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Civilian Conservation Corps in Minnesota, 1933–1942

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Black and white photograph of Civilian Conservation Corps workers building a road near Roosevelt, Minnesota, ca. 1933. Photographed by J. A.Gjelhaug.

Civilian Conservation Corps workers building a road near Roosevelt, Minnesota, ca. 1933. Photographed by J. A.Gjelhaug.

The U.S. Congress paved the way for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) when it passed the Emergency Conservation Work (ECW) Act in March 1933, at the height of the Great Depression. This New Deal program offered meaningful work to young men with few employment prospects. It resulted in a lasting legacy of forestry, soil, and water conservation, as well as enhancements to Minnesota's state and national parks.

Like other government programs launched during the Great Depression, the CCC was the brainchild of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR). Five days after Congress passed the ECW Act, he signed Executive Order 6101, creating the CCC.

Several federal agencies had responsibility for the CCC program. The Labor Department handled recruitment. The War Department managed camp organization, induction, housing, food, and clothing. Army personnel supervised the camps. The Departments of Agriculture and Interior developed the work projects.

The government set a nationwide quota of 250,000 young men ages eighteen to twenty-five. To qualify, candidates had to be healthy U.S. citizens, out of school, unemployed, unmarried, and on public assistance. Recruits reported to an assigned camp for a period of six months. Those with a good work record had the option to sign up for a second six-month term. Each man received thirty dollars per month. Enrollees were required to send twenty-five dollars home to their families, and kept five dollars for personal use.

The CCC program permitted African American men to enroll, but it became harder for blacks to be accepted into the program as white enrollment increased. According to historian Barbara W. Sommer, African Americans made up only about 10 percent of all recruits. Once enrolled, they found that the camps followed the U.S. Army's racist segregation policies. Most black men served in all-African American camps at such locations as Fort Snelling State Park and Temperance River State Park. Those sent to white camps lived in segregated barracks and ate their meals apart from the rest of the recruits.

Blacks in the CCC faced discrimination from local citizens and from some white camp commanders. Ignoring the program's integration requirements, administrators stopped accepting blacks into Minnesota camps in 1938. They sent those already enrolled to camps in Missouri and other southern locations where Jim Crow laws were common, despite protests from the African American community in Minnesota.

In April 1933, the government extended enrollment to older men known as Local Experienced Men. These men had useful knowledge of camp locations and offered more advanced skills for tasks such as stone masonry and forestry than their younger colleagues. The large number of unemployed veterans of World War I prompted FDR to further expand the CCC program. He created the Veterans Conservation Corps in May 1933 with an enrollment goal of twenty-five thousand men.

On June 19, 1933, the Office of Indian Affairs within the Department of the Interior established the Civilian Conservation Corps-Indian Division (CCC-ID). Based on Minnesota's American Indian population, the government set a quota of four hundred workers for each enrollment period in the program. In less than one month, Minnesota's first CCC-ID camp opened at Nett Lake.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs administered the CCC-ID camps, instead of the U.S. Army, and provided work projects both on and off the reservations. In line with the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, many CCC-ID projects focused on preservation of Ojibwe and Dakota culture, including management of wild rice habitat and teaching modern methods of maple sugaring. These men also built roads and cleared diseased trees in local forests. The Grand Portage camp completed an archaeological study and reconstruction of the North West Company Fur Post historic site on Lake Superior. The result is one of the best-known examples of CCC-ID work.

Minnesota's camps were located in the Seventh U.S. Army Corps Area. This area included the Dakotas, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, and Arkansas. Based on the state's population, Minnesota was to have sixty-one camps with a total enrollment of six thousand men. The first Minnesota camp, Company 701, opened at Lake Gegoka (near Isabella) on May 8, 1933. Other camps quickly followed, including the first state forest and state park camps.

Each camp had barracks to house two hundred men, a kitchen, a mess hall, and a camp canteen that sold personal items. Other camp structures included tool sheds, an infirmary, a reading room, and a recreation hall. A typical work day was eight hours, starting at 6:00 a.m. with exercises and breakfast. Morning and afternoon work sessions allowed for breaks for lunch and supper, with the noon meal sometimes served at the work site if it was located too far from camp. Evening hours provided free time for recreation and study, with lights out at 9:30 p.m. Many camps offered vocational training programs and church services. The men could join organized sports teams and play card games or billiards as leisure time activities.

