“Of all the Minnesota CCC-ID projects perhaps the most well known is the reconstruction of the North West Company Fur Post, a historic fur trade site at Grand Portage on the North Shore of Lake Superior. Grand Portage (‘the great carrying place’) was part of an age-old route connecting Lake Superior with inland waterways used first by Indians and later also by fur traders. Between 1778 and 1802, a large fur trading organization, the North West Company, built a summer rendezvouz and supply center there, on the shores of Lake Superior. In 1933, CCC-ID enrollees started work by clearing nine miles of the old Grand Portage trail to lessen fire danger in the area. Little additional work was done for several years until the superintendent of the Consolidated Chippewa Agency and the Minnesota Historical Society formed plans to reconstruct the old fur post stockade, at which Indians had conducted business with fur traders. Conceived jointly by the Chippewa and the historical society, the purpose of the project was to research and restore the historic site.
The project began in 1936 with archeological work. Under the direction of Ralph D. Brown, a crew of CCC-ID enrollees located the original stockade, providing workers with an exact pattern and wood type (white cedar) for reconstruction. George Morrison, an enrollee in the CCC-ID camp at Grand Portage, remembered the attention paid to detail. Adhering to the original style of construction, he and other enrollees fashioned wooden pegs rather than nails to hold the structure together. He said, ‘remember making the pegs that went into the holds to hold the logs together. We whittled dowels down, then put points on them like a nail. The local blacksmith made the metal hinges for the doors and things.’
Although funds were always a concern, the CCC-ID and others involved in the project decided to maintain a high level of accuracy even if it involved extra cost. After finding the original fence posts, William Heritage reported to the commissioner of Indian Affairs on October 1, 1936, that it was possible to ‘reconstruct the stockade in such a manner as to be an almost exact replica of the original stockade’ but that ‘a large part of the material now prepared will not be acceptable to the [Minnesota Historical] Society because of its large size and it will be necessary to cut a large amount of additional timber as only about half of that on hand will be acceptable to the Historical Society.’ In spite of the time and cost involved, CCC-ID enrollees cut new pickets and began work on the post stockade. That year, they also built a monument at the site of old Fort Charlotte on the western end of the Grand Portage trail.
Due to lack of funding, construction on the project stopped for a time after completion of the stockade, not resuming until 1938. Meanwhile, CCC-ID enrollees, working under the direction of Minnesota Historical Society archeologists, uncovered the full perimeters of the stockade, the stone foundation of the great hall (the business and social center of the stockade), a well containing a bucket and samples of ‘Spanish brown’ paint used o the buildings, the possible remains of thirteen other buildings and structures, and hundreds of artifacts including trade goods, pipes, hinges, and nails. When new funds were finally released in October 1938, enrollees began work rebuilding the great hall on its original stone foundation. They also completed the stockade, putting the palisades in the original trenches and the gate in its original location. Participants in a WPA handicraft project prepared exhibits for the great hall. With this, the project was complete.
The Grand Portage project was much more expensive than originally anticipated. Although in danger of being cancelled several times by CCC director Robert Fechner, it evolved into one of the most important CCC work projects in Minnesota. The CCC-ID-built Great Hall which burned in 1969, was reconstructed on the same site by the National Park Service, and the archeological work defining the site helped lay the groundwork for continued preservation of what is now the Grand Portage national Monument. In 1940, John Collier described the impact of not just the Grand Portage reconstruction but of all the many and varied CCC-ID projects this way: ‘There is no part of Indian country, there are few functions of Indian life, where it had not made an indispensable contribution.’
In their work rebuilding historic structures, fencing farmland to fight erosion, battling severe drought, and preserving habitat for animals, the men and boys of the CCF and CCC-ID left behind a legacy for generations of Minnesotans to enjoy. But while they could see the impact of their work on the land, water, and traditions of the state, many enrollees felt an equally impressive change within themselves. ‘My days in the C.C.C’s cannot be expressed in words,’ one soil conservation enrollee recalled. ‘You have to live in the mind of an 18 year old boy. I must say that it taught me the respect of authority, of individual responsibility, how to work and get along with others. My days in the C’s developed me into a man.’”
Barbara W. Sommer, Hard Work and a Good Deal: The Civilian Conservation Corps in Minnesota. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 2008. Pgs. 119-121.
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