CT Civilian Conservation Corps Museum

DSCN4497A few weeks ago, while traveling the “back way” to the highway, I noticed the sign shown at the right. It wasn’t open the day I drove past, but I knew that I had to visit. After the short hike to Soapstone Mountain, my daughter and I toured the museum.

The CCC operated from 1933 to 1942 in the United States, providing jobs and what had to be a life-changing experience for unemployed, unmarried young men. The program was a major part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and it provided manual labor jobs in support of the conservation and development of natural resources on federal, state and local government land.

Young men volunteered and served from six months up to two years. They worked up to 40 hours a week (sometimes more) for which they were paid $30 a month ($22–25 had to be sent home to their family). They also received shelter, food, clothing, and medical care. Eventually, the CCC would employ about 5% of the male population in the U.S.

Some young men actually built the shelter they received. If they were assigned to a new camp, they started out in tents, and gradually built the camp’s housing, administrative buildings and workshops. We are still enjoying the fruits of their hard labor, as we visit and camp in our National Parks and as we travel the many scenic roads and hiking trails that crisscross this enormous country.

Some noteworthy people who were involved with the Corps include:

  • Alvin C. York, (Sgt York) – A project superintendent
  • Raymond Burr – Enrollee, Actor
  • Archie Moore – Enrollee, Light Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World
  • Robert Mitchum – Enrollee, actor
  • Chuck Yeager – Enrollee, Test pilot
  • Stan Musial – Enrollee, Professional baseball player
  • Walter Matthau – Enrollee, Actor

You can find tons of information about the CCC. If you’re interested, I’ve include a few of the more interesting links I found while researching this post, at the end. Since I have so many pictures to share, I thought I would tell the rest of this story through the captions. I’ve organized the photos into several galleries. Feel free to pick and choose.

The museum – Located in a maintenance area of Connecticut’s Shenipsit State Forest.

Projects of the Corps – In this area, the work included trail-blazing, forest fire prevention and fire-fighting duty and the installation of telephone lines.

Trades and skills – Including carpentry, blacksmithing, tool making and maintenance and road clearing and heavy construction.

Camps in CT – This is the only remaining camp building in the state, but there were many camps like this in Connecticut.

Artwork – Faith pointed out that the agencies of The New Deal, including the CCC, employed artists and photographers to document the success of the program. One famous photographer was Walker Evans, whose experience with the New Deal photography seemed to have influenced his other work.

Life at camp – The men worked hard, learned a lot, but had some leisure time and a few comforts of home. Sadly, the camps also echoed the racial attitudes of the time.

63 thoughts on “CT Civilian Conservation Corps Museum

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    1. Thanks! The CCC was never actually disbanded. AmeriCorps is a program operating under a similar model and many states have Civilian Conservation Corps and still receive Federal money. There is a quiet push to expand these programs today.

      I mentioned briefly that one of the benefits of the CCC was in preparing young men for military service. Most CCC enrollees entered the military as a Sgt or Corporal, based on their experience. I think it helped us very much as we entered WWII.

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  1. One of the great chapters in American history. A visit to any of our National Parks shows what great work they did. But since it is 80+ years old, a lot of it is showing its age. Time to do it again?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good to see you Paul! There is a somewhat quiet push to start something similar. The legislation that enabled the CCC was never undone. Lot’s of people are pointing toward AmeriCorps as the CCC for this century/generation. Of course, we might have to find a way to keep OSHA out of the loop :)

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      1. I guess the real difference is that the CCC and its counterpart the Works Progress Administration were so large and central to our society and economy back then. Of course, part of that was that we had over 20% unemployment, but we could sure use an employment boost today too. As for OSHA, no one likes losing a finger, do they?

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        1. Good points, Paul. I don’t know the current employment stats, but I’m reasonably sure that the rate is higher for that age group than we want to think. Perhaps higher than what is being reported, since they may not be looking for work in a “measurable” way. And, yes, I’ll give OSHA some credit, but I can only imagine the conditions those kids worked under. Still, I bet most of them enjoyed it.

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  2. Great post! Of course, I learned a bit about The New Deal in high school, but I didn’t really understand the scope of it until I was helping my son research it for a paper. Then I got a real education on it, how one does when one actually SEEKS information.
    Fab photos. My eye loves the old typewriter and the ATLAS crate.
    By the by, like you, I’ve always said Smokey the Bear. Smokey the Bear is a childhood icon for those of us who lived in forested areas and camped a lot, but there are people who are critical about it, saying he’s Smokey Bear and I want to warn you about their passionate stance on the matter. For me, he will always be as Smokey the Bear as Winnie is the Pooh :)

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    1. I think I knew more about WPA than this program. I had no idea that there were so many CCC camps in Connecticut (3rd smallest state), let alone employing 5% of the male workforce at it’s high point. My wife, no doubt like the typewriter and the adding machine. I like the ATLAS crate and I’m pretty sure my daughter did, too.