Minnesota CCC projects centered mainly on forestry and state and national park projects. They also supported soil and water conservation. The men in forest camps cut and cleared brush to help conserve existing forests and planted 123,607,000 trees. They participated in tree disease prevention programs, built roads, strung telephone lines, and fought forest fires. Fire prevention efforts included clearing deadwood and building water towers, ranger stations, and firebreaks.

Park projects focused on the building of permanent "rustic style" structures of local stone and logs following National Park Service guidelines. The CCC built and improved camp grounds, picnic areas, parking lots, and scenic overlooks. They worked to restore historic structures, such as the commissary building at the Fort Ridgely historic site.

Severe drought conditions in the mid-1930s, particularly in southeastern Minnesota, made soil and water conservation an important part of the work of the CCC. The enrollment quota increased to 350,000 in 1934, and to six hundred thousand the next year, to meet the program's needs. The CCC planted windbreaks, built dams, dug drainage ditches and put up fencing. Working with local farmers, they created custom plans for each farm incorporating modern farming methods such as terracing, contour farming, and strip cropping.

The accomplishments of the men of the CCC are evident throughout the state. Examples of rustic-style structures, many on the National Register of Historic Places, still stand in Minnesota state parks. The trees planted have revitalized Minnesota's forests. Soil conservation measures adopted in the 1930s resulted in the passage of the 1937 Soil and Water Conservation Districts Law. Under this law, Minnesota farmers continue to use the methods promoted by the CCC to prevent soil erosion, water conservation, and flooding.

The CCC program peaked in Minnesota in 1935 with 104 active camps. Enrollment nationwide began to decline in the early 1940s as young men joined the military for World War II and as the economy began to rebound. Despite efforts to make the CCC permanent, funding for the program ended on June 30, 1943. All of Minnesota's camps closed in 1942. More than seventy-seven thousand Minnesota men found employment with the program. The CCC-ID program assisted more than twenty-five hundred American Indian families in the state. The young men of the CCC credited the program with teaching self-discipline and leadership, instilling confidence and self-respect, and helping them to develop useful career skills.

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Author's note: Hard Work and a Good Deal: the Civilian Conservation Corps in Minnesota was the main source used in the writing of this article.

Benson, David R. Stories in Log and Stone: the Legacy of the New Deal in Minnesota State Parks. St. Paul: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 2002.

Civilian Conservation Corps, Camp F-53, Handbook of Instruction for Enrollees. Two Harbors, MN: The Company, 1939.

Dearborn, Ned H. Once in a Lifetime: a Guide to the CCC Camp. New York: Charles E. Merrill, 1936.

Harby, Samuel Farkas. A Study of Education in the Civilian Conservation Corps Camps of the Second Corps Area, April 1933–March 1937. Ann Arbor, MI: Edwards Bros., 1938.

Gower, Calvin W. "The CCC Indian Division: Aid for Depressed Americans, 1933–1942." Minnesota History 43, no. 1 (Spring 1972): 3–13. http://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/43/v43i01p003-013.pdf

Hoyt, Ray. "Your CCC": a Handbook for Enrollees. Washington, DC: Happy Days Publishing Company, [1938?].

Johnson, Frederick K. "The Civilian Conservation Corps: a New Deal for Youth." Minnesota History 48, no. 7 (Fall 1983): 295–302.
http://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/48/v48i07p295-302.pdf

Meyer, Roy W. Everyone's Country Estate: A History of Minnesota's State Parks. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1991.

Minnesota Historical Society. Itasca State Park: Descriptions of Selected Resources. http://www.mnhs.org/places/nationalregister/stateparks/ItascaRes.php

SD143
Pamphlets Relating to the Civilian Conservation Corps in Minnesota, 1933–
Pamphlet Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
Description: Pamphlets and printed ephemera relating to the history of the Civilian Conservation Corps in Minnesota and the U.S., individual camps in Minnesota, camp reunions, handbooks, and other materials.

