Bringing Back the CCC Camp
Thursday, December 14, 2017
by Kevin Cummings, Messenger Staff Writer
The Depression-era work of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) is still evident all over the country and a volunteer project aims to honor the legacy of local Company 1475 by reconstructing part of its camp.
Created under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933, the CCC, primarily made up of young men in their late teens and early 20s, performed work related to natural resources and infrastructure, a sample of which included building trails, roads, park structures and recreation areas, erecting telephone lines, planting trees, fighting fires and flood relief. The Corps was vital to starting Tennessee’s state park system.
To be a member of the CCC, which usually paid about $30 per month, the men had to be unemployed, unmarried and not in school. The program was designed to get much needed work done and provide employment during the Great Depression.
From 1935 to 1942, Company 1475’s camp was on 211 acres near Tracy City in Grundy Forest. Grundy County native Herman E. Baggenstoss—son of the founders of Dutch Maid Bakery and a Sewanee alumnus—along with other businessmen, raised money to purchase the property, which was donated for the camp.
South Cumberland State Park officials and volunteers are in the early stages of recreating a portion of that historic site.
“Many ideas for what we will offer during programs and which buildings to reconstruct have been tossed around, and a good plan is set down, but nothing is chiseled in stone,” said Park Greer, a park ranger helping to lead the effort at South Cumberland. “As we talk to people, continue our research, and uncover the foundations, the plan might change.”
Greer said stakeholders have been meeting for several months to study the history of the camp in the effort to “paint an accurate painting of what life was like for the CCC boys.”
The approximately 200 men of Company 1475 tackled a number of area projects, including building Grundy Lakes and constructing part of the Fiery Gizzard Trail.
“The only trail directly constructed by Company 1475 was the most northern section of the Fiery Gizzard Trail, from the parking lot, down by the rock house and big Hemlock, out to the Fruit Bowl,” Greer said. “Anyone that has hiked this portion is very knowledgeable on how difficult it must have been to cut a trail through these areas.”
Company 1475 set up a satellite camp in 1938, south of Sewanee near Franklin State Forest, to build roads and trails in that area. The legacy of Company 1475 also includes fighting a large fire in Tracy City on April 27, 1935. The fire destroyed a swath of downtown, causing about $100,000 in damages.
The weekend of Dec. 9-10, volunteers were working at the Grundy Forest camp’s site—known as Camp S-67 or Camp Alvin C. York—clearing underbrush and mats of ivy and moss which are covering building foundations, Greer said. The project’s first phase, expected to last into February, includes making paths and clearing and cleaning the site, he noted.
“Over the two days, 13 cold-hardy volunteers showed up and put in a little over seven hours of work,” Greer said. “I’m sure the 20 degree temperatures held some at bay, but there are plenty of future opportunities to help.”
The Friends of South Cumberland State Park is an integral part of the restoration effort. Rick Dreves, communications chair for the volunteer group, noted that more than 17 structures have been found during the clearing and cataloguing process, some of which include building foundations, cisterns and tower anchors.
“The first phase of the project, generously funded by the South Cumberland Community Fund, was delayed until recently because the CCC camp is located beneath what was, until now, a back-country campsite for the state park—which was heavily booked by campers all the way through the end of November,” Dreves said.
The current back-country campsite is closed and a replacement site near Hanes Hole Falls is expected to be open next spring, he noted.
The Friends of the Park are researching the history of the CCC camp and they are asking anyone who has artifacts about Company 1475—letters, photos, stories, etc.—to contact them via email at <FriendsOfSouthCumberland@gmail.com>.
The restoration project has three phases, Greer said, but the timeline is undetermined and dependent on volunteer help and donations. All donations should be made to Friends of South Cumberland State Park. For more information visit <friendsofsouthcumberland.org>.
Historical facts used in this article come from Friends of South Cumberland State Park, which includes information compiled from the Tennessee State Library and Archives and other sources.