The New Deal and Catoctin Mountain Park
I pledge myself to a New Deal for the American people. The New Deal sparked a revolution on Catoctin Mountain. No shots were fired, no lives were lost, but the ensuing battle divided communities and altered the landscape. Casualties included self-reliance and an independent lifestyle. Mountain residents were resistant to change. Farming and logging had sustained them through the generations. They did not realize that repeated harvesting was robbing the mountain of its riches and would ultimately destroy the lifestyle they cherished. Some insisted the farms could survive. The government said the land was no longer fit for agriculture. An unusually hot and dry year in 1930, and a terrible drought in 1931, led the Frederick News to forecast visions of hard times. This nation is asking for action and action now. This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. In January 1935, the Catoctin Recreational Demonstration Area, was approved as part of a New Deal program designed to reclaim submarginal agricultural land. The National Park Service hoped the land would provide recreational opportunities near the urban areas of Baltimore and Washington D.C. Land acquisition was difficult. Mountain residents remained suspicious of the federal government. The non-resident landowners were willing to sell. But, opposition came from those whose lives and homes were directly affected. Foxville residents signed a petition objecting to the land purchases raising a turmoil that threatened to derail the entire project. Project Manager Garland Williams was determined to make the project work. He pressed forward interviewing prospective workers. The Emergency Relief Act of 1935, financed Catoctin jobs through the Works Progress Administration, a program that helped locals get off of relief rolls with a job, instead of a handout. Tradition died hard for workers who had previously determined their own workload and schedule. Construction of the Catoctin Recreational Demonstration Area, began on January 2nd, 1936, with 55 men clearing the general area for fire prevention. By spring, over 300 men were removing blighted chestnut trees, farm buildings and miles of old roads and fences. Hinges, iron ware, doors, and glass ware were salvaged for later reuse. The first year, construction focused on the building of support structures, a blacksmith shop, central garage unit and administrative offices. Workers graded land and built truck trails. Still, resentment smoldered throughout the community. A suspicious forest fire erupted on the morning of May 2nd, 1936. WPA workers, who were not working that day, rushed to the project site to help extinguish the blaze quickly realizing that the end of the project would bring another unwanted change into their lives. The initial fire and two others set later that day were controlled by afternoon. The fires were the last physical evidence of opposition to the project. The first cabin camp, later named Misty Mount, was completed in 1937. An Inspector stated that the buildings were of the better class of RDP work. The materials, chestnut logs and native stone, were particularly well chosen. In the designs, following the local precedent have been well executed. The Baltimore League for Crippled Children was the first group to use Camp Misty Mount. The group developed a special working relationship with the National Park Service contributing suggestions for a specialized camp for the handicapped. Work on the second camp began in the summer of 1937, and 120 handicapped children used Camp Greentop in the 1938 summer season. Camp Hi-Catoctin built in 1938 was the final cabin camp built in the park. Its construction required nearly 300 workers. By then, the Depression was beginning to ease in central Maryland, making it increasingly difficult to employ workers from the relief rolls. Hopes for completion of the Catoctin RDA fell to a Civilian Conservation Corps camp that had been approved for Catoctin in 1936. A National Park Service official explained, Most of our straight labor projects have been put aside on a supposition that eventually a CCC camp would be attained. 35 men and an officer from CCC, Company 1374, arrived at Catoctin in April 1939, followed by a compliment of 200 young men. The men lived in tents, while they constructed a company camp consisting of prefabricated, portable buildings. Initial work at Catoctin focused on planting trees and building trails and fishing improvements on Big Hunting and Owens creeks. Members often worked road crew detail, laying stones and clearing brush for road improvement. CCC workers joined WPA workers to construct a home for the project supervisor and build a contact station that is part of today's visitor center. While primarily an employment program, the CCC also included education. Each enrollee received six hours of vocational and educational classes each week. Classes were provided in a variety of subjects, like photography, woodworking, surveying and educational basics. By 1941, the education level of enrollees increased. Military drilling took place at the camp and 62 enrollees attended national defense classes. Sixteen members trained as welders, were recommended for employment at the Fairchild Aircraft Corporation in Hagerstown. Many Catoctin CCC veterans entered the military in World War II, grateful for skills learned while at camp. Once overseas, you had to take care of yourself. Company 1374 was disbanded on November 7th, 1941, almost eight months before Congress ordered the total liquidation of the CCC on July 2nd, 1942. The change that mountain residents feared, was in reality a transformation speeded by the Great Depression and drought. Scars left from the change have faded over time. The forest has regrown and descendants of former landowners acknowledge that the transfer of family property to public ownership actually preserved their heritage. The New Deal was a good deal for the mountain that would become Catoctin Mountain Park. A beautiful park emerged from a barren mountain. Conrad Worth, National Park Service Director in the nineteen sixties, reflected, Looking back, I have often wondered how we ever accomplished it all. Written and Developed by: National Park Service, Catoctin Mountain Park. Produced by: Catoctin Center for Regional Studies, Frederick Community College. Narration by: John Fieseler, Sally Griffin, Dave Lemasters. Podcast edited by Jason Santelli, Multimedia Producer, FCC.
Catoctin Mountain Park was established during the New Deal. Public works programs began to conserve the mountain as a recreational paradise.