Monday, December 27, 2010

Introduction: The CCC State By State

In an effort to create better content here and at the Forest Army blog, I’m creating a new feature that I’ll tentatively title The CCC State By State. Like a lot of “bright ideas” before, this one is not fully formed, but even now I feel that some initial explanation is needed.

The CCC State By State entries will cover the work of the CCC in each of the United States and the U.S. Territories, starting with Alabama and hopefully finishing up with Wyoming. Ideally, I’d have at least one State By State entry done each week during the coming year but likely as not, the entries will spill over into 2012 as well.

In each entry I will include bibliographic data to indicate from where the information has been taken, but in each case the entries will likely develop around data from Perry H. Merrill’s terrific book “Roosevelt’s Forest Army: A History of the Civilian Conservation Corps” first published in 1981 and still available online. Additionally, I’ll try to refer to prominent works related to each individual state, as I know there are a number of books that detail work in specific states and locales. I’ll also try to add links to websites that contain useful information on CCC work in specific states. I anticipate that photos will come from Stan Cohen’s pictorial history of the CCC, The Tree Army and in each case I’ll cite the photo source as well as the original source if that information is listed in my source material (for example a photo from Cohen’s book would also include a citation if it came from a U.S. Forest Service collection, thus my cite would indicate both sources.)

As each individual state entry is completed and posted, I’ll add the name of that state as a label so that visitors here can simply click on the state name to be directed quickly to their state of interest. I’ll also add a bookmark for State By State so that folks can pull up a list of all the blog posts in the series. Finally, I’ll include a link to this first post in the series within each subsequent state post to refer folks back to my original premise and to hopefully keep me on the straight and narrow from an editorial standpoint. As always, I'll rely on input from visitors, too. If I've missed something, please post a comment.

Next post in the series: Alabama.

Map from Cohen's The Tree Army, A Pictorial History of the CCC, 1933-1942

Monday, December 13, 2010

An Invitation from the Past: Natchaug River Bridge, Connecticut

Thumbing through a three-ring binder from the bookshelf, I came across a neatly folded invitation to a 1934 bridge dedication. In late May 1934, the Honorable Andrew T. J. Clark in Brooklyn, Connecticut was invited to the planned opening of a bridge built across the Natchaug River by the boys of Camp Fernow.

The invitation lists the governor of Connecticut along with the commander of the 3rd Corps area and the director of the US ECW, Robert Fechner as guests of honor. Today I wonder if these esteemed gentlemen did in fact attend the ceremony and I wonder if Mr. Andrew Clark made the journey.

A Google search for images of the bridge yielded nothing. The bridge does receive mention on a Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection website and I’m sad to read that the bridge is no longer deemed safe for vehicle or pedestrian traffic. Perhaps it crumbles away in plain sight of visitors to the Natchaug State Forest. My hope is that the bridge is at least marked with interpretive signage.

Elsewhere on the web you’ll find a personal remembrance of life at Camp Fernow posted at the CCC Legacy website. Former CCC enrollee Bill Beckett writes fondly of his time helping construct the bridge using the simple tools and equipment available at the time – unlike today when cranes and heavy equipment are the norm. He recollects with pride that the bridge is still in use as of his writing in 2009. One has to wonder what has taken place in the last year or so to make forest officials decide to close the bridge. I also wonder if Mr. Beckett was present at the dedication ceremony, standing proudly with his fellow enrollees that day in June 1934. Most certainly there were speeches and, as the invitation states, a tour of the CCC camp. Maybe a lunch was served to guests and visiting dignitaries. It’s important to remember the useful part these dedications and open houses played in the life of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Camps were often filled with young men from out of state and in an era when older residents may have rarely traveled outside their own county, having “outsiders” was a potential disruption that could cause friction if not handled with tact and diplomacy. Thanksgiving and Christmas parties, dances and dedications open to the public were all means of making local residents feel welcome and a useful tool to show folks the value of CCC work in their area. The ceremony to mark the opening of the Natchaug River bridge was no doubt just such an event.

When we think of fall colors, we often think of places like Connecticut and in our mind’s eye there is often a stone bridge mantled in a shroud of red and gold fallen leaves, a crisp cold forest stream coursing below, its waters soon to be frozen as winter nudges closer. That is what I’m thinking of now as I draw the understandable parallel between the lifespan of this stone bridge and the lifespan of the men who built it. They are in the autumn of their years, all of them, and it will fall to those of us who remain to preserve their important work in the form of stone bridges like the one across the Natchaug River on Fernow Road in a scenic corner of Connecticut.