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 Scioto County.
During the life of the Depression Era conservation jobs program, the Three-Cs provided employment to over three million men, including some 250,000 African-Americans, who were placed in one of the nation’s 150 segregated, all-black companies. The work on Roosevelt Lake and the new park was done with CCC labor and supervised by the Ohio Department of Conservation, the predecessor of today’s Department of Natural Resources.
Charles L. Wible, an artist employed by the CCC to document the work of the corps, spent the fall of 1934 embedded with Company 1545. That September he reported to officials in Washington that Roosevelt Lake, which was then under construction, would soon "act as a source of water supply in times of drought and as a protection for the deer when attacked by dogs. It will be an earth fill dam with a masonry corewall 530 feet in length. This lake will lie in the center of a 300 acre State Park and recreational center now under development."
According to Wible, the new park, when completed, would be "one of the most beautiful parks in these United States. Mountains outlined by fresh blue of the sky, are touched by soft color, splashed here and there with a deep and brilliant red, or yellow, causing striking contrasts." The young artist noted in his report, "I, especially, enjoy the wonderful hikes through the wooded trails, a slight breeze bringing the delightful mellow twang of the pine, hemlock, and wild flowers. It makes one forget troubles and strife, living only for the minute at hand, yet dreaming of the future beautiful park area."
Eighty-plus years later, the future “park area” imagined by Wible is now the Shawnee State Park, located in the heart of the Shawnee State Forest. Thanks to the Three-Cs, generations of area residents have benefited from the roads and park improvements constructed by this Depression era jobs and conservation program. The story of how Ohioans saved the Shawnee Forest, conserving and preserving it for future enjoyment and wise use, cannot be told without an appreciation for the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Thanks to the continued investment of the State of Ohio, many of the dams built in the 1930s by the CCC have been repaired, helping preserve the historic infrastructure of the forest and park. Large sections of the CCC-built forest roads are now paved with asphalt and their original stone culverts have been replaced with precast concrete, allowing area residents, tourists, school buses, forestry and park vehicles, and commercial logging trucks to gain easy access to the residences and various natural and cultural resources of the area.
In 2016, when Scioto County Engineer Craig Opperman finalized plans for the replacement of the original CCC-built bridge across Turkey Creek, designs were included for the construction of a new memorial to the Civilian Conservation Corps and the men who built the original infrastructure of Shawnee State Park and Forest. Made with stones salvaged from the demolished bridge, the stone memorial at Roosevelt Lake will long commemorate the role that the African-American enrollees of CCC Company 1545 played in the history of southern Ohio and the larger United States.
Interest in preserving the wild nature of the forest while, at the same time, promoting its use for recreational activity may date back to the beginnings of the conservation movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but interest continues today as the region remains a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts — from hikers to horseback riders, from fishermen and photographers to deer and morel mushroom hunters.
The dedication of the CCC Stone Memorial advances the original vision of Shawnee, a vision that was shared by local and state planners in the 1930s who called for developing the park and forest as a tourist destination. Christened “Ohio’s Little Smokies,” with the nearby City of Portsmouth, Ohio, at its center (its heart), the original creators of Shawnee envisioned visitors from across the state and nation coming to the park and forest, attracted by its reputation for beauty and natural wonders.
The CCC Memorial includes two large panel displays, illustrated with photographs and details from the original bridge blueprints. The inscription reads:
“The centerpiece of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) improvement of Shawnee State Forest involved the creation of a new 400-acre state park located on the grounds of the Theodore Roosevelt Game Preserve. Originally known as the Roosevelt State Park, in time the name would be changed to Shawnee State Park in the early 1970s.
“The Southern Ohio Fish and Game Association first proposed the park improvement project in 1933, calling for an artificial lake on Turkey Creek. 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 Ohio Department of Conservation, supported the plans. Gov. George White endorsed the plan, proposing Roosevelt Lake as the state’s first project under the new Federal CCC jobs program. As part of the park and lake improvement, plans included a bridge to carry traffic across Turkey Creek on Mackletree Road.
“Operating out of nearby Camp Roosevelt, Co. 1545, a segregated, all-black, all World War I veteran unit of CCC enrollees built the bridge in the fall of 1934. Ernest L. Gill from the State Architect's Office in the Ohio Department of Public Works designed the bridge with locally sourced hand-cut sandstone piers and parapets. The bridge’s deck and railings were constructed from recently blighted American Chestnut trees that were taken from the lake site, creating a structure inspired by the National Park Service’s influential “parkitecture” style.”
But most importantly, on the CCC Memorial itself, there is a carved “signature stone” — saved from one of the piers of the old bridge — that reads: "Built by Co. 1545, AD 1934."
