W. Va. Museum is Tribute to New Deal Program

QUIET DELL (AP) – From 1933 to 1942, a civilian army of 55,000 young men poured into 67 encampments spread across West Virginia.

In the darkest days of the Great Depression, they built roads, bridges, swimming pools, ponds, fire towers, cabins, picnic shelters and lodges – when they weren’t planting trees, stringing utility lines, digging wells or fighting forest fires.

In return, the “CCC boys” were fed three square meals a day, learned marketable skills, received classroom training and earned salaries of $30 a month, $25 of which was sent home to help their families in the struggle to survive that era’s economic meltdown.

The men of the Civilian Conservation Corps left a lasting mark on West Virginia’s landscape. Much of what they built more than 70 years ago is still in use, mainly as guest accommodations, fishing ponds and picnic pavilions at state parks and forests, or as campgrounds, enhanced swimming beaches and recreation sites in the Monongahela National Forest.

“The Civilian Conservation Corps was one of the more successful government programs ever created,” said Bob Anderson, a retired WVU microbiology professor and chairman of the West Virginia CCC Museum Association.

“It helped men help themselves and their families, it brought improvements to the environment, and it provided economic support for the communities near the camps,” Anderson said. “As the late Sen. Jennings Randolph once said, the CCC boys helped lift America out of the darkness of the Depression and into the sunshine of better times.”

Nationally, about 3 million young men took part in the CCC program during its nine-year run. A total of 1,600 CCC camps were established, giving the program a presence in every state and most U.S. territories.

The CCC, a key component of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program, was open to single men between the ages of 17 and 25 who were unemployed and eager to work. While it was a civilian organization, the CCC operated its camps on a military model, making use of barracks, mess halls, formations and drills, with reserve Army and Navy officers serving as camp commanders.

The CCC lifestyle helped thousands of alumni of the program make a relatively seamless transition to military service in World War II.

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“The camps operated under a code of military discipline,” said Anderson, “but they also made time for sports, published camp newspapers, and hosted dances and movies that were open to the people in the nearby towns. The CCC boys worked under LEMs – local experienced men – who taught them skills like masonry, blacksmithing and heavy equipment operation.”

The CCC camps hired local residents to work as cooks and clerks and bought supplies from local vendors while creating local infrastructure improvements that would endure for generations.

To honor their largely unheralded legacy, Anderson helped form the West Virginia CCC Camp Museum, in the historic Quiet Dell School building just south of Clarksburg, nine years ago.

The rolling pastures behind the 1922-vintage two-room schoolhouse once served as the site for CCC Camp Harrison, built in 1935. CCC members at Camp Harrison were involved with agricultural soil conservation projects with area farmers.

The museum, which has more than 250 CCC photos, tools, newspapers, uniforms and other items on display, shares the building with the West Virginia Heritage Crafts Co-op, which operates a gift shop on the premises.

The museum’s photos include numerous scenes from CCC camps across the state, including Camp Parsons in Tucker County, where several CCC-built buildings are still in use by employees of the U.S. Forest Service’s Fernow Experimental Forest.

“The CCC raised millions of trees there that were planted throughout West Virginia and neighboring states,” Anderson said.

Feelings of pride, shared experiences and camaraderie developed at CCC camps were similar to those experienced by veterans of military service, Anderson said, prompting CCCers to hold reunions at or near their former camps over the years.

The West Virginia CCC Camp Museum holds two reunions annually for CCC alumni and their families, regardless of where they served.

“Attendance at the reunions has really fallen off, since so many of the CCC boys are dying off,” said Anderson. “The youngest surviving CCC boys are now at least 86 years old. But more people come to our jubilees than come to the CCC’s national conference.”

Anderson, the author of “Written on the Land,” a book covering the CCC era in West Virginia, said he continues to learn more about the program from alumni at each Quiet Dell reunion event.

He said he became interested in researching the CCC’s activities in West Virginia while tracking down information for a book he was writing on the Quiet Dell School.

“Someone pointed out to me that a CCC camp was operating here back in the ’30s,” he said. “I knew almost nothing about the CCC then, so I decided to look into it.”

Anderson said the museum’s role is to “honor the CCC boys for all the unrecognized hard work they did, and to promote the CCC legacy to the public.”

Long-range plans call for building a replica CCC barracks to house the museum on the school’s two-acre campus, now owned by the Harrison County Commission.

“We also need to reach our teachers, and try to get the CCC story woven into the curriculum,” he said. “People need to remember the CCC boys and learn what they did.”

Journal-new.net | June 5, 2011

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