Last week, I published a diary called The CCC - FDR's Forest Army, focussing on the very first Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) crews, who worked on construction of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. This week, I'll continue the focus on the CCC, but head to the (then) largest state in the union, Texas.
Texas is a huge state, and nearly 30 (or more) of its State Parks benefited from CCC projects. The purpose of this diary is to go into more depth as to all the different work the CCC did. One diary about one National Park just isn't enough to show what millions of young men, at work across the nation, accomplished for the benefit of us all. To show how much of our public landscape - too often taken for granted - still endures from that time three generations ago.
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Please note: The text in italics, associated with each picture - title, caption and credit - are quoted directly from Texas Parks & Wildlife Dept. website.
CCC Handbook, 1933-1942
Pictures in the orientation booklet drew an explicit connection between physical work, increased hardiness, and emotional strength. Believing that the country needed rehabilitation, the president and his advisors considered the link a powerful one and maintained that the CCC was integral to restoring national well-being. (Texas Parks and Wildlife)
I decided to focus on the Lone Star State not just because it's so big a diverse, but also because the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department has put up a nifty website about CCC projects in Texas Parks. They've done a great job assembling research a wide variety of sources.
Quarry, Bastrop State Park, c. 1934
All the stonework that embellishes the buildings and structures at the park began at the Bastrop quarry. Here CCC crews from Companies 1805 and 1811 engaged in the backbreaking work of extracting rock from the beds of local sandstone. (National Park Service/National Archives and Records Administration)
Stone Masons, Bastrop State Park, 1933-1939
After quarrying the sandstone from nearby sites, the CCC enrollees at Bastrop learned to dress and then to lay sandstone on the park's many structures. To dress the stone means to use stone chisels and hammers to give the stone a desired shape and size. (Texas Parks and Wildlife)
Huge Logs and Choice Lumber, Bastrop State Park, c. 1934
A plentiful supply of local building materials was a priority for park-planning agencies. The CCC companies constructing Bastrop State Park had access to mature stands of juniper, pine, and oak, and once felled they fed the park's lumber mill and furniture shop. (Texas Parks and Wildlife)
Pool Construction, Abilene State Park, c. 1933-1934
Company 1823(V) has completed work on the bottom and sides of the rectilinear pool, and has cleared, leveled, and compacted the apron around it so that they can begin laying the flagstone. (National Archives and Records Administration)
Swimming Pool, Abilene State Park, 1990s
The pool opened to the public before the CCC work at the park had been completed. The swimming pool quickly became a magnet attracting visitors to the park and has remained so for many decades, providing a respite from the area's hot, dry climate. (Texas Parks and Wildlife)
This pool at Balmorhea SP was the largest in the world at the time of its opening. And more than >2,000 at its grand opening? In remote West Texas, with a lot less people available 72 years ago? At the height of the Depression? Wow!
Park Opening, Balmorhea State Park, June 26, 1936
The June 26-27, 1936, grand opening attracted more than 2,000 people. This view shows the size of the enclosed swimming pool ably constructed by Company 1856. The circular portion is 215 feet in diameter, from which two legs extend 345 feet from the centrally placed diving tower. (Texas Parks and Wildlife)
As mentioned earlier, the CCC did a lot of capacity-building in the run-up to WWII.
Fort Bliss Cavalry Training, Balmorhea State Park, 1938
The cavalry from Fort Bliss in El Paso used this desert location as a training base. They established a camp for the men and more than 3,000 head of horses and mules, just across the road from the park. This photograph shows the men of the 1st Cavalry at the swimming pool, taking a break during a long training mission. (Texas Parks and Wildlife)
Construction underway in 1936:
Pool Aerial View, Balmorhea State Park, January 9, 1936
This view was taken from atop the windmill platform located in the yard of a ranch house across the road from the San Solomon Springs pool. The CCC enrollees who trained as masons are placing hand-cut flat stone roof tile on the building in the foreground; just below the springs seep and bubble. Behind the pool outline is the camp compound which included offices, barracks, dining hall, library and study areas, recreation hall, mess hall, maintenance and metal fabrication areas, and latrines. The Toyahvale railroad track and depot are visible behind the camp; and to the right, the road to Fort Davis stretches into the distance. (Texas Parks and Wildlife)
Still in use to the present day:
Sunrise at the Pool, Balmorhea State Park, December 2005
Even in December the pool remains inviting, as the water is a constant 76 degrees. The combination of warm water and cool air has created a surface fog around a flock of migrant ducks floating in front of the CCC-constructed shelter. (Texas Parks and Wildlife)
Part of the pool is very deep, allowing for diving when it was built, and SCUBA training today.
Balmorhea Swimming Pool, Balmorhea State Park, 2007-2008
This view looks from the CCC-built diving board at the deep end toward the circular pool. Many individuals swim laps, some of them on a daily basis year around. The pool also attracts scuba divers from Texas, New Mexico, and beyond. In combination, the high altitude of Balmorhea and the overall depth of the springs satisfy the criteria for open water diving, allowing many to earn a special scuba certification. (Texas Parks and Wildlife)
This is a detail from a larger (horizontal panoramic) picture of the pool under construction.
Pool Construction, Balmorhea State Park, January 9, 1936
During the final stages of pool construction Company 1856 prepared and fitted together stone sections in the wading area, the walls having already been finished. The individuals at topside tables are rough-working the stone and those in the pool bottom are fitting the stones. Camp commander, 1st Lt. J. D. Sellars, stands at the edge of the pool (right), wearing his cavalry boots, and construction superintendent Howard T. Trigg is leftmost in that trio. Pool construction alone used about 30,000 square feet of hand-finished stone. (Texas Parks and Wildlife)
The CCC crews were mostly segregated so far as black and white crews, but I'm not so sure how the "Mexicans" of the Southwest were handled. Another detail from that same picture:
Structures were built in most of the parks. Many had cabins for rent, most all had nice residences for relatively low-paid part supervisors, and there were all sorts of other picnic shelters, assembly halls, and more.