      And yes, it’s always going to be Smokey the Bear – Smokey Bear? Pfffft.

      Thanks, as always for taking the time to rad this stuff :)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I hike/ or have hiked many of the trails they blazed. I have often cursed them for being very long legged when hiking up the roughly hewed stone steps that are so tall, and steep, and then again when coming down for the same reason. Those steps are hard on the knees and exhausting!

    I’m not sure why they really made the steps so tall though…probably to make less of them. It must have been grueling work. It sure is hiking up those mountains, but in the end it was worth all the effort to get to the top. I’m grateful for their service!

    Having chow at that table they must have been knee to knee! It looks like a tight space!

    My Mother started with the telephone company as a switchboard operator way back in the mid sixties. She retired as an engineer for Pac Bell in the 90’s.

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    1. Thanks Deborah. I have also wondered the same thing on those trails, and I’m 6′ 2″. They could join the CCC if they were 5′ tall, you would think the spacing would be a little easier. The table might have been tight, but the guys at this camp started out living in tents, so I’m pretty sure they were happy to be sitting at a dry table, regardless. Based on the pictures, though, I’m not sure if they were in booths or at long tables in a chow hall. It’s hard to know, since the museum has photos from all the camps in CT. The tower that we hiked to earlier, was built (I think) in the late 70s and it replaced the fire tower the CCC Boys had built. The “new” tower has been closed for a couple of years and they are getting ready to start a reconstruction project. So, it appears that the CCC-built tower lasted longer than the new one.

      My mom was an operator in the 50s and then again in the 60s through 80s. She worked for AT&T, then a major department store and finally a State Mental Hospital.

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  4. My father served in the CCC’s in the late 30’s. His unit built Gooseberry Park north of Duluth, a marvel of logs and stone.

    Like so many in his peers, he went from the CCC’s directly into the military. In effect, spending seven years living in a barracks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Seven years in a barracks (or worse) was tough duty. We owe so much to those “boys” it’s hard to imagine. Hiking the trail that they laid out and cut through the forest, it’s easy to appreciate their hard work. Shenipsit Forest only came to be a state forest in 1927, about 5 years before these guys started building a network of trails and roads. They also built Hammonasset Beach, which remains one of our most popular tourist attractions to this day. Kudos to you dad!

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    1. Thanks Laura. I guess they ate a lot of beef and potatoes, so… I’ve hike on a lot of trails and stayed in several lodges built as part of those programs. The most amazing thing is to consider what it would be like if we tried building these things today.

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  5. Dan, this is remarkable. What a project! One can imagine the kind of empowerment and life-skills these young guys must have received. The images are marvellous. They just speak of creativity and productivity. Wonderful post.

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    1. Thanks Don. I agree. Being placed in the woods and given the task of building your own camp, then building fire towers, stringing phone lines and building roads and trails. All with simple tools that you made or maintained in the camp. For many of these boys, this would have been their first time away from home, and, since most of their families were on “relief” they were contributing to their family in a big way. Then, a lot of them went into the military and served in WWII

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    1. Thanks! I guess AmeriCorps is the program that comes closest to this kind of opertion today. Many people are advocating for it to be expanded, but it’s hard to imagine how they would do that. I was really glad to find this museum. I learned a lot about this important program.

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  6. I really enjoyed this post, Dan. I’m definitely a museum lover and this one is full of so many interesting things. My dad would have been tempted to walk off with that anvil, he’s been wanting one for so long!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! I need a new anvil, too, but the Park Ranger in charge of the museum probably would have noticed me lugging an anvil out of there :)

      I love these places, Wendy, and when I find them, I just feel like I have to visit. I’m glad you enjoyed this post.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. OK, I have to ask this. How is it that you “need a new anvil?” Did you actually wear out the old one? Were you shoeing the horses for the entire Union Army? I am sure I am showing my ignorance, but how do you wear out a giant hunk of iron?

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        1. Computer programming isn’t as easy as it looks, Paul.

          Actually, I was given an anvil when I helped move a guy out of his shop. It functions reasonably well for most things, but the edge that should be flat and sharp, is chipped , so you can’t form a nice clean 90-degree bent. I may not ever see the new anvil. The other member of this household had vetoed the idea of a forge :)

          Thanks for the afternoon laugh.

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        2. Plus, in addition to what Dan said, when anvils get beat up and dinged from use, some people will mill off the top layer to get them smooth again. The only problem with that is that the top layer is tempered (not the entire anvil) and once that hardened surface is gone, the anvil is much too soft to pound on — meaning you’d need a new one!

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    1. Thanks Janet. I’m glad you liked it. I don’t know how much of a volunteer effort it is, but there are numerous Civilian Conservation Corps operating in various stated and AmeriCorps operates along the same concept. I was amazed to read that, but I haven’t really done enough reading to understand the full scope of these modern programs.

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  7. How very interesting this post is. Hiking and backpacking in the Sierras as a young adult, I crossed many a bridge and walked many a trail built by the CCC. And, as you say, many of the national parks I have visited still have CCC buildings as part of their facilities. Aren’t small, theme-type museums fun? I go out of my way to visit them and am never disappointed.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it Janet. They left us quite a legacy, and then they went off and fought WWII – I’m not sure we can repay them, but at least we can remember them. I’m so glad I finally stopped at this museum. Our state has a bad habit of closing these places due to budget cuts.

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  8. I really like this post, Dan. Partly because I like history, and party because it puts me in mind of my maternal grandfather. He wasn’t in the CCC, but as an electrician who could build or fix anything, he had a lot of items like this around the place. The material for climbing poles makes me think of him especially, as his earliest days on the job preceded the bucket trucks that lift men to the tops of poles. He’d get a kick out of these pics, Dan, even more than I did. Good stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Paul. I had an uncle who was still climbing poles when I was very young. I grew up seeing things like this in our basement and in basements of uncles and family friends. There are so many pictures because I couldn’t decide which ones to leave out :)

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  9. This is amazing. Good old fashioned hard work for a day’s wage with an expectation that you’ll pitch in as a team and also support family. Values were expected – imagine that. :-) I love the physical requirements because I remember a long, long time ago applying at Northwest Airlines and one issue was my fingernails were too short. :-)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Judy. It was a different time. I’m trying to imagine packing today’s 17 yr-olds off to camp and telling them that 90% of their pay is going home to their family. Still, I would imagine there are some young men who would enjoy this experience.

      Fingernails too short? That’s crazy talk. I think these were at least reasonable.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My wife was a flight attendant for 27 years. Monthly weigh-ins, (even three months after giving birth), minimum high heel requirements, appearance requirements…. we have come a long way…. Oh, by the way, no express requirements regarding how many masticating teeth you had to have

        Liked by 1 person

  10. I loved the two state parks I walked up long, winding stairs up hills and down that the CCC built in Kentucky. :) This was a beautiful and meaningful post which reminded me of things I had heard about the corps. I found out some new facts too. Thanks, Dan. xo

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        1. They had very little choice. We were suffering in the Great Depression. Unemployment was staggeringly high. Most of the men in this program were from families that were receiving government relief payments (which is why 90% of their pay was sent home). This program, and the large WPA program is responsible for much of the public resource infrastructure across this country.

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  11. You know I always wish that if I had this time machine I would love to travel back in time and experience the happy and not so technologically fast life, but then I wonder I would have to witness wars, famine, droughts and these situations as well.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ll share one stupid notion I had during my teen years. Since, all the movies and photos of the old times were b/w, I assumed the real world then was b/w as well. So one sunny afternoon I innocently questioned my mother. Mom, how did you feel when the world got color for the first time? My mother was laughing hard at me but she later explained me why old movies and images are b/w and that the real world was always colored.

        Liked by 2 people

  12. My father-in-law was with the CCC, I think before he married my mother-in-law. I found a bunch of letters he wrote to her, talking about what he was up to and how he missed being home. It sounds like it was a lonely life, but then there wasn’t much in the way of work then if you had no skills.

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    1. Thanks for adding a personal touch to these comments John. I sing think I know anyone in my family who was enrolled. It had to be tough to be away from family. It sounds like it was pretty steady too.

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  13. First of all, Dan, I commend you for putting together such a complicated post. Oh my gosh, the work you put into this!! Secondly of all I cannot tell you how long I have been here just pouring over the photographs and getting this really funny feeling in my stomach looking into the past as I have done here. The history lessons I get here!! Wow! I recognized some names on that list of note worthy people who were involved in the CCC. Way cool! IMO, we need today more organizations like this to bring people together to work for the good. What an outstanding post!!! I thank you so much for taking the time to do this!!! <3

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Amy! I drifted between pruning the photos and not. I decided to put them out and let people decide. So much of the story is in the exhibits at the museum. I’m glad you enjoyed it. This program, and these people put so many things in place that we’re still enjoying.

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    1. Thank you. Shenipsit Forest is quite large. This section is accessible from Rt-190, between Somers and Stafford Springs. It’s about 15-20 minutes east of I-84. Three teeth, yes, I wonder how many failed that test.

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