Company 1545 was rarely mentioned in the local press at the time and its official records ended up in a box in Maryland, at the National Archives. The camp officers, supervisors, engineers, and other local and state officials regularly got their names in print, but the CCC enrollees who cut the stone and moved the earth, landscaped, and built the bridge, dam, and shelter houses remained unnamed.
A year into its construction, the Portsmouth Daily Times reported: "The job works about 185 enrollees of Camp Roosevelt, a colored veterans unit, eight hours a day and five days a week. The men receive $30 a month and board. The Times noted that "beside Mr. C. A. Hermann, [work superintendent of CCC Camp Roosevelt], other officers include: Phillip Wickerham and Ray E. Watson, engineers, T. A. Keely and J. A. Weber, construction foremen, and Richard Hair, landscaping engineer. Camp officers are Captain Harry Sobel, commander and Kenneth Mitchell, adjutant. Mr. Weber is a former superintendent of the [Roosevelt] game preserve."
Buried within the records at the National Archives in their file on Camp Roosevelt, there exists an incomplete list of twenty-six men of Company 1545, the closest thing to a roster of its enrollee leadership, as recorded in May 1935:
Robert Anderson, Leader (Technical Service)
Matt Clements, Leader (Senior Foreman)
Walter Erwin, Leader (Cook)
Berkeley Harrison, Leader (Storekeeper)
Garland Jackson, Leader (Mess Steward)
Dave Miree, Leader (Technical Service)
Douglas Perkins, Leader (Technical Service)
Worthy W. Smith, Leader (Cook)
Leonard Sorrell, Leader (Technical Service)
Carl Winburn, Leader (Technical Service)
Riley Worley, Leader (Technical Service)
Shep Brown, Asst Leader (Technical Service)
Ivan Davis, Asst Leader (Technical Service)
Roland Williams, Asst Leader (Cook)
Crawford Warren, Asst Leader (Technical Service)
James Sudduth, Asst Leader (Company Clerk)
Eddie Rice, Asst Leader (Technical Service)
Thomas Owens, Asst Leader (Technical Service)
Glenn Mitchell, Asst Leader (Truck Driver)
Emmett McDowell, Asst Leader (Dispensary Attendant)
James Garfield, Asst Leader (Cook)
James Cavanaugh, Asst Leader (Cook)
Capers Dawson, Asst Leader (Technical Service)
Pierson Cordell, Asst Leader (Technical Service)
John Florence, Asst Leader (Technical Service)
Oscar Rhine, Asst Leader (Asst. to Educ. Advisor)
Some 170 or so men remain unnamed, as no full roster is known to exist of the company’s enrollees.
When all seven camps were in operation, "there were over 1,500 men at work in Shawnee building 100-plus miles of all-weather roads, culverts and bridges, lakes and reservoirs, fire towers, and park shelters." The CCC Stone Memorial notes that these men "worked to improve the forest by fighting forest fires, removing blighted chestnut trees, and planting hundreds of thousands of others. The improvements were meant to transform Shawnee into a tourist and outdoor recreation destination, while helping suppress forest fires that had long plagued the region."
For local residents, such as those who lived up Mackletree Run, the new roads and the bridge across Turkey Creek meant many things, from better access to the Nile Township school bus that traveled up and down State Route 125 to increased timber sales. CCC-constructed bridges and roads opened up areas of the Shawnee Forest where one could still find old growth stands of valuable hardwoods.
Meanwhile, some residents who had long made a little extra cash off their homemade corn whiskey discovered new customers among the CCC enrollees down in the forest camps. Local lore is that the camps helped keep demand for area moonshine high, just as Prohibition had come to an end.
The original bridge may now be gone, its salvaged stones reincorporated into today's Shawnee State Park, but its significance will not be forgotten, nor the African American veterans of CCC Company 1545, whose history has now been recovered and memorialized in stone for decades to come.
Jean Backs, "Unsung Heroes of the Tree Army," Ohio State Parks Vol. 14:1 (Spring/Summer 2008): 2-6.
Olen Cole, Jr., The African American Experience in the Civilian Conservation Corps (Gainsville: University Press of Florida, 1999).
"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).
Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, "African Americans in the Civilian Conservation Corps," New Deal Network, http://newdeal.feri.org/aaccc/.
“Lake to Mean 586 Foot Dam,” Portsmouth Times (19 April 1933).
T. J. McVey, "Camp Report, Co. No. 1545," Camp Roosevelt, Friendship, Ohio (20 May 1935), Division of Investigations, Camp Inspection Reports, 1933-1942, Box 162, Records of the Civil Conservation Corps, NARAII, College Park, Maryland.
“Prospects Look Bright for Game Preserve Work,” Portsmouth Times (9 April 1933).
Charles L. Wible to Edward B. Rowan (24 September 1934), Records of the Civil Conservation Corps, NARAII, College Park, Maryland.