The Forest Service and The Civilian Conservation Corps: 1933-42

Chapter 1:

The Civilian Conservation Corps was a combined effort of many government units to provide work for unemployed males during the Great Depression. It was devised to cope with national conservation needs as well as unemployment, a collective response to the worsening economic conditions of 1933. [1] One of the first thrusts of CCC activity was in the national forests, where the CCC remained for its 9-year existence until increased demand for employees in an improved economy and the war effort brought about its end.

The CCC is probably the best remembered and most successful of all New Deal programs initiated by the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration during the 1930's. Today, many of the remaining physical features the CCC built have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Activities of the CCC were not limited to construction; contributions such as fighting forest fires and reducing pests and disease were also extremely important to national forest enhancement.

The enrollees in the CCC came from diverse ethnic backgrounds, but all were unemployed. The Nation's natural resources were in equally poor condition. Not only were timber resources being depleted, but other problems, such as soil erosion, were becoming primary concerns.

The CCC was established in April 1933 and terminated in 1942. Although not without its critics, this agency was surely successful in its intended objectives. Many people were removed from the relief rolls, and major land improvements were achieved. Typical projects included reforestation; construction of dams, diversions, roads, trails, buildings, and bridges; and control of erosion, forest fires, and disease. Voluntary community improvements also were completed in numerous locales.

In another capacity, the CCC provided educational opportunities for the enrollees. Many were taught the fundamental skills of reading and writing, while others received more advanced schooling. Religious, athletic, and social opportunities were made available. Many enrollees received sufficient training to be employed by industry upon receiving their discharge.

By design, the CCC worked on projects that were independent of other public relief programs. [2] The national forests were ideally suited for these projects. Although other Federal agencies such as the National Park Service and Soil Conservation Service contributed, the USDA Forest Service administered more than 50 per cent of all public work projects. [3] Indeed, the public forests profited vastly from the CCC effort.

Research Design

The design of the research for this book incorporates methods from the fields of history, anthropology, and architectural history. The approach is interdisciplinary in order to achieve a comprehensive analysis.

Although the CCC operated under several Federal agencies, the scope of this research is restricted to the activities of the CCC in national forests. Other USDA Forest Service programs are mentioned in order to provide further perspective: for example, the work in State and private forestry.

It is our intent to identify and explain contributions made by the CCC to forest architecture, conservation, and overall craftsmanship. Emphasis is placed upon land use improvements; however, a discussion and analysis of forest structures is also provided. Reforestation is treated in order to determine the general significance of the work of the CCC in the national forests to the country as a whole, to the States, to local communities, to the USDA Forest Service, and to the enrollees.

This research is unique in that it covers demographic, sociological, and ecological implications while utilizing a basically historical approach. Many CCC enrollees were relocated to camps at a considerable distance from their homes. Regardless of their regional and ethnic background, enrollees experienced considerable change. New attitudes, values, and beliefs emerged and were carried back to their home towns. Some enrollees never returned to their home towns; rather, they selected a community of new residence near their forest camp.

Communities near CCC camps, of course, received new cultural stimulus from the "immigration" process. Many communities were resistant to this program, whereas others welcomed it. [4] The financial profit realized by these communities was often significant, not only because of monthly spending by enrollees, but also CCC hiring of local labor for camp construction. [5]

During the CCC period, the country underwent tremendous change. This research discusses some major elements of that change as they pertain to the CCC and the USDA Forest Service. Both enrollees and the physical landscape on which they worked took on a new appearance. More than anything, this program under the New Deal was an implementation of Roosevelt's personal philosophy, which emphasized the need for improvement of both national resources and human welfare. [6]


This research required a two-part approach. The first part involved retrieval of primary documentation and the second consisted of conducting interviews with persons who had studied the CCC or had participated in the program. Secondary information also was scrutinized. Sources included major books, journals, and newspaper and magazine articles that provided perspective and offered valuable insights into the CCC.

The first major depository researched was the National Archives and Record Service (NARS) in Washington, DC. Here, the records of the Civilian Conservation Corps, Record Group (RG) 35, were scrutinized for primary information. Record Group 95, USDA Forest Service records relating to the CCC were also researched, as were Regional Record Centers near Los Angeles and in Denver and Seattle. Attention was given to Record Groups 35 and 95 at each location. All materials relevant to the project were examined.

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library, Hyde Park, NY, is also a major source of information pertaining to the CCC and to Roosevelt's administration and was explored. Regional Forest Service offices were researched. Portland, OR, Albuquerque, NM, and Missoula, MT, were visited by research teams, while the remaining regional offices were contacted by mail or telephone. All held excellent information, but with varying degrees of completeness and organization. In some instances, ranger district offices also were researched.

State and local holdings on the CCC also were examined. Examples include Oregon Historical Society, Portland, OR; Kerr Library, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR; Forest History Society, Santa Cruz, CA; and others where appropriate. The CCC Alumni Association in Falls Church, VA, was approached, and through them contact was made with other State and regional chapters.

Interviews were conducted to collect primary information about the CCC. Our objective was to locate a cross section of enrollees who worked within the organization at different levels, such as camp directors, assistants, educators, artists, and individuals in the higher echelons of the Emergency Conservation Work. We were successful in obtaining interviews with enrollees of various ethnic affiliations. We received interviews and correspondence from enrollees from various regions, as well as from individuals in supervising capacities. Each person was given an opportunity to respond indirectly as well. Transcriptions were made and release forms were obtained from each individual.

