Three-Cs in the Shawnee Forest

The 1930s mark one of the most important decades in Shawnee State Forest’s history. With unemployment rates as high as 25% nationally, and even higher in some cities, the Great Depression provided the impetus for a major expansion of state-owned forest lands, improvement of forest roads, and the development of recreational infrastructure in what would become Shawnee State Park. As part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, Congress passed the Emergency Conservation Work Act of 1933, establishing a conservation-based jobs program, aimed at providing relief to unemployed young men and their families.

In March of 1933, Roosevelt told Congress: “I propose to create a Civilian Conservation Corps to be used in simple work, not interfering with normal employment, and confining itself to forestry, the prevention of soil erosion, flood control, and similar projects. More important, however, than the material gains, will be the moral and spiritual value of such work. The overwhelming majority of unemployed Americans, who are now walking the streets and receiving private or public relief would infinitely prefer to work. We can take a vast army of these unemployed out into healthful surroundings. We can eliminate to some extent at least the threat that enforced idleness brings to spiritual and moral stability.”

In Ohio, the State Relief Commission worked with county commissioners and their relief agents to “select single men between the ages of 18 and 25, primarily from families on the relief rolls.” Roosevelt would also authorize the enlistment of unemployed World War I veterans in special veterans units, with ultimately 25,000 veterans joining the rolls. Enrollees agreed to a six-month enlistment and, in turn, would receive $30 a month, $25 of which had to be sent back home to family dependents. They got to keep $5 a month for their personal use. Thus, the CCC enrollees became known as the “Dollar-a-Day Boys.” Enrollees were organized into companies of 200 men, given basic training by the US Army, and deployed to camps across the nation. The CCC would coordinate with officials in the US Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior, as well as with state officials in charge of state parks, wildlife, and agriculture programs, thus providing federal assistance to state soil conservation and reforestation projects.

The work of the CCC in Shawnee illustrates the bipartisan nature of efforts to save Shawnee Forest. The camps in Shawnee received the backing of both local Republican and Democratic party members. Thomas A. Jenkins of Ironton, a Republican, who represented Ohio’s 10th District, played an instrumental role in securing the proposed CCC work for projects in southern Ohio. Jenkins pushed for Ohio to receive $14,000,000 for projects, which would provide work for between 6,000 and 8,000 men in the state. Ultimately, more than 139,400 Ohioans would enroll over the course of the programs life. Rep. Jenkins worked with state-level officials in Ohio, including Democratic Gov. George White, O. E. Braught of the State Relief Commission, William H. Reinhart, Conservation Commissioner, and Edmund Secrest, Chief of Forestry. Additionally, state and local support came from Conrad Roth, member of the State Conservation Council, and Vaughn Talbott, the manager of the Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce.

The creation of Roosevelt Lake and what became Shawnee State Park was first proposed by the Southern Ohio Fish and Game Association in early 1933, calling for an artificial lake on Turkey Creek, what would become known as Roosevelt Lake.  The Scioto County Democratic Party Executive Committee, the Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce, the Scioto County Engineer’s Office, and Frank A. Farley, Chief Engineer of the Department of Conservation supported the plans.  Ultimately, Gov. George White agreed to make the improvement of the Roosevelt Game Preserve and Shawnee State Forest the first state project of the new Civilian Conservation Corps.

At the time, the Portsmouth Daily Times reported that “The Scioto county Democratic Executive Committee is “pulling” for the lake project.  Attorney J. Alden Staker and Secretary Earl C. Brandel are using their party’s influence to ‘swing’ the lake program.  They have appealed to Senator Robert J. Barkley and Congressman James G. Polk, Democrats, to use their influence in Washington toward getting a federal appropriation for the lake.  Congressman Thomas A. Jenkins, Ironton, Republican, a member of the forestry committee, started the Roosevelt refuge improvement [proposal] last week and is giving the project his support. …. [Scioto County Democratic] Chairman Staker has been active in boosting the lake plan for several weeks and assisted the game club in getting the project approved by state officials.”

