To celebrate the 90th anniversary of its creation, the Historical Society of Easton would like to invite the community to join us for a presentation on Sunday, March 12, 2023, at 4:00 PM in the Community Room of the Easton Public Library by author and educator Marty Podskoch for an illustrated talk on the Civilian Conservation Corps Camps and their work here in Connecticut. There is no cost to attend and light refreshments will be served at a meet-and-greet after the presentation that will also include Easton historians and raconteurs Bruce Nelson and Elizabeth Boyce. Registration for this free event can be made at: Save the Date: the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in Connecticut – Historical Society of Easton Connecticut (historicalsocietyofeastonct.org)
When President Roosevelt signed the executive order that established the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) on April 5, 1933, the idea was to establish a virtual army of young men who would work on publicly funded conservation projects aimed at improving our environment. This was not only a program that would put thousands of young men to work during a time when work of any kind was difficult to come by, but also a program that was years ahead of its time in that it would help protect and promote the nation’s natural environment.
While the Forest Reserve Act of 1891 had set the precedent for the federal government to set aside large tracts of wilderness by withdrawing those lands from the public domain, it hadn’t been until 1905 that those vast reserves were put under the management of the Bureau of Forestry. But that agency’s jurisdiction and control began and ended with forest lands owned by the federal government. Management and conservation of all other public lands fell upon the states and local jurisdictions in which they lay. And it wouldn’t be until 1970 when President Nixon signed the legislation that created the Environmental Protection Agency that the federal government would begin engaging with the states and local authorities to protect our forests, rivers and lakes from harmful environmental effects of any kind.
But during the years leading up to WWII when the CCC was in operation, lands outside of the normal jurisdiction of the federal government saw real and effective efforts to protect them from the ravages of fires, floods, and harmful insect infestations through a series of comprehensive plans that would see the construction of roads, bridges, flood controlling dams, preventative forest management, and fire observation towers all across America.
The men of the CCC would also construct wildlife refuges, fish hatcheries, and reservoirs. In an effort to have citizens support the work of the CCC, FDR authorized the corps to construct bridges and campground facilities that would allow the American population access to many areas that had been previously too remote for all but the heartiest civilians to reach.
The CCC was run very much in the same manner as the nation’s volunteer army had been. In fact, it was the Army that administered each of the camps and aided in the transportation of many of the enrollees from the large population centers where they lived to the more remote locations where they would work. In less than three months the Army helped to establish over fourteen hundred working camps that held more than 300,000 young workers. The speed at which the work was accomplished was unprecedented during any time the nation hadn’t been at war.
The minimum enlistment period was for six months. Initially, the age range was for young men between eighteen and twenty-five, although the age was eventually upped to a maximum of twenty-eight. The men were paid $30 per month but were required to send between $22 and $25 of that amount home to their families depending on each man’s circumstances.
By 1935, the CCC had fourteen forestry camps within in the state of Connecticut. The criteria for the establishment of a new camp included the necessity to show a sufficient amount of needed work to keep two hundred men busy for the next five years. With 65,000 acres of state forests to maintain and improve, the United States Forest Service initially decided that no more than a total of fifteen camps would be required, but that number was eventually increased to twenty-one in an effort to protect the state’s forests from an invasion of Gypsy moths and the Dutch Elm Disease blight that was destroying the state’s large population of Elm trees.
Each camp was administered by an Army officer who was in charge of providing food, clothing and shelter for the men, as well as enforcing the rules of discipline within the ranks. While the Army ran the camps, it was the United States Forest Service that oversaw and managed each of the projects. Each camp had several wooden structures that included a mess hall, a recreational facility, several barracks, and a separate building that housed the officers and project managers. In addition, each camp contained a garage where the motorized equipment was maintained and repaired, along with both a blacksmith and machine shop. A 1935 pamphlet put out by the State Forester of Connecticut estimated that it cost the federal government about $15,000 to build each camp and that each needed a $200,000 annual budget to remain in operation. The latter figure included the payments to the men.
Each Connecticut camp was assigned nine trucks for transporting the workers to the area where they would toil from approximately eight in the morning until four o’clock in the afternoon each day. After returning from the field, the men were given the remainder of the day to either pursue their recreational desires or to study. It is estimated that nationwide, as many as 57,000 young men who had entered the corps as illiterates, learned to read and write.
In addition to supplying jobs and a steady income to the young men of the CCC, nationally, the program poured millions of dollars into local economies. In Connecticut alone, the CCC fleet of one hundred and sixty trucks annually consumed over four hundred thousand gallons of gasoline, along with all the oil, anti-freeze, and lubricants needed to keep the vehicles going. These items would have been sourced locally, providing income to local businesses. In 1935, it was reported that the CCC had supplied local markets with over six hundred thousand dollars’ worth of business during the eighteen months since its inception.
One of the many services the CCC provided was routine maintenance of the state’s forests. That included the removal of dead and fallen trees which would have obviously been a great source of fuel during a forest fire. Other species of low value trees that blocked the light for healthy hardwood trees were thinned or removed. Diseased trees were also eliminated and, in some areas, seedings were planted by the thousands to reforest tracts that had been harvested, either by the CCC or private firms that had failed to replant.
In 1934, the work in Connecticut’s forests yielded ten thousand cords of firewood. Seventy thousand fence posts had been produced. Four hundred thousand board feet of lumber had been harvested. Over two hundred and fifty cords of wood had been used to make miscellaneous products such as wooden shingles, tobacco tent poles, and barrel staves. While none of these amounted to astronomical numbers, when sold, the total monetary volume of these products aided in helping replenish some of the funds the federal government had expended in running the camps in the state.
As of January 1, 1935, the men in Connecticut’s CCC camps had completed construction of over forty-two miles of fire lines, seventy-three miles of truck roads, nearly twenty-five miles of hiking trails and strung over fifteen miles of new telephone lines. They had assembled three fire look-out towers with several more to come during the following two years. In addition, they had constructed over five hundred and fifty water retention ponds to aid in the fighting of forest fires.
In 1933 and 1934, some eight hundred plus acres of low value forest land were converted into land that could potentially yield high values of wood products some twenty- thirty- or even forty years into the future. In total the men from the CCC planted in excess of seven hundred and eighty thousand seedlings. In addition, thousands of berry-producing bushes were planted that would provide food for both the bird and wildlife population of Connecticut’s forests.
By 1935, the authorized number of men living and working in the state’s fourteen camps exceeded thirty-two hundred, averaging out to about two hundred and thirty per camp. In the nearly two years since the program’s inception, they had produced over nine hundred and fifteen thousand manhours of work. A truly remarkable feat.
Nationally, these are just a few of the noteworthy people who served in some capacity with the CCC:
Alvin C. York, (Sgt York) – Superintendent in the CCC and Medal of Honor recipient in WWI
Chuck Yeager – Future test pilot who would be the first human to break the Sound Barrier
Walter Matthau – Future Best Supporting Actor winner.
Robert Mitchum – Future actor from Bridgeport, Connecticut
Raymond Burr – Future Emmy Award winning actor
Archie Moore – Future Light Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World from 1952 to1962.
Stan Musial – Future professional baseball player and a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame