Remnants of the CCC
Rangeviews, Oral, S.D.
The Civilian Conservation Corps was a mainstay for many thousand young men and World War I veterans during the Great Depression. During the nine years of its existence, 1933-1942, camps were built to house 200 men. They were fed, had health care and learned to work in and around those camps. The on-the-job training led a great number of CCC men to become entrepreneurs. Among the CCC men I knew of a heating/AC contractor, a building contractor, an owner and operator of a tire and alignment shop, a private detective, a man who annually patched the minute cracks on Mt. Rushmore and a stone mason who learned his trade when he helped build the steps to the Harney Peak fire lookout. Each of these men were also World War II veterans.
As work projects or locations were changed, camps closed — some permanently while others were vacated then re-established a few months or years later. When Congress allowed funding for the CCC to expire (there was never a vote to dissolve the CCC), the camp infrastructure was often dismantled; fortunately, there are remaining, exquisite log buildings that were officers’ quarters. One is located at the former CCC Camp Custer, located northwest of Custer. Read about it and see the photos on the website CusterLogCabins.com. The quarters are available for rent.
The immense waste by the government’s order to the CCC as camps closed is mind-boggling.
We know this because a woman who was a little girl at the time, told us this story and supplied evidence. She and her family lived high in the Black Hills in their cabin home. A CCC camp was nearby and her dad visited with the CCC men from time to time. Orders came down and all of a sudden, the camp was closed and destruction was ordered. The CCC men used shovels to dig deep holes. The china tableware had to be buried along with everything else, including blankets. The blankets were cut into several pieces — so they wouldn’t be good for anything — then buried. After it was all done and the CCCs had left the camp, one of the CCC men went and told her father what they had done. At that time, people were so in need of everything, and these items were ordered destroyed.
Never underestimate the ingenuity of rural South Dakotans. The neighbor men dug through the dirt piles. One by one squares of wool, that had been blankets, were pulled from the rubble. They were given to the ladies of the community who washed them and sewed them back together, creating oddly colored and mismatched squares into “new” blankets.
After the CCC Museum of South Dakota opened inside the Hill City Visitor Center, the former little girl contacted me with the story and the offer of one of the blankets. It is on display, along with the explanation, at the museum. She kept three other blankets in the cabin where family continues to enjoy them.
The museum is fortunate to have generous donors who have given nearly every item on exhibit. The museum is open year round, the same hours as the visitor center, so visit at your leisure.
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