Fighting the Depression: The C.C.C., 1933
Included in President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s monumental Emergency Work Act in March 1933 was an authorization to create a Civilian Conservation Corps, or C.C.C. as it came to be known, to recruit thousands of young men in a peace-time army to work in forests and parks and to pursue a broad array of conservation activities.
Vermont was originally allocated four C.C.C. camps, but thanks to the dynamic presence of Perry H. Merrill, State Forester, received considerable more assistance.
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Participants were required to be between the ages of 18 and 25 (after 1935, 17 to 28), unmarried, unemployed, out of school, in good health, of good character, and willing to send home $25 of the $30-a-month pay. The young men were selected locally by county or local welfare organizations, sent to U.S. War Department induction centers, where they were given medical exams, then organized into companies, clothed, equipped, and conditions for work in the field. They were then dispatched to camps constructed and maintained by the War Department and organized by one of several divisions of the Department of Agriculture and Interior (U.S Forest Service, Interior, and National Park Service).
At its peak in 1936-37, the C.C.C. employed 645,000 men (including some 37,000 veterans, who were admitted into the program later in 1933). Workers adhered to a structured regimen, which dictated that they rise at 6:00 a.m., work from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., with lunch taken on site, and then return to camp. Dinner was served at 5:00 p.m., following which workers had until 10:00 p.m. to engage in athletic activity, attend classes (each camp included educational advisers from the Office of Education who taught a wide variety of academic and practical subjects and who granted eight grade and high school diplomas), or read in the camp library. Other activities known to have been held in Vermont camps included dances, organizing a newspaper, radio programs, amateur theatre productions, talent nights, snowshoeing, and sports competitions, including ski jumping.
Vermont was originally allocated four C.C.C. camps, but thanks to the dynamic presence of Perry H. Merrill, State Forester, received considerable more assistance. Merrill’s foresight in earlier developing long range conservation, flood control, and forest management activities, and his subsequent lobbying of C.C.C. National Director Robert Fechner, attracted substantially increased funding of C.C.C. activities in Vermont. Thirty C.C.C. camps operated in Vermont in 1937, and between 1933 and 1942, a total of 40,868 individuals worked in Vermont C.C.C. camps: only about one-quarter of these were Vermonters (11, 243).
As was true of all C.C.C. camps throughout the nation, Vermont’s camps were ablaze with activity. At Camp Calvin Coolidge, the men had a newspaper, dances, competitive sports, academic classes, a radio program, and amateur theatre.
Perry Merrill, in his book, Roosevelt’s Forest Army (1981), reports that labors undertaken by C.C.C. workers put Vermont’s recreational development ahead by fifty years and vastly improved the state forests. Indeed, a summary of C.C.C. accomplishments reveals an impressive record of achievement:
- Within state and municipal forests, C.C.C. crews planted upwards of 1 million trees, thinned or removed diseased and undesirable trees, pruned existing plantations to produce higher grade lumber, and undertook insect and disease control to protect against defoliation of sugar maples and other valuable trees.
- Following the devastation of the 1927 flood (see program #9), flood control activities focused on dam construction on the Winooski River and its principal tributaries. C.C.C. crews worked with the Army Corps of Engineers and World War I veterans to build three dams, the largest being the 2,000 foot earthen-filled Waterbury Dam. It required more than 2 million cubic yards of earth, 5 million years of selected gravel, and the labor of more than 3,000 men to complete. On a slightly smaller scale, the Wrightsville and East Barre dams, each 1,500 feet long with 100-foot spillways, utilized in excess of 1.5 million cubic years of earth fill and rock, 5,000 cubic yards of concrete, and 2,500 tons of steel.
- Among most impressive projects was the C.C.C.’s construction of the first ski trails on the mountain in Mt. Mansfield State Forest. Charles Lord, a civil engineer overseeing a twenty-five-man work crew from the Moscow camp, carved out several trails, among them: the Ski Master, the Overland, the Perry Merrill, and Lord, the S-53, and the Nose Dive. At the base of Nose Drive, the C.C.C. crew constructed a large parking area to accommodate several hundred cars and, in 1940, state officials signed a lease with the Mt. Mansfield Company to build a ski lift up Mt. Mansfield.
- A total of 105 miles of truck trails and roads were constructed, including a ten-mile stretch connection g US Route 2 in Marshfield with US Route 302 at Groton State Park, and several recreational roads, (including the McCullough Turnpike—now Vermont Route 17).
- In Poultney, Vermont’s only Soil Conservation Service Camps helped develop the Poultney-Mettawee Conservation District, engaging in tree planning, soil conservation, and stream bank protection by lining the river banks with rip rap composed of native slate.
- Throughout Vermont, C.C.C. crews planted shrubs producing berries were in open places to provide food for small game.
- To prevent forest fires, “the C’s” constructed seven steel and three wooden lookout towers in addition to several lookout cabins.
One offshoot of the C.C.C. was at the Camp Sharon site, reopened in 1940 by a group of Harvard and Dartmouth College students with the permission of FDR and the strong support of Eleanor Roosevelt. Renamed Camp William James, in honor of the psychologist and philosophy who wrote the famous treatise, “The Moral Equivalent of War,” the camp was supported by such noteworthy Vermonters as Dorothy Thompson, Ralph Flanders, and George Aiken. Eugene Rosenstock-Huessey, a social philosophy professor at Dartmouth, provided intellectual leadership, while a nonprofit educational corporation was formed to guide the camp. C.C.C. activities included the resettlement of abandoned farms improvement of roads to them, providing labor to farms in the area, and soil erosion control activities. The Camp remained open until the US entered World War II in 1941.
Perry H. Merrill, Roosevelt’s Forest Army: A History of the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942 (Montpelier, Vt.: The author, 1981).
Thomas W. Patton, “When the Veterans Came to Vermont: The Civilian Conservation Corps and the Winooski River Flood Control Project,” Vermont History 73 (2005): 160-189.
Jack J. Preiss, Camp William James (Norwich, Vt.: Argo Books, 1978).
Michael Sherman, “The C.C.C. in Vermont,” Vermont History News 45:6 (November-December 1994): 74-77.
Frederick W. Stetson, “The Civilian Conservation Corps in Vermont,” Vermont History 46 (1978): 24-42.
Citation for this page
Woodsmoke Productions and Vermont Historical Society, “Fighting the Depression: The C.C.C.,” The Green Mountain Chronicles radio broadcast and background information, original broadcast 1988-89. https://vermonthistory.org/fighting-depression-ccc-1933