Grass roots support in Scioto County could even be found among the Brush Township Republican Club, which rejected all of Roosevelt’s other New Deal programs, but publicly approved of the CCC. In April 1933, the Portsmouth Daily Times reported, “The club denounced the New Deal as unfair, unsound, unconstitutional and unsuccessful but approved the government’s relief program.” While making allowance for the Three-Cs, these Westside Republicans nonetheless “urged combat against the forces of dictatorship and socialism and pleaded for defense of the Constitution.” Opponents of the CCC frequently cited the CCC and Roosevelt’s so-called “Tree Army” as an example of the socialist policies of the New Deal Democrats, describing the relief program as little different than a “dole.” Its critics claimed the CCC would “invite unemployment and teach boys to rely upon the Government for support.”

With state funds, additional lands would be added to the forest, and thanks to the labor of the CCC, a new state park would be established, six lakes and reservoirs constructed, numerous hiking trails blazed, campsites cleared, picnic areas developed, and over a hundred miles of all-weather roads would be constructed. Even with local bipartisan support the camps remained a source of controversy as local leaders pushed for the use of primarily local labor at higher wage rates, rather than importation of unemployed men from across the state, who were to be paid one dollar a day.

In an effort to quell the initial opposition that manifested itself in the communities that played host to the camps, Roosevelt issued Executive Order 6129 in April 1933, authorizing the CCC to hire what were termed Local Experienced Men (LEMs) — local woodsmen, foremen, and other supervisors to assist in the CCC projects. According to CCC historian Joseph M. Speakman, “Labor Department instructions to the state selection personnel expressed the hope that the sentiments of local communities would guide their choice of LEMs so as to forestall any local resentment.” LEMs appear to have helped smooth the acceptance of the camps in southern Ohio, but nevertheless tensions remained a source of potential conflict, particularly as it regarded the presence of segregated, all-black units and camps.

The federal legislation that created the CCC originally barred racial discrimination, ensuring that African-Americans could enroll in the relief program. However, at this time, much of American society and its institutions were segregated by race. The US Army at the time was also organized in a segregated fashion, and it was the Army that Congress assigned the responsibility of managing the camps. Thus, it was the Army that concluded, as long as roughly ten percent of all enrollees were African-American (thus mirroring the overall percentage of the national black population), then the Army could proceed to organize CCC units and camps along racial lines.

The role of African-American enrollees in the construction of Shawnee State Park and Forest has long been forgotten and conflicts between the segregated camps and members of the local community have been essentially lost to time. Four of the seven camps located in Shawnee State Forest would be the home of black units, two of which were populated by black World War I veterans. In total, while the camps were occupied by black units, some 800 African-Americans were at work in Shawnee.

These veterans deserve credit for having built the original infrastructure of Shawnee State Park. Working primarily with hand tools, the prepared the site for Roosevelt Lake, constructed its dam and spillway, and built a stone bridge across Turkey Creek. They cleared a site for camping and built shelter houses for large gatherings. They blazed the Overlook Trail, which enables park visitors, after a short hike, to view Lake Roosevelt and the surrounding Shawnee Forest.

With US entrance into World War II the CCC was shuttered and many of its enrollees went directly into the armed services, already accustomed to military discipline. By many measures the CCC was a success. During it's lifespan, from 1933 to 1942, a total of 3.4 million men found employment via the program. The typical enrollee at the time of enlistment weighed 147 pounds and within three months he had gained 11.5 pounds. Over 40,000 men were taught to read and write, while millions more learned other valuable life skills. At least 2 billion trees were planted and 800 state parks were built. 3,980 historic structures were restored. They laid 5,000 miles of water lines. The CCC ran some 400,000 miles of telephone lines, helping connect hundreds of thousands of Americans to the national network.

In Ohio some $61.9 million in federal money went towards the operation of sixty-eight CCC camps across the state. For Shawnee, that meant over $6 million dollars of investment by 1942, the equivalent of $88 million in 2017. Such a concentrated investment of money and labor in the forest's history has yet to be repeated.

