History of Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) - South Mountain

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Roosevelt’s Soil Soldiers” 1933-1942

cccstat.jpg STATUE NO. 50.  Dedicated February 21, 2009 - Phoenix South Mountain Park, coordinated by members of CCC Legacy Chapter #44 and donated by Jack Duncan, Chapter member.  The statue is located at the entrance to the visitors center of the Phoenix South Mountain Park


On March 4, 1933, as Franklin D. Roosevelt was sworn into office as the thirty-second President of the United States, he willingly accepted the challenges of leading the nation out of the depths of its greatest economic and social depression. The unemployment rate had surged from three percent in 1929, to an astonishing twenty-five percent (The Civilian Conservation Corps and the National Park Service). Roosevelt promised that he would launch a series of emergency programs to help put Americans back to work. One of the most successful programs was the Emergency Conservation Work Act (ECW), which later came to be known as the Civilian Conservation Corps.

 Operating under a dual mission of putting Americans back to work (especially young men) and protecting the nation’s natural resources (Oregon State Archives), the Emergency Conservation Work Act was pushed through Congress and the first enrollee was inducted into the CCC on April 7, 1933 (A Brief History of the Civilian Conservation Corps). Enrollment was open to young men who were unemployed, unmarried, and between the ages of 18 and 23 years of age. Conditions required performing intense physical labor, but the enrollees did not mind, they were eating three hearty meals each day, learning valuable trade skills, and earning money. The men would enroll for a six-month term, with the option of re-enrolling for additional six-months, up to two years. Enrollees would receive a monthly salary of $30, of which $25 must be sent home to desperate family members.


A Depression era soup line.  The unemployment rate had surged from 3% in 1929 to an astonishing 25%
Over time, enrollment restrictions would be changed to employ a wider range of young men including, World War I veterans and Native Americans. At the peak of enrollment in 1935, over 500,000 men were employed in more than 2,600 camps across the country, including Alaska, Hawaii, and the Virgin Islands. The $25 allotment sent an estimated $72,000,000 back into the nation’s economy as the needy families of enrollees spent it making life a little easier. Additionally, camps added an average of five thousand dollars a month into the local market with the purchase of supplies to keep the camps in operation (A Brief History of the Civilian Conservation Corps).


A joint cooperation between numerous government agencies was required to bring the CCC into existence and keep the program running smoothly throughout its nine-year span. The War Department, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Labor were just a few of the initial agencies involved, shortly followed by the Office of Education. Each government agency was responsible for daily operations; the War Department oversaw enrollees while in the camp. The Department of Interior often would oversee the enrollees when they were off site, at the work location, and the Office of Education ran the vocational training, which offered voluntary courses in the evenings.

The population of each camp generally ranged from 150 to 250 men who were under the command of military personnel while in camp. The workday for enrollees began around 6 a.m. with the wakening sound of the bugle. After the barracks were inspected, the men would march off to breakfast and morning roll call. After morning assignments and announcements were finished, the enrollees were released under the direct supervision of the technical service of which their agency was assigned.

chowtime.jpg Noon chow usually consisted of a bag lunch  

The meal was usually a bagged lunch consisting of sandwiches, fruit, coffee, and occasionally pie or cake. After the midday lunch break, the men would continue with their work until about 4 p.m. when they would go back to camp either by foot or aboard work trucks.

Once enrollees we back in camp they were normally required to attend a “retreat” formation at 5 p.m. as the flag was lowered for the day. Retreat was followed by the evening meal. After dinner, the men were not held to a standard schedule. They were free to attend educational classes and lectures, participate in recreational activities, such as playing pool or baseball, or just sitting around listening to the radio, writing letters, or talking. Around 9:45 p.m., the lights would flash on and off to signal enrollees to prepare for lights out at 10 p.m.


Home was barracks with cots. The men would typically work an eight hour day with an hour taken for the noon lunch which was normally served in the field.

Throughout the years of the CCC, countless hours of work was conducted to improving the recreational facilities of numerous national, state, county, and municipal parks. In addition to the recreational improvements performed by the CCC enrollees, the men focused on conservation work in the undeveloped areas of the country. The projects centered on reforestation, flood control, prevention of soil erosion, and fighting forest fires. According to the National Association of Civilian Conservation Corps Alumni the figures listed below are just a few of the contributions made by the CCC:

125,000 miles of roadway
89,000 miles of telephone line strung
13,100 miles of foot trails
40 million acres of farmlands that benefited from erosion control projects
154 million square yards of stream and lake bank protection
814,000 acres of range re-vegetation
800 state parks developed
52,000 acres of public campground development
3 billion trees planted\
3,470 fire towers erected
97,000 miles of fire roads built
Disease and insect control

 Remnants of the CCC camp stone buildings remain today 

Between 1933 and 1940, four thousand (4000) men worked out of two camps at South Mountain Park. During this time the men constructed over 40 miles of hiking and equestrian trails, 18 buildings, 15 ramadas, 134 fire pits, 30 water faucets, water dams, and other features within the park. The architectural style for the buildings built at South Mountain Park between 1933 and 1937 was a cooperative effort between the National Park Service and the City Parks Supervisor. The slab stone masonry buildings were consistent with the Park Service’s use of regionally traditional themes utilizing environmentally compatible materials. See list of Arizona CCC Projects.

Despite the contributions made by the CCC enrollees, Americans began to question the need for the program as the nation’s economy began to improve and the availability of jobs became more widespread. The program was still held in high regards but many believed that the workers should be transferred into factories or the expanding armed forces. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor shifted America’s focus to the war effort and soon a number of CCC camps had been assigned to work on military bases. By June of 1942, congress had agreed to eliminate all funding for the program, thus ending its nine years of existence.

Programs such as the CCC helped move America through the Great Depression. It proved to be a source of training and discipline for countless young men whose next battle would not be an economic fight waged in the forests and fields, but a very real shooting war fought in far-off lands where training, discipline, and respect for authority meant the difference between life and death.


 CCC building still in use at the end of San Juan Road


“The Civilian Conservation Corps and the National Park Service, 1933-1942: An Administrative History.”
http://nps.gov/history/history/online_books/ccc/ccc1.htm (06, Dec. 07)

“Oregon State Archives 50th Anniversary Exhibit; The Civilian Conservation Corps: Protecting Oregon’s Resources.”
http://arcweb.sos.state.or.us/50th/ccc/cccintro.html (06, Dec. 07)

“A Brief History of the Civilian Conservation Corps.”
http://www.cccalumni.org/history1.html (06, Dec. 07)

Smith, Michael I. The Civilian Conservation Corps: Roosevelt’s Forest Army, 1933-1942.

“Civilian Conservation Corps.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civilian_Conservation_Corps (06, Dec. 07)