Sommer, Barbara W. Hard Work and a Good Deal: the Civilian Conservation Corps in Minnesota. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2008.

Sommer, Barbara W. "'We Had This Opportunity': African Americans and the Civilian Conservation Corps in Minnesota." In The State We're In: Reflections on Minnesota History, edited by Annette Atkins and Deborah L. Miller, 134–157. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2010.

United States Soil Conservation Service. The CCC at Work: A Story of 2,500,000 Young Men. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1941.

Wirth, Conrad Louis. Civilian Conservation Corps: Program of the United States Department of the Interior, March 1933 to June 30, 1943; A Report to Harold L. Ickes, Secretary of the Interior. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1944.

Related Video

Related Images

Black and white photograph of Civilian Conservation Corps workers building a road near Roosevelt, Minnesota, ca. 1933. Photographed by J. A.Gjelhaug.
Black and white photograph of Civilian Conservation Corps workers building a road near Roosevelt, Minnesota, ca. 1933. Photographed by J. A.Gjelhaug.
Black and white photograph of a Civilian Conservation Corps, Company 1753, Elba, 1933. Photographed by George O. Mehl.
Black and white photograph of a Civilian Conservation Corps, Company 1753, Elba, 1933. Photographed by George O. Mehl.
Black and white photograph of African American CCC Company 1728, Camp Temperance F-19, Tofte, 1934.
Black and white photograph of African American CCC Company 1728, Camp Temperance F-19, Tofte, 1934.
Black and white photograph of African American Civilian Conservation Corps fire fighters, northern Minnesota, ca. 1933. Photographed by the St. Paul Dispatch.
Black and white photograph of African American Civilian Conservation Corps fire fighters, northern Minnesota, ca. 1933. Photographed by the St. Paul Dispatch.
Black and white photograph of a camp dining hall, Company 707, Civilian Conservation Corps camp at Deer River, ca. 1936.
Black and white photograph of a camp dining hall, Company 707, Civilian Conservation Corps camp at Deer River, ca. 1936.
Black and white photograph of basketball players, Civilian Conservation Corps Company 2709, Whitewater State Park. Left to right: Joe Lewis, Frederick K. Johnson, and Carl Lund, 1935.
Black and white photograph of basketball players, Civilian Conservation Corps Company 2709, Whitewater State Park. Left to right: Joe Lewis, Frederick K. Johnson, and Carl Lund, 1935.
Black and white photograph of a park building, Interstate State Park, ca. 1936.
Black and white photograph of a park building, Interstate State Park, ca. 1936.
Black and white photograph of Indian Civilian Conservation Corps crew on the stockade site at the end of the first day of work, Grand Portage, Minnesota, 1937. Photographed by Willoughby Maynard Babcock, Jr.
Black and white photograph of Indian Civilian Conservation Corps crew on the stockade site at the end of the first day of work, Grand Portage, Minnesota, 1937. Photographed by Willoughby Maynard Babcock, Jr.
Black and white photograph of construction of a stone building by CCC Company 2710, Gooseberry Falls, ca. 1938.
Black and white photograph of construction of a stone building by CCC Company 2710, Gooseberry Falls, ca. 1938.
Black and white photograph of a barracks at the Cut Foot Sioux camp, F-14, CCC Company 707 at Dear River, ca. 1938.
Black and white photograph of a barracks at the Cut Foot Sioux camp, F-14, CCC Company 707 at Dear River, ca. 1938.
Black and white photograph of the Adult education program at the Civilian Conservation Corps camp at Maple Lake, ca. 1938.
Black and white photograph of the Adult education program at the Civilian Conservation Corps camp at Maple Lake, ca. 1938.
Black and white photograph of a Civilian Conservation Corps camp, Sibley State Park, ca. 1930s.
Black and white photograph of a Civilian Conservation Corps camp, Sibley State Park, ca. 1930s.
Black and white photograph of Workers at the Whitewater State Park CCC camp, ca. 1930s.
Black and white photograph of Workers at the Whitewater State Park CCC camp, ca. 1930s.
Black and white photograph of a cbin in Itasca State Park built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, ca. 1940.
Black and white photograph of a cbin in Itasca State Park built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, ca. 1940.
Black and white photograph of the 1939 swinging bridge over St. Louis River, Jay Cooke State Park, ca. 1950.
Black and white photograph of the 1939 swinging bridge over St. Louis River, Jay Cooke State Park, ca. 1950.
Color image of a Civilian Conservation Corps shirt worn by Fred Fretheim of CCC Company 3707, Two Harbors, Minnesota, ca. 1936–1937.
Color image of a Civilian Conservation Corps shirt worn by Fred Fretheim of CCC Company 3707, Two Harbors, Minnesota, ca. 1936–1937.
Color image of a Conservation Corps knapsack used by Fred Fretheim, CCC Company 3707, Two Harbors, Minnesota, ca. 1936–1937.
Color image of a Conservation Corps knapsack used by Fred Fretheim, CCC Company 3707, Two Harbors, Minnesota, ca. 1936–1937.
Color image of a Civilian Conservation Corps pennant owned by Fred Fretheim, ca. 1936–1937. Hand printed on the hoist edge is "company 2707/Minn/1936-7."
Color image of a Civilian Conservation Corps pennant owned by Fred Fretheim, ca. 1936–1937. Hand printed on the hoist edge is "company 2707/Minn/1936-7."
Color image of a Sterling silver Civilian Conservation Corps ring with CCC logo flanked by an eagle and shield on opposing ends. Logo is engraved with "3707/ and "EAF". Worn by Fred Fretheim of Company 3707, Two Harbors, MN, ca. 1936–1937.
Color image of a Sterling silver Civilian Conservation Corps ring with CCC logo flanked by an eagle and shield on opposing ends. Logo is engraved with "3707/ and "EAF". Worn by Fred Fretheim of Company 3707, Two Harbors, MN, ca. 1936–1937.
Black and white scan of the CCC Oath, from The CCC at work. A story of 2,500,000 young men, 1941.
Black and white scan of the CCC Oath, from The CCC at work. A story of 2,500,000 young men, 1941.
Black and white scane of a daily CCC camp schedule from Handbook of instruction for enrollees, 1939.
Black and white scane of a daily CCC camp schedule from Handbook of instruction for enrollees, 1939.

Turning Point

In 1935, enrollment in the CCC reaches its peak at 500,000 nationally and 18,500 in Minnesota.

Chronology

March 31, 1933

Congress passes the Emergency Conservation Work Act and appropriates funds.

April 5, 1933

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs Executive Order 6101, "Relief of Unemployment through Performance of Useful Public Works."

April 22, 1933

Camps start recruiting Local Experienced Men: older men with needed skills to lead work teams.

April 29, 1933

The National Park Service (NPS) encourages Minnesota to plan architectural and landscape features for state parks according to NPS guidelines.

April 1933

Working with the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Agriculture, the CCC creates the first terracing prototypes in Houston and Winona Counties.

May 11, 1933

FDR signs an executive order allowing up to twenty-five thousand World War I veterans to join, with no age or marriage restrictions. Known as the Veterans Conservation Corps, these men are sent to special veterans' camps.

June 1933

Scenic State Park in Itasca County becomes the first CCC state park project.

July 16, 1933

The first Civilian Conservation Corps—Indian Division Camp—opens at Nett Lake.

May 11, 1934

A massive dust storm strikes the Midwest, causing substantial loss of topsoil in southeastern Minnesota due to wind and water erosion.

1934

The national CCC enrollment goal rises to 350,000 due to draught conditions across much of the country.

1935

CCC enrollment peaks. National enrollment reaches 500,000, and the number of Minnesota CCC camps peaks at 104 with approximately 18,500 enrollees.

1937

The Soil Conservation District Law is passed. It continues to regulate more than ninety conservation districts statewide.

1938

The CCC administration in Minnesota issues orders that prohibit African American men from joining Minnesota camps; those previously recruited are sent to camps in Missouri.

Summer 1942

All Minnesota CCC camps close ahead of the federally mandated deadline of June 30, 1943, due to declining enrollment and the need for army staff on active duty for World War II.

July 10, 1943

The CCC-ID closes nationwide, despite protests from American Indian communities.