The Civilian Conservation Corps in Howell County
Wed, 11/17/2021 - 2:18pm admin
The Great Depression began with the stock market crash in late October 1929. Franklin Delano Roosevelt assumed office as President in January 1933 during the greatest economic downturn in our nation's history. By March that year, he had submitted legislation to Congress creating the Civilian Conservation Corp as part of his New Deal program to alleviate unemployment. It was immediately passed, and by April 1933, the CCC had been formed, and the program started. The implementation of what would be a massive program was blazingly fast.
A lasting legacy of FDR's recovery efforts in Howell County is that work done by the CCC, especially by the men of the camp near Willow Springs designated as "Camp Willow" or Camp F-12 and the men there, Company 1739. Remains of the camp may still be found in the Mark Twain National Forest.
On April 28, 1933, the Mountain View Standard announced that applications were being taken locally by enrolling officers at West Plains, Birch Tree, and Houston. The paper wrote, "Persons accepted are unmarried men between the ages of 18 and 25 (later expanded to 17 to 28) who are unemployed and who will agree to have the major portion of the monthly allowance of $30 sent to needy relatives. First considerations will be given to those whose families are on relief lists."
Of the thirty dollars paid to junior enrollees, all but five dollars was sent to his family. Payday was the last day of the month. Enrollees wore uniforms of olive drab wool the first years, leftovers from World War I. Better tailored uniforms of spruce green replaced these.
In 1936 camp educational adviser C.M. Haines wrote a history of the company and its men's convoluted journey to Howell County in the Willow camp newspaper. Forty applicants were selected from Howell County and announced at the end of May. The company was a mix of local boys and those recruited elsewhere, as the camp history indicates.
Haines wrote, "On May 30, 1933, some 214 young men from Missouri and one from Washington, D.C., one from Alabama, one from Mississippi and one from Illinois, making a total of 219 were gathered together at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri (near St. Louis) and formed into Company 1739. After twenty-one days of processing, working on bridle paths, and the general camp police, word came to the members of the company that they would be sent to a camp at Jessieville, Arkansas. There was a mad scramble for a World Atlas, but a diligent search failed to reveal any town in Arkansas by the name of Jessieville."
"On June 21st, the company entrained for Hot Springs, Arkansas, arriving there the 22nd. Jessieville! A world of brush, pine, oak, and gum trees! Our first task was to clear forest land to enable us to pitch our tents; under the leadership of company commander, Lt. Colonel J.S. Pratt and Captain H.V. Hand, second in command." (The CCC was structured under the command of the military, and that discipline and regimentation would be vital instruction for so many of the boy's lives in World War II)
"Soon, the camp began to assume form, the hospital, mess hall, bathhouse, and recreation hall completed. Then following a period of road building and trail improving to make more accessible the old mountain trails in case of forest fires. After the camp had acquired barracks and the general area had been cleared, it assumed a quite different aspect. The camp rested in a hollow between two peaks in the Ouachita Forest, and contrary to the usual camp layout at that period, each building was constructed with a view to harmonizing with the sloping terrain. On August 12, 1933, Lt. H. L. Kinnson relieved Colonel Pratt, who was affectionately remembered as the first 'old man.' The new commanding officer continued the improvements and the camp gradually took the form of a small village."
"Fifty men were detailed from the company and sent to a sub-camp at Reform, Arkansas, which was about 20 miles from Jessieville camp. This detail worked on improving roads and trains. September 30, 1933, was the end of our first enrollment period, and at this time, we lost 120 men." The initial recruitment period was thirty days.
In November 1934, Camp Willow was completed, and Company 1739 was moved to its new quarters in the recently created Gardner National Forest ten miles west of Willow Springs. The Gardner Forest was later absorbed into the Clark National Forest and later renamed Mark Twain National Forest. The Clark purchase was located north and east of the Gardner. It was reported in the camp newspaper that fieldwork was also initiated on erecting Blue Buck Fire Tower and construction of roads from Willow Springs leading to the tower and putting up telephone lines to Blue Buck and the CCC camp.