Adobe Brick Making, Balmorhea State Park, 1934 - 1936
The combination building, caretaker's residence, pump house, and motor court all relied on adobe brick. The men had to mix, form, stack, dry, and lay the bricks. In this photograph, the CCC enrollees have just removed forms and are preparing to stack the bricks for drying. M. B. Gibson, employed by the National Park Service and experienced in adobe construction, was in charge of these efforts and reported that the crews set a record by making 12,290 bricks in forty days. When he pitted two crews against each other in a contest, they churned out a combined total of 3,100 in three days. (>National Park Service/National Archives and Records Administration)
Because the goal of the CCC was to have as many young men working as possible, time was allowed for attention to details:
CCC Artist Sculpts Decoration, Bastrop State Park, c. 1937
CCC enrollee James Taylor creates a bust modeled in clay, later to be carved in walnut and used as a decorative fireplace mantel bracket. The CCC often attempted to nurture the talents of enrollees as it strove to provide them training in a variety of trades and crafts. (Texas Parks and Wildlife)
Texas Map in Stone, Bastrop State Park, c. 1936
This imaginative detail adorns the floor of the small stone gatehouse within the entrance portal at Bastrop State Park. The outline speaks to the time the designers had to create, and the time enrollees had to execute such details, in this case, the shape of Texas, a powerful symbol for the state. (National Archives and Records Administration)
Interior of Refectory, Bastrop State Park, c. 1937
An early photograph of the refectory illustrates the success in coupling simple materials with a powerful, overarching design philosophy. All the furniture was constructed in the woodworking shop at Bastrop, which produced furniture for several other CCC parks in Texas. (National Park Service/National Archives and Records Administration)
Still in use today:
Refectory, Bastrop State Park, 2008
Rich materials and fine craftsmanship go hand-in-hand at the refectory. This beautiful fireplace chimney of dressed sandstone is flanked by vertical plank-pine siding, and crowned with heavy timber roof framing. Substantial, wagon-wheel chandeliers illuminate the structure at night. (TPWD John Chandler)
And many of the parks had roads built, too. Shenandoah wasn't the only park with a "Skyline Drive":
Skyline Drive Crossing Ridge between Keesey and Hospital Canyons, Davis Mountains State Park, c. 1935
Skyline Drive traverses the face and top of the ridge separating the park from the town of Fort Davis. CCC enrollees built the road with basic tools-hand rock drills, pickaxes, shovels, and wheelbarrows. The dry-laid guardrails were constructed of locally excavated and hand-shaped stone; unfortunately, they no longer exist. This view looks down the streambed of Limpia Creek. (National Park Service/National Archives and Records Administration)
Constructing a Rock Roadway Retaining Wall, Big Spring State Park, c. 1934
Enrollees in CCC Company 1857 were tasked with building a park atop Scenic Mountain in one year. To add to the difficulty, they had to transport the heavy rocks—for the roadway's retaining walls and the buildings—from the main quarry which lay on the western rim of the mountain almost 1½ miles away from the park entrance. (National Park Service/National Archives and Records Administration)
CCC boys (as they were all called, regardless of race) continue to hold reunions, though their numbers are dwindling. Texas (and other entities as well) have been gathering oral histories of that time:
CCC Reunion, Fort Parker State Park, 1993
Men associated with Company 3807(C) attended their first reunion at the park in 1993. Here, they pose next to a historical marker commemorating the CCC at Fort Parker State Park. Gathering with family and friends as often as annually at the park they built, the men share stories about the CCC and their lives. Sometimes they reminisce about working in road work, dam construction, motor pool, and the reconstruction of Old Fort Parker and construction of the park buildings and facilities. Their example has increased the interest in the CCC both locally and statewide. (Texas Parks and Wildlife)
San Antonio Paseo del Rio (aka Riverwalk)
The Riverwalk is a New Deal project, but built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), not the CCC. It required matching funding from local partners, which was provided via special election approval of a tax for that purpose. The property tax raises $75k, and the feds kick in $325,000. In addition to being a civic attraction, the riverwalk is part of a larger flood-prevention project to shunt high water around downtown San Antonio via a canal.
This is one of the bridges built by the WPA along the San Antonio Paseo del Rio.
I've been looking into the general topic of New Deal projects all year. And I'm still discovering how much of our public spaces have their origins in that time. Without them, our country today would be a different place - one with a relatively impoverished public landscape. The tendency towards privatization in recent decades has moved us towards gated communities and private shopping malls rather than main streets and public places. Perhaps the value of our public treasures, much of which can be traced back to the CCC, WPA and other New Deal programs, needs to be more actively remembered.
Other diaries in the New Deal series:
- Bread and Roses (New Deal TRAP Murals)
- Time for a Little Class Warfare (child labor)
- The So-Called Death Tax (libraries)
- Heroic Labor (pictorial)
- Welcome to Hooverville
- Second Class Citizens
- 1000 Words, 1000 Years
- Rural Alabama Loves the Stimulus Plan
- Black Sunday (the birth of the Dust Bowl)
- Friday Night at the Movies: The Great Depression
- STFU (Southern Tenant Farmers Union)
- The CCC - FDR's Tree Army (Shenandoah NP)