In the longer history of the forest, the CCC years have proven a mixed blessing for the region. The roads they constructed created Shawnee's park, lakes, scenic drives, and some of the hiking and bridle trails that tens of thousands of local residents and tourists from across the nation visit every year, but what had been essentially inaccessible to mechanized logging in 1920s would be opened in the 1930s by the CCC-built roads.

In the 1930s, with all of the improvements made by the CCC, state officials promoted the Shawnee Forest region as "Ohio's Little Smokies," hoping to encourage regional auto tourism and the use of state lands for recreational purposes. Shawnee, like so many other state and national forests, would become the focus of the long running debate between those who view the proper role of the state as one of wise and efficient use of natural resources versus those who argue the state must act to preserve wilderness and natural areas to achieve ecological balance.

Clearcut logging would begin in the early 1950s following the decision to merge the lands of the old Roosevelt Game Preserve into the State Forest. No longer under the management of a Division of Conservation, the old Preserve lands and Shawnee were opened to clearcutting in 1951 by the new Ohio Department of Natural Resources, under a plan developed by Charles A. Dambach, Chief of the Division of Forestry.

Today, the old CCC-built infrastructure cannot handle the weight of logging trucks and many of the original culverts and bridges are being replaced with more modern structures to facilitate the sale and extraction of state-owned timber, as well as that which remains in private hands on so-called inholdings -- privately-owned parcels, surrounded by state park or forest land.

For historian Neil M. Maher, author of Nature's New Deal (2008), the CCC helped usher in the modern Environmental movement. Not only did the federal jobs program transform the natural environment, it "altered American politics by introducing the New Deal to the American public in ways that raised popular support for Roosevelt's liberal welfare state." Local CCC camps and projects "set off a national debate that expanded the meaning of conservation beyond the efficient use of natural resources to include as well concern for human health through outdoor recreation, for wilderness preservation, and for ecological balance, all of which became central to postwar environmentalists."

Interest in preserving the wild nature of the Shawnee forest continues as the region remains a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts, from hikers to horseback riders, from fishermen and wildlife photographers to deer and morel mushroom hunters. While the larger debate over the proper role and mission of government conservation programs shows no sign of resolution, efforts are being made to preserve and memorialize the history of the Three-Cs in Shawnee.

As result of the National Historical Preservation Act and the work of the Ohio Department of Transportation's Historic Bridge Program, the Ohio Historic Preservation Office, and the Scioto County Engineer’s Office, the main bridge replacement project on Mackletree Road, which was completed in 2017, included the construction of a new memorial to the CCC and the men who built the bridge and the original infrastructure of Shawnee State Park and Forest. Made with stones salvaged from the demolished CCC-built bridge across Turkey Creek, the stone memorial at Roosevelt Lake will long commemorate the role that the Three-Cs played in the history of southern Ohio and the larger United States.

Use Scioto Historical to explore the history of the Three-Cs in Shawnee. Visit the forest or park in person, or virtually. Picnic underneath a CCC-built shelter house at Roosevelt Lake, check-out the CCC stone memorial and then hike the Overlook Trail, following stone steps along a path built by CCC labor. Drive for miles along roads first built by the CCC, stopping to explore Picnic Point (the Forest’s most famous Ohio River vista), and check out former CCC camp sites and CCC-built lakes and reservoirs. Visit the CCC Cabin, one of the few remaining CCC-built structures on the grounds of the Park and see specimens of the forest's famous Eastern Timber Rattlesnakes at the Shawnee State Park Nature Center. Here you will see first hand how the natural and human history of Shawnee Forest is inextricably intertwined. Here you will see how the forest has shaped the life and livelihoods of area residents and, in turn, how the hills and valleys of Shawnee have been transformed by state and federal conservation policies during the last one-hundred years.

Sources:

"Formation of a Lake on Roosevelt Game Preserve, Turkey Creek, West Side, Will Be Recommended as the First Project of President Roosevelt's Reforestation Program," Portsmouth Times (18 April 1933).

“400 to be Sent to County for Forest Work,” Portsmouth Times (17 May 1933).

Olen Cole, Jr., The African American Experience in the Civilian Conservation Corps (Gainsville: University Press of Florida, 1999).

