Civilian Conservation Corps Celebrates 80 Years
The last flag to ever have flown over Richmond Furnace Civilian Conservation Corps Camp SP-54 recently returned home to Cowans Gap State Park, where officials are proudly showing the item as part of their historical and conservation display in the Brightbill Interpretive Center. Much to the glee of park naturalist Renae Saum and manager Ryan Donovan, the flag’s arrival could not have been better timed as 2013 marks the 80th anniversary of the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps.
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) got its start during the Great Depression when then- President Franklin D. Roosevelt unveiled his “New Deal.” Hoping to alleviate ongoing unemployment issues across the nation, the president enlisted the CCC “peacetime army,” often called Roosevelt’s Tree Army, which would “battle the erosion of natural resources.”
Criteria for being employed through CCC were few. Unmarried male participants were to be U.S. citizens in good physical health between the ages of 18 and 25. Those criteria would later be relaxed to include participation by veterans.
History indicates the first person enrolled with CCC in April 1933, and the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation estimates 194,500 Pennsylvanians were given jobs from 1933 to 1942 through 104 camp locations. Of those camps, 92 were created in state parks and state forestland. Among those camps created here to house and offer employment to these men were the Richmond Furnace Camp located where Cowans Gap State Park stands and Sideling Hill CCC Camp SP-52, better known locally as the Oregon Road Camp.
Even though the United States Army ran the CCC camps established in remote, rural areas across the country, tradesmen were typically responsible for overseeing work crews.
According to history buff and Buchanan State forest ranger Shawn Lynn, the premise behind CCC was to ship young, unskilled men away from their homes and families to where they could be taught a trade. Education was a key part of the CCC camps, and approximately 40,000 men were taught to read while also learning a hands-on trade such as construction or roadwork. Lynn noted distance from home also played a major factor, and the rural locations made it more difficult for recruits to leave while unwatched.
At Richmond Furnace, CCC workers were touted as being responsible for planting acres of trees; constructing four new bridges; laying 30 miles of state roadways, 32 miles of fire trails and 11 miles of telephone lines; and cleaning forests and streams of brush during the camp’s existence between 1933 and 1942. Just as important was the construction of a dam over a period of three years that would lead to the creation of the popular fishing and swimming destination known as Cowans Gap Lake.
Payment for a month’s employment was $30, and $25 of that total amount was sent home to the individual’s family to help keep them afloat in those difficult times.
Lynn stated Sideling Hill crews are remembered for having built the picnic areas at Sideling Hill and Jerry Springs as well as a ball field and adjacent swimming hole along Oregon Road. Furthermore, the camp served as a satellite location for Richmond Furnace and included four barracks on-site that were constructed as “temporary, tar-paper shacks” and capable of housing up to 100 men in each. While the main headquarters still remains as evidence of that time period, the recreation hall chimney still stands as does a root cellar and several latrine/wash basin foundations.
When Sideling Hill camp closed its doors on April 10, 1937, it did not remain shut for long. The location went on to serve as a Civilian Public Service (CPS) Camp for conscientious observers who were unwilling to serve in the military for reasons such as religious beliefs. Wells Tannery CPS Camp 20 would be operated by the Mennonite Central Committee through 1944 and tackled jobs such as landscaping and erosion control on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, soil conservation, logging and farming.
The same year, World War II German prisoners of war would be shipped to the camp on Sideling Hill. It remained a POW campsite through mid-1946.
Lynn and Buchanan State Forest District forester Jim Smith noted they are definitely interested in preserving what remains of the CCC camp location in northern Fulton County. Hopefully with some assistance from volunteers or even local Scouts, interpretive work could be done to enhance the area, he said.
In addition, Lynn is available to conduct historical walks and tours of the old CCC camp and surrounding area. The two-mile loop followed by Lynn during the hikes consists of the campsite and even the nearby railroad arch trail. Information regarding a historical walk can be obtained by calling the Buchanan State Forest office in McConnellsburg at 717-485- 3148.