When most people think of camp life, especially if you attended one as a child, you probably think of campfires, singing, silly skits, crafts, sports, nature study, night hikes and bunkhouse pranks. However, I am going to share with you another kind of camp that strengthened families, our nation, established parks and helped save our nation’s natural resources.
In October of 1929, Cleveland – along with the rest of the nation - was thrust into the Great Depression with market crashes, bank failures and catastrophic environmental issues. These resulted in sky-rocketing unemployment, displaced families, The Dust Bowl and food lines that seemed endless.
At this time, Cleveland Metropolitan Park District was only 12 years old and was being led by very competent, self-directed and visionary individuals who were not going to let this young park system falter. With declining tax receipts, park board members Warren S. Hayden, Andrew Squire, and Cyrus S. Eaton halted landt purchases and directed funds toward improving the parks. Their decisions provided greater public enjoyment at existing parks through construction of roads, bridges, shelter houses, trails, trailside museums and reforestation.
William Stinchcomb - First Executive Director - Photo courtesy of Cleveland Public Library
Leading the way was Cleveland Metropolitan Park District’s first Executive Director – William Stinchcomb. With remarkable intuition and impeccable timing, he secured a Civilian Conservation Corps camp in Euclid Creek Reservation in 1933. The CCC was one of many New Deal programs the Roosevelt Administration set in place putting young men aged 18 – 25 to work. The goal was to bring together two wasted resources: young men and the land, in an effort to save both.
CCC Camp - Euclid Creek Reservation - 1934.
Well aware of local needs, Stinchcomb took advantage of the national program and jumped at the opportunity to host two CCC camps to build infrastructure and make the parks more accessible to the public. The first would be in Euclid Creek Reservation (1933 – 1941) and later Brecksville Reservation (1935 – 1937). Young men from these two camps would transform the park system. In 1939, it was calculated that 55 miles of auto roads, 60 miles of bridle paths, 53 miles of foot trails, 10 shelter houses, three trailside museums (nature centers), two public golf courses, 33 picnic grounds, and 14 group camping centers were established by the work of these young men and WPA workers.
But, what about these camps? The Army regulars and reserves (assistants from the Coast Guard, Marines and Navy) managed the camps. The Department of Agriculture and Interior planned the work in each state and the Department of Labor selected and enrolled each young man primarily from urban centers around the nation.
These boys were shipped, usually by train, to every state in the Union at the time, plus Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. They could serve four terms, with each stint lasting 6 months. They earned a $1 a day. $25 was sent back to their families and the other $5 was given to each boy to spend at his own discretion.
CCC boys waving goodbye - 1933. Photo courtesy of Cleveland Public Library
CCC boys on train - heading to camps - 1933. Photo courtesy of Cleveland Public Library
A typical day for a CCC boy:
6a.m. – wake-up call by a bugler, calisthenics for 15 minutes; 6:45a.m.- breakfast, sick call, bunk inspection, load tools; 7:30 - go to work; 11:15 - return to camp; noon- lunch; 1:00 – sick call, bunk inspection; 1:30 - load tools; 1:45 - back to work; 4:45 - return to camp; 6p.m. – supper; 7p.m. - study program or free time; 10p.m. - lights out.
CCC Boys at Mess Hall. Photo courtesy of Cleveland Public Library
CCC Boys at morning clean up - 1936 . Photo courtesy of Cleveland Public Library
Most weekends provide time off, unless the weather was bad during the week. Saturdays were sometimes used to get extra work done around camp. Sports events, musical activities, billiards or heading into nearby towns were favorite pastimes for many of the CCC guys.
CCC Camp Euclid - kitchen crew.
Here are a few statistics for the years 1933 – 1942 that provide an average profile of these Civilian Conservation Corps enlistees. Average age: 18 – 19, average weight: 147 lbs, average height: 5’ 8.5”, Average weight gain in 3 months: 11.5 lbs.
The names these boys were given were indicative to the types of jobs they performed and in what part of the United States they worked. They were called, Roosevelt’s Tree Army, Tree Troopers, Soil Soldiers, Three C’s, and my favorite, Colossal College of Calluses.
Here are a few national statistics that reveal the work these young men accomplished in nine years: 800 state parks established; 3,980 historic structures restored; 3 billion trees planted; 204 lodges and museums established; 3,116 lookout towers established in parks and historic sites.
Pond and steps created in Euclid Creek Reservation from Blustone quarries.
CCC boys hauling rock in Euclid Creek Resrvation - 1935.
Euclid Creek Reservation, North Chagrin Reservation, South Chagrin Reservation, Brecksville Reservation, Bedford Reservation, Rocky River Reservation and the Zoo all have remnants of this hard-pressed era that can still be seen today. Look for sandstone retaining walls, bridges, bridle paths, foot paths, shelter houses, towering evergreen trees, ponds, and even some of the roads we drive on to enjoy the "Emerald Necklace." Many were established by these boys who lived in these camps for months at a time.
When it was all said and done, the federal government had spent some $8 million toward solidifying a park system. Cleveland Metropolitan Park Board invested $500,000. In my opinion, it was some of the best money the federal government has ever spent.
To all those who lived in "A Camp of a Different Kind" at Euclid Creek Reservation and Brecksville Reservation, we have much to thank you for! Although most of you are gone now, the vestiges of your hard work are still seen, and we salute you!
If you have family members who served in the CCC or WPA, I would love to hear stories about their experiences. If you would like to share your stories, please reach me at 440-786-8530 – Foster Brown, Historical Interpreter, Cleveland Metroparks.
For a little something extra, listen to the tribute song I wrote to the CCC boys.