Association of Civilian Conservation Corps Alumni www.cccalumni.org
National Archive www.archives.gov/research/guide-fed-records/groups/035.html
The Civilian Conservation Corps and the National Park Service, 1933-1942. An Administrative History. www.cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/ccc/index.htm