In his camp history, Mr. Haines continues, "In December (1933), work was begun on the construction of a log educational building. It was finished the following summer and is one of the show places of the camp. It is fifty-eight feet long, twenty feet wide, and contains two rooms, twenty feet by twenty feet, one as a lecture room and the other as a shop. There is an office for the Advisor twelve feet by twelve feet and a storeroom eight feet by twelve feet. A deep porch is across the front of the structure, and it is the really home-like place in camp. The material in the building was financed through the sale of advertising in the camp paper."
"During our first winter in Willow Springs, the work in the forest projects progressed very slowly as it took time to get thoroughly organized. In addition to this handicap, there was a shortage of all kinds of power machinery and trucks. During the months of January and February (1934), our old friend from Arkansas, Captain Stafford, visited our camp a number of times as sub-district chaplain."
The history details the movement of Army personnel in and out of camp and the formation of cadres of men who were sent to other camps being formed in the area. A smaller camp was started at Hammond's Mill in Howell County and Cabool in Texas County. The cadre sent to Cabool was not there long, and when that camp was disbanded, the men returned to the Willow Camp.
In the spring of 1936, Haines wrote, "Flagstone walks connect the different buildings. The two stone pillars at the camp entrance (still standing today) give one the feeling of entering a well-kept park. The white striped buildings and the silvered water tower make the camp buildings stand out like a jewel against the green forest background. Flower beds are being constructed, and the rock garden near the Forest Service Quarters is the pride and joy of Mr. Newton, our project superintendent. The interior of the mess hall and kitchen is painted white with a green wains coating on the side walls. The mess tables are new and well varnished, and here we find a spot in camp that is truly 'better than home.'"
In November 1935, the "Seventeen Thirty Niner," the camp paper, announced switching from a duplicating machine to one produced by a printing press in camp. The paper included advertisements from the Coca-Cola Bottling Company in West Plains, drugstores in Willow Springs, the People's and Ferguson Drug, The Star Theatre, Charles Ferguson Store, and Dentist Dr. Charles Palenski in Willow Springs. The paper included an advice column for camp lovelorn with humorous advice from Nellie.
Coinciding with the building of Camp Willow was the government's purchase of lands to create what is today the Mark Twain National Forest. The Department of Agriculture began purchasing cut-over forest tracts left by the logging industry and local wood cutting that had left what was once pine and oak forest in eroded ground covered with scrub brush. The majority of the land was bought for a dollar to two dollars an acre and could not sustain wildlife. The deer and turkey were gone from loss of habitat and overhunting. The change of the name of the Gardner and Clark forest purchase tracts to the Mark Twain National Forest occurred in September 1939, and a district Forest Service Headquarters was established in November 1935 in Willow Springs. The labor for the buildings was supplied in part by CCC workers, and the buildings were made of native stone quarried from bluffs along Indian Creek at Saratoga west of Willow Springs. The headquarters has since been moved to Ava, and the buildings are now in use by the Willow Springs School.
The Carmen Springs wildlife refuge was created starting in 1937 within the boundaries of the Gardner tract. Forty-eight hundred acres were set aside for the refuge, and a sixty-acre pen was built in 1935 for the rearing of turkeys. Deer were also held in this pen to restore a wild herd that could fend for itself. The entire refuge was fenced, and camp enrollees patrolled the fence boundaries seven days of the week which entailed walking over seventeen miles in all weather. The refuge played a significant role in the restoration of Missouri's wild turkey and deer populations. Into the 1950s, the sighting of a deer was a rarity.
In July 1938, the West Plains Quill announced Forest Service plans "for the big dam and lake on Noblett Creek, ten miles west of Willow Springs. The lake, which will cover an area of 26 acres, will be the focal point of a big recreational center…Besides the dam and the big lake, the project will include a bathing beach, bathhouses, trailer camp, and various recreational features."
The article announced that the project would cost $60,000, with work provided by CCC enrollees and the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) employees. The Willow CCC camp provided the bulk of the labor, and the concrete was mixed and poured by hand from three small mixers. In September 1940, the Howell County Gazette reported the dedication of Noblett Lake. They wrote, "No more resplendent day could have been conjured for the dedication of Noblett Lake, ten miles west of Willow Springs, than that last Sunday. The dam impounding that water of this beautiful 30-acre lake was built by the US Forest Service, most of the labor being done by the boys of the Willow Springs CCC camp."
