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The Civilian Conservation Corps

From: James F. Justin Civilian Conservation Corp Museum Photos are of Bethel CCC Camp 528. Included in our 2008 Library Display

Coservation Corps Photo

Formed by act of Congress and upon the request of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps was an organization unique in American History. The CCCs was a group of men, mostly youths but also World War One Veterans or Skilled Laborers in their own companies, formed across the country.

Despite its name, the Civilian Conservation Corps was in many ways a military organization. They would enlist in a military fashion and be subject to military discipline. Upon obtaining acceptance for admission, the men would be transported to Army training camps, such as Fort Dix, where they would undergo five days of basic training style physical training and orientation conducted by military personnel. Men would be assigned and transferred to a Company.

Districts were associated with Army Corps commands, and would be led by High Ranking Regular Military Officers. CCC equipment was military in origin - a typical CCC image is the young men driving to and fro to projects in the backs of open bed Army trucks, donned in Army uniforms and accoutrements. Their living quarters were military style open bay barracks. Its officers too were either regular and later reserve military men on active duty. Discipline was military too, with barracks, lights out, marching, formations, and KP duty - all those military minutiae which servicemen claim to hate.

Yet despite these military aspects, the CCC was still an organization mostly made up of young men, boys really, of sixteen or seventeen years old. They therefore were given civilian leaders to augment the military leadership to provide tutoring and ministering. Also, from among their own ranks, leaders and assistant leaders would be selected. Technical Foremen, men employed by the Federal Agency responsible for the camp such as Agriculture, Forestry or Interior, would provide assistance, supervision and training into the skilled aspects of the work to be performed. Thus while the men were led in some ways as soldiers they were also mentored as students.

The CCC man would indeed be away from home for some time. An enlistment was six months in length and could be renewed three times for a total service limit of two years.

Conditions were not always perfect. Though many men were fond of the food, other camps suffered from bad cooks or staff who would skimp on supplies and pocket the money saved. Living quarters were also spartan, being open bay barracks the central feature of which would be a large pot bellied stove.

barracks photo

Beyond the barracks, Camps would also feature a mess hall, motor pool, infirmary, headquarters and officers and staff facilities and usually a recreational hall and Classroom buildings. Facilities, too, were naturally primitive, as most camps were so far in the wild. These buildings would be built either by WPA men or the CCC men themselves. Where the men themselves were creating the camp, tents would serve until work was done, adding to the overall. discomfort of daily living. Camps were constantly being built as Companies would complete their work and move on. On average 1,643 camps were working each year, with 4,500 Camps.

barracks photo

The single most salient aspect of CCC life, however, was the work. Each day the men would go forth from their camp to the local project on which they were working, often with songs ringing from the beds of the trucks. From this relatively universal scene the experiences of the various CCC companies would diverge. Each camp was assigned to a Federal Department, such as Interior, War, Labor and Agriculture, and within that structure to an agency, one of 25 such as Forestry or Grazing, or to a State Agency such as Mosquito Control or State Parks. Many, most perhaps, were devoted to Soil Conservation (Camps with SC designation) or Forestry (F designations). These men gave rise to the nickname, Roosevelt's Tree Army. Their work would vary from fire prevention, saving standing trees by clearing underbrush and cutting firebreaks, to re-forestation where new trees would be planted to hold soil from erosion. Other camps would build roads, cut trails, build or repair bridges and dams and so on .In each case the men would spend their day in back breaking physical labor, giving rise to another nickname for the CCCs, "Colossal College of Calluses".

Serving in the Corp were 3,463,766 men, supervised by 263,755 personnel, of which 7,793 of these men would die in the Corps. Some 2.5 Billion trees were planted, 248,000 acres of swamp drained, 814,000 acres of grazing land replanted, 972 Million fish restocked, 154 Million square yards of banks protected from erosion as well as 40 Million acres of farmland, 125,000 miles of road and 13,100 of trails were built, 89,000 Miles of telephone lines strung, 52,000 acres of campgrounds would be created, 800 state parks begun and nearly 4,000 Historic Buildings renovated. In all the projects directly employed or economically benefited over 17 million people, created some two billion 1942 dollars of infrastructure investment.

Many other public facilities were surveyed and crafted for the benefit not just of the people of those times but for all posterity. Most of these structures and facilities remain, including the popular Skyline Drive in Virginia, the Pacific Crest Trail and the great Appalachian Trail to name a few. Virtually every National and State Park would be a shadow of it's current self without the sacrifices of the CCC men who preserved them and made them accessible to the public, who in essence created them.

The CCCs preserved a generation of young men, the core of our modern America, from the despair and destitution of the Great Depression Instead, given the opportunity to learn, to work and to better themselves, these Men learned self-respect, trades, skills and discipline while earning money for themselves and their families. Of all of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's accomplishments this was perhaps his most effective tool in shaping the future of America. Veterans of the CCCs would in the years to come take the skills and discipline they learned and use it to win the wars against Fascism and Communism while at the same time building the great country that America has become.

The Three C's and Its Work
By Clyde Tom
Clermont Sun Dec 14, 1933

Forestry or rather reforestation is expected to play a very definite part in the flood and erosion control project now being carried out by the C.C.C. camp at Bethel and in several other counties in Ohio. It is important to know that this project is not confined to Ohio, but is being carried on in all the states lying within the Mississippi river watershed.

The advantages of planting trees in eroding areas can hardly be overstated. Every time that a flood occurs in impends there is considerable comment to the effect that in the good old days when the country was still covered with timer, floods were less frequent, and were not as severe as they now are. This statement is nearly 100% correct. It is likewise true that when the forests were here, river water were much less muddy at flood timeā€¦.

C.C.C. Camp
Clermont Courier, Nov 29, 1933

The Clermont County C.C.C. Erosion Camp, under construction at Burke Park, Bethel, Ohio, is nearing completion and will probably be opened early in December. N. R. Bear. Assistant Supt., Chillicothe, was in Batavia last week completing details preliminary to opening the camp. Sixteen Clermont County men will be stationed at the camp in addition to the two hundred Ohioans sent in from Camp Know, where the have completed their training. Land owners desiring erosion dams built on their farms may secure applications from county Agricultural Agent Baugh.