The approach to data collection was designed for the case method or case study. This allows for a more detailed and careful analysis of the information. [7] By examining a series of cases, the researcher can best recognize regularities of events. Comparisons and contrasts are better defined, and thus clear, systematic statements can be made. [8]

The first two chapters of this report are an introductory section that provides necessary background information for the reader. Because our intent is to provide a history of the CCC in national forests, a brief general history of the USDA Forest Service is presented in this section. We provide a chronology of major events and legislation dealing with the formation of that organization.

Prior to congressional enactment of the CCC legislation, a few States had enacted relief programs similar to the CCC. One program in California is mentioned in the introductory section so that some perspective might be gained on the economic and political mood of the country prior to the CCC. This introductory section concludes with an overview of the Emergency Conservation Work, including major legislation, organization, objectives, eligibility and recruitment, general accomplishments, and finally, liquidation.

Chapters 3-11 present a chronological summary of the CCC in each forest region as the regions were defined from 1933 to 1942 (fig. 1). A consideration of the similarities and differences among regional programs and their various accomplishments is presented, as well as social, demographic, and ecological data pertaining to the CCC. Chapter 12 gives an overview of CCC camp features and land use improvements.

Figure 1—National Forest Regions.

The needs of forestry work in general and USDA Forest Service work in particular dictated the projects of the CCC in the national forests. Although a variety of programs was undertaken, programs in adjacent regions tended to be similar. Forest conservation and development was the major goal in all regions. Within a broad regional context, some variation did exist, however. These regional differences reflected geographical location, environmental characteristics, historical precedence, and in a few cases, individual vision or design.

Forest conservation work involved the maintenance or restoration of forest productivity as well as the protection of national forests from fire, disease, and insect infestation. Development projects were aimed at improving availability of national forests for conservation, public recreation, and livestock pasturage. Among the CCC's numerous forest improvement projects were construction and improvement of roads, bridges, administrative and service buildings, lookout towers, guard stations, landing fields, telephone lines, fences, picnic and campground facilities, trails, reservoirs, dams, livestock water tanks, and cattle guards. Other important activities were reforestation, erosion and flood control, stream improvement, fish and wildlife development, pest control, and fire prevention and suppression.

Local community reactions to the spread of CCC camps across the country varied. Because many of the national forest camps were located in remote areas, the towns most immediately affected were relatively small. They were also conservative and suspicious of outsiders. Concerns regarding local job displacement and family safety and well-being were often voiced. Frequently, in places historically affected by racial tensions, interracial hostilities caused problems. For blacks, these hostilities occurred mainly in the Southeastern United States. To a lesser extent, Mexican-Americans faced ethnic discrimination in parts of the Southwest. Throughout the country, enrollees were confronted with social and cultural differences internally and in relation to local communities. Interstate rivalries, distinctions between city and rural men, literate and illiterate, eastern and western, northern and southern, were additional sources of friction.

In general, once the first camps were established and the Civilian Conservation Corps became better known, CCC camps became accepted and even sought after. Civilian Conservation Corps' accomplishments were recognized—improvements in forest productivity, access to hinterlands, flood control, fire protection, and community safety. Furthermore, CCC camps were welcomed for the tremendous economic benefits to the areas they served. By using community services and purchasing supplies locally, the camps stimulated the regional economy. The mandatory rule for enrollees to send part of their paychecks home also meant that enrollees contributed economically to their home States. In some cases, enrollees subsequently settled in the vicinity of their camps and became part of the same town or community that had initially resisted them.

Three case studies are provided in Chapters 13, 14, and 15 to illustrate more specific and localized information on CCC activities within national forests and to offer an interregional case comparison. Three forests were selected for case study: George Washington National Forest in Virginia, Coronado National Forest in Arizona, and Mt. Hood National Forest in Oregon.

George Washington National Forest provides details of CCC activities in the Eastern United States, relatively close to the Nation's Capital. In many respects it was a showcase for CCC programs. Coronado National Forest, in the dry Southwest, represents a case of unusual environmental and ethnic circumstances for the CCC and also a forest comprised of a relatively large number of noncontiguous ranger districts and purchase units. The use of a different resource for construction, adobe, also set Coronado apart. Mt. Hood National Forest is located in the well-watered western Cascades of Oregon. It is in the center of the Pacific Northwest, a distinctive cultural and political area of the United States. Many CCC documents and features have been preserved in this area.

The case studies of these three forests examine camp life and activities of the CCC, relationships with adjacent communities, and architectural features of CCC construction projects. The studies also deal with major factors of the environment that both limited activities and provided unique opportunities for CCC functioning.

These three detailed case studies illustrate, in a comparative way, improvements, structures, and camp organization in the national forests, and should be of value to archaeologists, historians, and land use planners or managers.

Appendix E of this manuscript provides procedures for interpretation of architectural features. It is intended to serve as a handbook. This appendix offers a method for determining significance and recording CCC architectural features from incipient phases through nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. Included are recommendations for the preservation and interpretation of CCC structures and improvements. The final part of Appendix E contains a philosophy of architectural history that provides a working concept for the cultural resource specialist. The other appendixes included are a collection of CCC papers, the National Register of Historic Places Nomination for the Snake River Ranger District, a list of archival sources of CCC history, a list of CCC alumni chapters, and a bibliography of resource information about the CCC.

Reference Notes

1. John Salmond, The Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942: A New Deal Case Study (Durham, NC: Duke University; 1967).

2. Harold Steen, The U.S. Forest Service (Seattle: University of Washington Press; 1976).

3. Ibid.

4. Salmond, The Civilian Conservation Corps.

5. Charles Harper, The Administration of the Civilian Conservation Corps (Clarksburg, VA: Clarksburg Publishing Company; 1939).

6. Salmond, The Civilian Conservation Corps.

7. P.S. Pelto, Anthropological research, the structure of inquiry (New York: Harper and Row; 1970).

8. Ibid.

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Last Updated: 07-Jan-2008