“Deer Programing Is Adopted,” Athens Messenger (26 March 1951).

Charles C. King, ed., A Legacy of Stewardship: The Ohio Department of Natural Resources 1949-1989 (Columbus, 1990).

“Lake to Mean 586 Foot Dam,” Portsmouth Times (19 April 1933).

Fred Leake, et. al., "History of the Civilian Conservation Corps and its Lasting Legacy" (2010).

Neil M. Maher, Nature's New Deal: The Civilian Conservation Corps and the Roots of the American Environmental Movement (Oxford University Press, 2008).

“Move to Build Lake with Local Labor: See Great Aid to Unemployed in Proposal; Plan would Pay Local Labor $3 Per Day; Foresters Get $1. Difference Cited. Game Preserve Project One of First Ohio Reforestation Ideas," Portsmouth Times (21 May 1933).

"New Club Adopts Bylaws: Brush Township Republicans Approve Present Relief Program," Portsmouth Times (30 September 1934).

“Prospects Look Bright for Game Preserve Work,” Portsmouth Times (9 April 1933).

Joseph M. Speakman, “Into the Woods: The First Year of the Civilian Conservation Corps,” Prologue Magazine: Quarterly of the National Archives and Records Administration Vol. 38, No. 3 (Fall 2006).

CCC Cabin at Shawnee State Park

In the 1930s, seven different camps of Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) enrollees operated within the bounds of the Shawnee State Forest. This cabin was originally located at CCC Camp Shawnee No. 1 on Pond Lick. In 2007, Shawnee State Park…

CCC Camp Scioto & McBride Lake

In the mid-1930s, Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) enrollees from nearby Camp Scioto built McBride Lake in the headwaters of Pond Run, a small tributary of the Ohio River. One of six lakes originally built with CCC labor, McBride is one of the…

CCC Camp Shawnee No. 1

The first of seven Civilian Conservation Corps camps to call Shawnee Forest home, CCC Camp Shawnee No. 1 was located on Pond Lick Run, a tributary of Turkey Creek. The enrollees who called this camp home built what became known as Shawnee Lake, a…

CCC Co. 1545 & Camp Roosevelt

On May 20th, 1935, T. J. McVey walked the grounds of CCC Camp Roosevelt on the banks of Turkey Creek in Ohio's Shawnee State Forest. McVey worked for the Inspections Division of the CCC and his "Camp Report," can be found in the…

Mackletree Road Bridge & the CCC Stone Memorial

In 1934, a segregated, all-black Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) unit of enrollees, known as Company 1545, dammed the waters of Mackletree Run and Turkey Creek, creating Roosevelt Lake, the centerpiece of a new state park in southern Ohio’s…

Roosevelt Lake Overlook Trail & the Mackletree Shelter House

With the completion of the Roosevelt Lake Dam in 1934, the Civilian Conservation Corps enrollees of Company 1545 from nearby Camp Roosevelt, built two shelter houses for visitors to the new Roosevelt Lake Park (what is now known as Shawnee State…

CCC Camp Gordon & Wolfden Lake

Camp Gordon was one of seven Civilian Conservation Corps camps that were established in the Shawnee State Forest, beginning in 1933. Located in the Headwaters of Turkey Creek on State Route 125, Camp Gordon would be home to first, an all-white…

Burning of CCC Camp Adams

In June of 1936, Robert Fechner, the Director of the Civilian Conservation Corps addressed a letter to two Ohio senators, Robert J. Bulkley and Vic Donahey, regarding complaints he had received from Nimrod B. Allen, Secretary of the Columbus Urban…

CCC Camp Bear Creek

Camp Bear Creek was one of the seven Civilian Conservation Corps camps located in the Shawnee State Forest, beginning in 1933. The camp, with its barracks, officers quarters, and out buildings is now the grounds of the popular Horse Camp, where horse…

CCC Co. 1520 & Camp Shawnee No. 2

CCC Camp Shawnee No. 2 was home to one of the four segregated, all black companies of Civilian Conservation Corps units, which helped to construct the infrastructure of the modern-day Shawnee State Forest. Originally occupied on 18 June 1933, Co.…