What did more than 2 million young men in the 1930’s have in common with actors Raymond Burr, Walter Matthau and Robert Mitchum; baseball legend Stan Musial; and aviation pioneer Chuck Yeager? All were members of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a New Deal program started by Franklin Roosevelt.
There were several purposes for the CCC, such as building infrastructure at national and state parks. However, the most important was to employ the thousands of young men who were out of work due to the Great Depression.
These men ranged in age from 18 to 27 and served a minimum of six months in the corps but could “re-enlist” for another six months if they wanted to. The reason the maximum time of service was only a year was so that more men had the opportunity to participate in this program. Sometimes, the Corps made exceptions for cooks, artists, carpenters and other people who had specialized skills. These camps were set up all over the country and one such camp was established here in Brooksville at Chinsegut Hill.
On Saturday, July 10 a group of approximately ten men from the Tampa Bay area gathered to re-enact the activities of a typical CCC camp. Most of them have participated in other types of re-enactments – from Civil War and World War I to World War II and Vietnam. However, for the majority of the participants this was their first time re-enacting the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Everything about the camp was authentic to make the event more realistic. Some of the artifacts, such as the camp newspaper and the Coca-Cola cooler were original, dating back to that era. Others, such as the clothing the men wore, were accurate reproductions.
For Corey Schultz, a captain in the Marine Corps, this was his first stint in a CCC re-enactment, but he has participated in numerous others.
“I first got involved in doing re-enactments when I was a member of the film club at my high school in Georgia. One of my film club friends was shooting a World War II movie so I helped out and had a part in the movie. I ended up joining a re-enactment group,” stated Schultz.
To make sure that his clothes were authentic, he studied clothing styles of the period through photos and Sears catalogs and then bought his clothes at retail outlets.
Walter Moore has done mostly World War II and some Spanish-American War re-enactments. He got interested in the CCC because his father was in the corps.
“My dad helped build the overseas highway to the Keys, then joined the Marines prior to the start of the Second World War,” remarked Moore.
The youngest participant in the Chinsegut Hill re-enactment was Moore’s 13-year-old son, Robert. This was his first time participating in this type of event, but Robert says it won’t be his last.
It was Ross Lamoreaux, Tampa Bay History Center’s Chinsegut Hill Site Manager who got Alex Solera interested in the event. Solera has been doing re-enactments since 1998, including the less common ones, such as the Korean War, Vietnam and the Seminole Indian War. He has even participated in 15th, 16th and 17th Century reenactments in St. Augustine. Solara remarks that he has a closet full of clothes, some of which his wife made.
“I used to do four or five a year, now – not so many. I have family that fought in the Spanish-American War and that got me interested. Plus, I was a history teacher for seven years.”
The Civilian Conservation Corps was run very similarly to the Army or other military forces and the camp commanders were reserve enlisted men and officers. The enrollees had to pass a physical and had to show that they had an economic need. Once accepted into the CCC, the new recruits were transported to a central hub and were given initial training on military discipline. There they also received inoculations and uniforms, which happened to have been left over from World War I.
After this, the men were transported to their specific camps. The one at Chinsegut Hill was designated Camp A-3, Company #5468. The camp here was unusual in that it was located on a residential property owned by Raymond and Margaret Robins, who signed over the property to the federal government but still lived on the premises. Mr. Robins was active in the camp, teaching a journalism class and helping the men put together a camp newspaper called “The Chinsegut Star.”
Some of the work done here, such as building barns and road improvement benefited the Robins’ family. Other tasks were for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and included land clearing, erosion control and building bridges and stables.
Company #5468 arrived at Chinsegut in July of 1936 and remained here until October 1937. Upon arrival, the men slept in tents. After a few weeks, the modular prefab barracks arrived and were assembled in a matter of days.
Within weeks, the camp consisted of housing; a kitchen and mess hall; showers and latrines; and even a library and classrooms. Some camps that were located in remote areas had a chapel so that the men could attend services. Since Camp A-3 was close to Brooksville, more than likely they attended church in town.
The men generally worked five, eight-hour days unless they had a large project to finish. However, they always got Sunday off. Some of the men were residents of Brooksville, so they were able to go home for the weekend. The others could go into town to socialize.
For their work, the men received $30 per month and were required to send $25 to their families. By our standards, those are low wages, but for people who had been unemployed and were perhaps the sole provider for their family, it was a boon. Also, the men got three square meals a day at a time when many people were starving or in bread lines.
Ross Lamoreaux, who spearheaded the re-enactment, conducted two PowerPoint presentations, laying out in detail what went on at the local CCC camp and the program in general.
“The men created close-knit bonds with fellow camp members, similar to in the military. In letters home they talked about ‘brotherhood’. Nothing brings people closer together than mutual suffering,” Lamoreaux said, eliciting chuckles from the audience.
“They did a multitude of tasks to earn their money. Some were back-breaking manual labor, but they also learned a variety of skills that they could use to gain employment later, such as forestry, animal husbandry and citrus culture. Some men who learned journalism skills went on to work for major newspapers and the Associated Press,” Lamoreaux continued.
Between work time and leisure time, the men were given educational opportunities – reading, remedial math, photography and other classes.
Among the people who came out for the re-enactment, to attend the lectures and tour the historic home were Carolyn and Ken Smith from Tampa. Although this was their first visit to Chinsegut Hill, the couple has been to the Florida CCC Museum in Sebring.
“Every state park we go to they always have a plaque telling something about the CCC’s work in building the parks,” Mr. Smith remarked.
The Civilian Conservation Corps was one of the most successful of the New Deal programs and one that probably had the most long-lasting effects. Not only did it put millions of men to work and pump money into the economy, it also served to create or improve hundreds of state and national parks and further the conservation of our natural resources.
The Civilian Conservation Corps planted 3.5 billion trees, created 711 state parks, built more than 3,000 fire lookout towers and spent 6.5 million days fighting forest fires.
Although nobody guessed that a world war was on the horizon, the Corps developed a ready cadre of disciplined fighting men. The CCC taught these men basic military drill, teamwork and how to live and work together as a unit. If it were not for this important program, the United States would have been less prepared to fight an enemy that threatened the entire world.