On the very week that a museum for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) closed its doors, many St. Louis area residents discovered it for the first time. Dedicated to laborers of the Depression era, the museum at Jefferson Barracks shuttered July 31.
“We’ve had people here from every Zip Code in the St. Louis area,” said Harry Dallas, a CCC alumnus, on the Thursday afternoon the museum closed. “We had about 400 people come through the first part of the week. And when we tried to lock the doors, they were knocking on them like gangbusters.
“It’s kind of sad that we are getting all this attention when we are boxing all our memorabilia and getting ready to send it east,” added Dallas. “Some of it will go to our National Association of Civilian Conservation Corps Alumni headquarters in Virginia and some of it will go the Smithsonian.”
Affton resident Paul Chuckray and several friends made the visit to the museum, located in an old JB officers quarters, on Thursday. He said he wished he had visited earlier and was sad to see it leaving St. Louis.
“This is a big part of our history from the Franklin Roosevelt era,” said Chuckray. “I really enjoy looking at the photos of the camps out West and all over the country. This is really a piece of Americana.”
The CCC was Roosevelt’s New Deal work relief program for young males from unemployed families. Established in 1933, each CCC enrollee earned about $30 a month with the requirement that $25 be sent home to family. At its peak, more than 500,000 enrollees worked at more than 2,500 camps run by the federal government.
Work of the CCC can be found throughout all 50 states and in the St. Louis region. Trails, lodges, fences and museums built by the CCC can be found at such parks as Sam Baker, Babler, Washington and Meramec state parks in Missouri as well as Pere Marquette north of Grafton, Ill.
“I don’t care what state park you go to, if the CCC built it, it’s still standing,” said Dallas, who has been a volunteer at the museum for 30 years. “The materials they had to use, their training, the craftsmanship required — all insured that their work would last.
“When I hear people trashing the government workers, I let it go in one ear and out the other. The CCC shows just how wrong they are,” said Dallas. “They really all listen to too much misinformation on the radio from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, the most dangerous demagogue in America.”
“Makes Me Sad”
Donna Broome, who has worked as an archivist and volunteer at the museum for eight years, said it makes her sad to pack everything up for the closing. It’s estimated that 150 cubic yards of CCC uniforms, tools, artifacts, photos, discharge forms and documents will have to be moved.
“I love history and I will be a volunteer after this with something that has to do with history,” said Broome. “To me, the CCC did so much for this country. It brought together these poor boys, who became the greatest generation, and gave them some skills and work experience that they otherwise would not have gotten.”
Museum Executive Director Dallas chimed in: “You’re right about that. It taught young men to answer, ‘Yes, sir,’ when they were told to do something. Now, too many young people just say: ‘That’s not my job.”
Dallas said more Americans need to know about how much CCC did for the country. When he joined the CCC, he was sent to the Galesburg, Ill. area to work on soil conservation projects. He said American farms were losing valuable top soil for decades because of poor farming practices, and the CCC worked on land management projects that kept soil from washing away and hurting crop yields.
“Another thing the CCC did was plant trees in areas that had been stripped of their lumber,” said Dallas. “There are 3 billion trees that were planted to replace those logged out before the Depression.”
Dallas said he not only is dismayed that the museum for CCC is closing, he is disappointed that there is no discussion of resurrecting a CCC program to meet America’s current needs.
“We have a lot of young people without jobs or not very good ones,” said Dallas. “We have a country with an infrastructure that is falling apart. Of course, no politicians seem to want to fund this type of program now.”
CCC’s Important Legacy
Ann Wells of Chesterfield has been involved with the museum at Jefferson Barracks for 30 years. She and her late husband have mined plenty of data for the Web site, cccalumni.org, and also for museum exhibits over the years.
The accomplishments of CCC workers are many:
- They developed more than 800 state parks and restored more than 3,900 historical buildings.
- They arrested soil erosion on more than 20 million acres of land, as well as mapping and surveying unchartered territory.
- They stocked more than 1 billion fish in existing and new lakes. They built more than 4,500 fish-rearing ponds.
- They built 46,854 bridges. They installed about 5,000 miles of piping for water supplies.
- They fought coal fires and wild fires. Forest fire fighting methods were developed under the CCC program to meet the needs of controlled wild fires.
- Their presence advanced the standard of living in surrounding communities where they worked and lived.
“My late husband, Wayman, and I put together a guide to all the CCC camps and where they were located for the Web site,” said Wells. “My husband helped get the museum established here. He was so proud of the organization and what it did for the country.
“There were camps in every state – even in Alaska – even in Guam,” added Wells. “It seems like all the volunteers have reached an age when it is tough to keep this museum going and keeping the information out there. Unfortunately, all of our CCC reunions are more like funeral wakes now. It’s kind of sad.”