Minnesota Memorial Honors Sacrifices of CCC Men

A monument to those CCC'ers who lost their lives on duty.


A monument to those CCC’ers who lost their lives on duty. Natalie Heneghan, 2015

On the west bank of Lake Phalen, on the east side of St. Paul, sits an unassuming monument honoring the men who died while working for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The brainchild of Company 4727 Educational Advisor Edward Mueller, the memorial is a mounded collection of hundreds of stones from CCC camps throughout the U.S., rock donations from three federal departments, and a slab from the floor of the White House. It speaks to the dangers of working in the wild, the camaraderie that developed among the workers, and the government’s gratitude.

 

Company 4727 set up camp about ten miles north of St. Paul in August 1935. In their two years in Minnesota, the men of Company 4727 graded county roads, built park amenities, and conducted an exploratory survey of soil conditions on nearby Vadnais Lake. Enrollees, mostly from North Dakota, nicknamed their camp “Eveless Eden” and their monthly newsletter the “Eveless Eden Eavesdropper”–the men were clearly  attentive to both the area’s natural beauty and the CCC’s gendered component.

 

The newsletter was officially titled Bear Facts, and it tracked the monument’s construction. Its editors praised Mr. Mueller, a beloved advisor and teacher, for his “novel and excellent idea” for the monument. Mr. Mueller integrated monument planning into camp education. (Reports noted, however, that construction took place on weekends only by men interested in volunteering their time, and that it cost the government nothing.) Early plans for the memorial situated it on the banks of Vadnais Lake, close to the camp. Superintendent William Kaufman of St. Paul Parks suggested Lake Phalen, just south of Vadnais Lake. At Phalen, the Kaufman could ensure “perpetual care” for the monument. Company 4727 spread word through the CCC’s national newsletter, Happy Days, to solicit “native stones” from 400 camps. Requests specified that stones should be less than four pounds, allowing companies nationwide to send them via franked mail. Stones started arriving in St. Paul late in the summer of 1936. President Franklin Roosevelt sent a stone slab from the floor of the White House, which, although it broke in transit, formed the cornerstone of the memorial. In November, stones from the Departments of Agriculture and Interior arrived, and the company expected a package from the Department of War soon after.

 

The onset of winter weather pushed construction back to the spring of 1937. Enrollees formed the monument from the “hundreds” of donated stones. (Bear Facts offered no final count of contributions, though they expressed gratification with the enthusiastic response of camps nationwide.) Company Foreman John Carlgren directed construction. By late spring, work was completed, and the company placed the finishing touch–a bronze plaque–on the monument. Advertisements for local businesses, contributions from the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce funded the plaque.

 

In July 1937, the company transferred to a camp near Fargo, North Dakota. They had planted thousands of trees, beautified lakes and parks, and made the natural resources of Ramsey County accessible to the public. But of all their projects, the one-of-a-kind stone monument will forever stand as a memorial to enrollees nationwide and as a testament to the initiative, creativity, and integrity of Company 4727.

 

 

Natalie Heneghan is Research Associate for the Living New Deal and a recent graduate of Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn.

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