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Building America, one step at a time with CCC

By Staff | Sep 28, 2016

BARB BARRETT/The Luminary Wilson Ferguson (far left) from Sullivan County spoke on the history of the Conservation Civilian Corp and its impact here in Pennsylvania during the early 30s. Speaking with him are Robert Webster from Hughesville and his wife, Jill.

HUGHESVILLE – A public works relief program that only lasted a short while produced a lot of work for young men and led to an expansion of roads, bridges, and erosion projects that formed much of what Pennsylvania is today.

An inspiring talk on the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) was given on Monday, September 19th at the Trinity Lutheran Church in Hughesville by historian Wilson Ferguson. The program was sponsored by the East Lycoming Historical Society and a local aspect was given by Ferguson who is Secretary of the Sullivan County Historical Society.

Taking an interest in its history and origins, Ferguson spoke mostly of four CCC camps that were stationed close to this area and formed most of nearby World’s End State Park. They operated mainly from 1933 to 1942, and most of the young men who came here were from the Lehigh Valley (Allentown), the Lancaster area or Philadelphia. The CCC was started shortly after the depression, “a major economic disaster” with closing factories, unemployment and people sleeping in long lines while waiting for day old bread.

Under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Presidency, the program was formed as part of the ‘New Deal’ to give young, unmarried men a chance for employment and moral stability.

Jobs in unskilled manual labor were provided across the country and “these young men were used in simple work not interfering with normal employment,” noted Ferguson. They built landmarks, roads, dams, fish habitats and flood control “all in the countryside somewhere.”

PHOTO PROVIDED Taken by the CCC on May 15, 1934 this photo shows the barracks built by the CCC on the grounds to Camp 96 located in Hillsgrove.

Pennsylvania had 113 camps. The US Army was in charge. The men slept in tents and received training while earning 30 dollars a month. Twenty five of it went home to families according to Ferguson and the other five they spent on entertainment or a nearby bar. They were supplied with uniforms and work clothes for planting trees and digging ditches.

By July 4th of 1935, 600,000 young men were enrolled in the program across the country. “This is a very significant number of people,” added Ferguson. Training took place in Fort Mead, Maryland. From there the men took a train to Towanda and eventually were trucked into the Forksville and Hillsgrove areas.

There were a lot of people going in and out that first day according to the historian. “It was not a prison camp, and they could leave any time.” In fact over half would leave after the first 24 hours when they encompassed much rainfall, sleeping in tents, and trying to adjust to the rigorous work schedule. “When they first arrived, there was nothing there but nature and brush.” They had to clear the ground, set up army tents and proceed to build barracks.

They would bring their own supplies, food and bedding. One young man was quoted, “The land was covered with boulders, weeds and biting insects.”

“Clearing space and pitching tents – what a wonderful introduction to Sullivan County,” said Ferguson.

Ferguson reported that on May 6, 1930, 195 men arrived in Hillsgrove (camp #96) and another camp was established in Laporte in May of 1933. This was camp #95 that did much of the work near World’s End on Rock Run Road. They planted hundreds of spruce saplings, many of which are still remaining near Sones Pond. Some of the trees grew to 40 feet tall. This camp lasted until 1942 when WWII brought in other opportunities.

A third camp, #104, settled near Benton where Central Elk Road meets at Painter Run. Ferguson said there was once an acid mine factory located there. 200 men got a lot done in a short period of time.

A fourth camp #128 was near Forksville where two buildings are still standing as a hunting camp. The building in Hillsgrove is now a ranger’s station.

In 1936 there was a huge flood in Williamsport so many of the young men were called there for a lot of clean up. They stayed at the Lycoming Hotel, now the Genetti.

Camp 95 also created High Knob overlook and Skyline Drive. They ate well as written menus were discovered. They were served meat or fish, mashed potatoes, sliced beets or boston beans, bread, milk, pudding and coffee.

Along the way, the young men formed sports teams, took classes and lessons on religious education. They had many courses to choose from such as Algebra, American Government, Bookkeeping, Music, Geology, and a wide choice of languages they could learn. There was also a class in social courtesy and public speaking. They could learn trades such as auto mechanics, woodworking, and cooking to name a few. Other courses were optional like dance, nature studies and vocal music.

Accomplishments were many. They built 30 miles of roads for lumbering trucks and 20 miles of new trails and graded 40 miles of old trails. They painted 40 miles of boundary lines and constructed a reservoir above the camp at #104. “This was also known as the flower camp because they went out of their way to create flower beds in that area,” Ferguson said. The camp closed October 1st, 1935.

The opportunity gave these young Americans some skills and a place to work that otherwise, might have them homeless or living on the streets. Some of their stories have been preserved in printed newsletters of the time, and from these newsletters, Ferguson acquired much of his research.

Most of the camps closed in 1937. There were a total of 8 CCC camps in Lycoming County including one in Elimsport. Fire towers were one of the main construction projects. There were once 440 of them in Pennsylvania and now only 60 are remaining.

Ferguson concluded, “These kids got out of the cities, got training in an army camp, and moved them to wherever….”

In nine years 3 million young men participated in the CCC, which provided them with shelter, clothing, and food while providing them with a comprehensive, national program for the protection and development of natural resources.

Their work can be seen easily at any of the Pennsylvania State Parks. Despite its popular support, the CCC was never a permanent agency. It depended on emergency and temporary Congressional legislation and funding to operate. By 1942, with World War II and the draft in operation, the need for work relief declined, and Congress voted to close the program.