Thirteen of Indiana’s 24 current state parks were developed or improved by New Deal agencies. Pokagon State Park, in the lake-filled glacial moraine of the far northeast corner of the state near Angola, is the only one listed virtually in its entirety in the National Register of Historic Places.
For years Pokagon has gone all out to celebrate its Civilian Conservation Corps heritage, with good reason. It had the longest continuous CCC presence of any of Indiana’s parks. Company 556, initially formed in the fall of 1933 to do several projects at Indiana Dunes State Park on Lake Michigan, established Camp SP-7 at Pokagon the following year. The ambitious development program for Pokagon included reforestation, landscaping, road building, and construction of numerous outdoor recreational facilities. The CCC boys hewed local timber and split native glacial stone to construct buildings that harmonized especially well with the local environment, following the guidelines created by the National Park Service for state parks.
Nearly all the park’s present landscaping and buildings–the saddle barn, shelterhouses, much of the group camp, the beach and bathhouse, overnight cabins, and the old gatehouse–are the work of the CCC, which remained in the park until January 1942.
Veterans of Company 556 began an annual reunion at Pokagon in 1953, always the last Sunday of July. This year, not only was the 63rd annual reunion held, but also the dedication of the CCC Gatehouse Pocket Museum, housed in the former gatehouse standing at the north side of the entrance. Styled, typically, like a tiny English cottage, it is built of brick and glacial stone trim with a massive fireplace chimney.
“Pocket museum” is an accurate term; essentially it is no more than a single exhibit celebrating the work of the CCC here and in other of Indiana’s parks, a wonderful reuse for the old but charming gatehouse that stood idle all these years. The majority of the artifacts on display are those of one man, Roger Woodcock, who died in 2007. Roger was the man behind the annual reunions, the man who funded the National Register nomination for the park’s two-story shelterhouse and, later, who partly funded the nomination for the entire park. His story, which I recorded more than 25 years ago, is archived at the Indiana Historical Society. A photograph of Roger, nearly life-size, watches over the exhibits with pride.