"The lake affords a resort of which this section of the Ozarks may be proud. Two substantial boat docks have been built and a commodious pavilion. The dam is of earth reinforced with systematically placed stone and an adequate concrete overflow and is very sightly in appearance. The water at the base is thirty feet deep, then the lake widens and narrows as it extends toward the source. Being fed by springs, the water is clear and pure."
"For the dedication program, a good-sized crowd came from near and far; notably amongst those from away were James N. Diehl, Forest Supervisor, and Glenn Kennedy of the department from Springfield. Others were there from Rolla, West Plains, Licking, and Bradleyville Camp. Traffic was handled in a splendid fashion. Many brought lunches and ate under the shade of the trees. Children rolled and tumbled along the 400-foot sand beach, and bathers sported around the pontoon diving dock out in the lake."
"Joyce Burns, President of the Chamber of Commerce at Willow Springs, was in charge of the program. Shortly after 2 o'clock, the Willow Springs band entertained with several numbers. The invocation was given by Reverend Schowengardt, and Mayor Corn gave a short address of welcome. He was followed briefly by J. M. Newton. James N. Diehl spoke entertainingly along the line of forest preservation. Mr. G.K. Fenger, Assistant Regional Supervisor, with headquarters in Milwaukee, was the principal speaker and went into detail concerning the activities of his department. His address closed the program and left the crowd to mill around and enjoy the beauty of the place."
A final edition of "The New Seventeen Thirty-Niner," printed in May 1942, bore the headline, "Company Disbands: Members Scatter," announcing an end to the camp and an era. America was immersed in another world war, and the Great Depression ended. Men of CCC enrollee age were expected to join in the war effort. The CCC camps had in many ways prepared them for military life.
The editor of the last issue of the camp paper wrote, "The long-awaited and discussed hour has become an actuality, and the officers awaken the boys and an hour to summon them to breakfast and then later to work. No longer will there be a roar of the tractors and trucks warming up motors for a day's run in the Mark Twain Forest. No longer will be heard the click of typewriters in the Headquarters building and Brush College or voices in the recreational hall. The noise from the printing press in the educational building. No more weekly picture shows, first aid, or job training classes. No more basketball games, baseball teams, or softball in which 1739 always conquered their share of wins. No more tired boys returning from a day's work constructing Noblett Dam or from setting a tree-planting record. No more will visitors admire the rose arbor by the recreational hall. No longer will be heard the boys counting off as they line up for 30 minutes of drill.
"Yes, 1739 is to disband on the 21st. Already boys have been transferred to the CCC camp at Higginsville, Missouri. Then they will move on to some Western state to do their part in defense work in the National Forests. Other boys will go to Company 729 CCC Fort Leonard Wood to do their part in defense work. Members of the personnel are to be moved to various camps in the state. Supplies and equipment are now being packed and stored to be moved when and where no one knows."
"The disbandment of Company 1739 is not a mere casting aside of all efforts that have been extended through the period the camp has spent in this pleasant Ozark community. It is the breaking up of a small institution to give way to more time to defense work. It is but one of the many well-planned and organized programs that must halt in this national emergency. But again, it is said as the program stops, the program which has the most importance will continue elsewhere. That program has been the building of youths. Our country is proud of the former CCC boys. All branches of our armed forces are thickly populated with these youths. They are strong and alert. The training they have received adapts them to the Army way of thinking. Sprinkled among the supervisory personnel are former CCC enrollees. Also doing their part in all branches of civilian life and industry are former CCC enrollees. Then it can be said that the CCC has accomplished it's one important objective-it has built youths."
"The camp has certainly played its part and played it well in this phase of the work. Under trained and experienced personnel, it has made a record of which it can be proud. So as the last group of enrollees depart from headquarters building and the truck rounds the turn outside the camp area and the sound of the motor dies away, there will be a silence. But the silence that will fall over the camp area will not be a thing of regret, as the JOB has been done here."
Willow Springs and Howell County embraced its CCC boys, though there was first some consternation by the residents of an overwhelming Republican voting constituency. Remenants of the work of the CCC can be found all over the Mark Twain National Forest and the roads that take us there made by the boys. Trees planted there have now reached full maturity, and wildlife thrives. We are fortunate to have been a recipient of this bounty.