Projects of the Kentucky CCC
One of the major questions that comes up while researching the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and other New Deal programs is what exactly did these agencies do? Our collection of CCC newsletters at KHS (MSS 218) can help us to understand the scope of the projects assigned to the camps. For the CCC, The assignments they worked on varied greatly over the state of Kentucky. Most of these projects focused on a central theme of improving private and public lands in the United States while providing gainful employment for many out of work young men. These CCC camps and their work were of particular interest to the newly elected Franklin D. Roosevelt and their public image was often the face of New Deal agencies.
Many of the Kentucky camps were devoted primarily to the issue of soil erosion and the maintaining of good farmland. The ongoing calamity of the Dust Bowl, which devastated the Midwest in the 1930’s, reinforced the need for communities to better conserve their land. Several camps found themselves working on projects such as gully repair and land terracing to try and prevent soil erosion that could devastate farms and economies. Perhaps the most iconic work of the CCC, or at least the effort most associated with the camps, was the planting of billions of trees on both public and private lands. Images of industrious, hardworking young CCC men planting trees was frequently used in footage filmed by the government that was meant to inspire other CCC enrollees as well as the nation. Indeed, this work of the CCC and its particular interest to Franklin D. Roosevelt garnered the agency the nickname of Roosevelt’s “Tree Army”. Under the CCC, trees were planted in many locations across the state, including at state parks. The Cumberland Falls Spray mentions the planting of one-thousand walnut trees as the first of many tree shipments to be planted in Cumberland Falls State Resort Park.
Several camp newspapers comment on other projects that benefited local communities and even the camps themselves. The newsletter for a camp in Clay County, The Quacker, details the past construction of their CCC camp with an investment of almost 18,000 dollars. Over three-thousand of these dollars were spent on the wages for skilled local men, which provided the community with additional funds for local residents. Community developments in infrastructure were also frequently a focus of the CCC camps. The newsletters also detail the work of camps on construction and maintenance projects on public and private lands. Greenbrier News mentions the road and tunnel work done by CCC enrollees near Frenchburg, as well as other projects such as assisting with building a bridge over the Licking River. Many of the newsletters also reference improvements meant to help fight forest fires. Greenbrier News comments on a large fire that burned through sixty-two acres of land during the 1936-1937 fire season. The enrollees of the CCC helped to fight this fire near Frenchburg on Wildcat Ridge and had upwards of forty-three men working to help extinguish it. The Goose Rock Gazette references the construction of an eighty-foot fire tire that along with other towers in the area, would help discover fires burning nearby. These towers were aided by the laying of telephone lines by the CCC enrollees allowing men in the towers to report fires faster. Many newsletters reference other work on telephone lines by CCC enrollees as part of the effort to fight fires, including The Cloverleaf, a Harlan County newsletter that mentions such a project on Black Mountain, the highest peak in the state of Kentucky. CCC camps were also often involved in other disaster work around the state. One notable disaster that CCC enrollees assisted with was the recovery of communities along the Ohio River that were devastated by the 1937 flood. The Cumberland Falls Spray details the assistance by CCC enrollees sent from various camps to help with flood relief efforts in affected cities such as Louisville, Frankfort and Ashland. Other newsletters also comment on the charitable donations raised for flood relief for the victims of the 1937 flood.
The CCC enrollees often assisted local communities with work on some large park projects, including many state parks. Some of the parks worked on by the CCC include Mammoth Cave, John James Audubon State Park, Pennyrile Forrest State Resort Park, Pine Mountain State Resort Park and Cumberland Falls State Resort Park. Enrollees at the Mammoth Cave camps worked on a variety of projects that would improve the area for a national park involving the construction of roads, gully repair, and fire prevention work. The African American camp 510 newsletter The Mammoth Eagle also mentions the CCC enrollee’s assistance with the archeological study of prehistoric Native American remains found in the cave by guides assigned to that camp. Enrollees at a camp working on the Cumberland Falls State Resort Park near Corbin comment in their newsletter Cumberland Falls Spray on the variety of projects worked on in that camp. Projects included creating firebreaks around the park’s boundary, trails, guard rails, bank-sloping, the installation of drinking fountains as well as the destruction of dilapidated buildings and construction of new structures at the park.
In many ways, this focus on work designed to protect and preserve environmental spaces, both public and private, helped to spark an interest in the benefits of creating areas where nature could be appreciated and preserved. The Morganfield CCC camp newsletter The Kentuckian comments on “man’s wanton conquest against nature” and that the destruction caused by over-hunting and overuse of land had resulted in serious declines in the environment for both people and the economy. The Kentuckian presents the CCC as part of the solution for these environmental issues, and recommends actions such as the planting of “wildlife areas” on local farms’ “idle land” to assist with soil erosion among other problems.
Although the CCC camps often worked on a wide range of issues, the camp’s primary focus is often related through the first letters of the company numbers. Our digital collections finding aid for the Civilian Conservation Corps Newsletters MSS 218 contains a guide for many of these letter designations.
Alexander, Benjamin F. 2018. The New Deal’s Forest Army : How the Civilian Conservation Corps Worked. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Blakey, George T. 1989. Hard Times and New Deal in Kentucky : 1929-1939. University Press Of Kentucky.
Huddleston, Connie M. 2009. Kentucky’s Civilian Conservation Corps. Charleston, SC: History Press.
Cumberland Falls Spray. Volume 1 Number 10. March 25, 1937. Company 1578, Corbin, Kentucky.
The Quacker. Volume 1 Number 1. November 28, 1935. Company 3530.
Greenbrier News. Volume 4 Number 6. June 30, 1937. Company 1539, Camp F-8. Frenchburg, Kentucky.
The Goose Rock Gazette. Volume 2 Number 5. May, 1938. Company 3530, Camp P-80. Goose Rock, Kentucky.
The Cloverleaf. Volume 2 Number 9. October 22, 1936. Company 3536, Camp P-75 Louellen, Kentucky.
Greenbrier News. Volume 4 Number 3. December 15, 1936. Company 1539, Camp F-8. Frenchburg, Kentucky.
The Mammoth Eagle. Volume 1 Number 3. April 1936. Company 510. Camp NP-1. Mammoth Cave, Kentucky.
Cumberland Falls Spray. Volume 1 Number 2. September 4, 1936. Company 1578, Corbin, Kentucky.
The Cumberland Falls Spray. Volume 1 Number 8. February 1937. Company 1578, Corbin, Kentucky.
Greenbrier News. Volume 4 Number 5. January 30, 1937. Company 1539, Camp F-8. Frenchburg, Kentucky.
The Kentuckian. Volume 1 Number 7. September 30, 1938. Company 1562, Morganfield, Kentucky.