Camp Roosevelt: The Nation’s First Civilian Conservation Corp Camp
By Dan Harshman
The year was 1933, and newly elected President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called the 73rd Congress into Emergency Session on March 9th to hear
and hopefully authorize his plans for the New Deal to end the unemployment and economic chaos that the United States was dealing with at the time. His plan was to revitalize the faith of the nation with a number of measures. One of these was the Emergency Conservation Work (ECW) Act, more commonly known as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). His proposal was to recruit thousands of unemployed young men to create a peacetime army. The battle they would fight was against the destruction and erosion of our Country’s natural resources. The CCC would go on to be the most popular experiment of the New Deal with over three million young men participating in the operation before the CCC camps closed in
The Senate Bill to create the CCC was introduced on March 27, 1933; it passed in both houses of Congress and was on the President’s desk to be signed on March 31, 1933. This is certainly not a timeline that we will ever see with any present day Congress. From FDR’s inauguration on March 4, 1933, it was only 37 days until Henry Rich, the first enrollee to the CCC, was inducted on April 7, 1933. Henry went on on to serve at the first CCC camp in the nation when it opened April 17, 1933 in the George Washington National Forest’s Lee Ranger District. Named Camp Roosevelt,
F-1, it was located about 9 miles off US Route 11 in the Fort Valley and became home to around 50 young men. Arriving by train in Edinburg, they
would make their way to their new home at the Camp. Many of these men remained in this area even after the CCC ended, some marrying local girls
and others going on to receive an education and work in the area. It is estimated that more than 40,000 young men were taught to read and write.
Education and training were offered on an enrollee’s own time and each of them could gain much if they were willing to work at it.
The impact of the CCC didn’t stop at the enrollee. A mandatory, monthly $25 allotment check was sent home to each family of the enrollee; he got to keep $5 of his $30 a month pay. The impact of the monthly $25 checks to the families was felt throughout the Country’s economy. More than $72,000,000 in allotments made life easier for the people back home. For communities near the CCC camps, like Edinburg, local purchases averaging about $5,000 each month saved many local small businesses. Local men with trade experience and special skills were also hired at the camps. Their skills were vital to train, and protect the unskilled enrollee as he learned to be an expert with tools like a shovel and an axe. And these were the tools of the CCC as they built and maintained roads, bridges, trails and recreation areas; they also fought fires and soil erosion
For some, this might be the first you have heard of the CCC. But if you have ever been to the Woodstock Tower you have seen their handiwork.
If you are a hunter, you can thank the CCC for reintroducing deer back into the Shenandoah Valley. After the CCC camps closed in 1942,
many of the CCC boys went on to military service during World War II. Some even say that the training these boys received from the CCC was
instrumental in our Country’s success during the War.
You can still visit Camp Roosevelt today for hiking, nature, picnicking and camping. The site was made into a campground in 1966 through the efforts of longtime residents of the nearby town of Edinburg Charles “Moon” Mullins and his wife Pearl. There are also a number of interpretive signs throughout the campground area that tell some of the story of the camp. The actual dinner bell from Camp Roosevelt is now on display as part of an exhibit on the CCC and Camp Roosevelt at the Shenandoah Valley Cultural Heritage Museum at the Edinburg Mill where visitors are welcome to give the rope a tug. While the men won’t come running for chow, it is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
Speaking of museums, watch for the opening of the CCC James R. Wilkins Sr. Interpretive Center that will be located in the Lee Ranger District
Forest Service Office right here in Edinburg. If you are interested in learning more about the CCC and its impact on all of us, this will be the place to visit. The USDA Forest Service, in partnership with the Camp Roosevelt CCC Legacy Foundation, began work on this project a number of years ago. The work that has been completed is really impressive and the Forest Service is working to complete additional exhibit panels.
When completed the Center will commemorate the work performed by the CCC boys at Camp Roosevelt. We will be reminded that their impact on this area did not stop with the closing of the camp. They carried with them skills, training and a work ethic that they learned during their days in the CCC for the rest of their lives. And our Country was a better place because of this effort.
The Forest Service Office had been allowing visitors to view the progress on the Interpretive Center when stopping in at the office. Regrettably,
the Lee Ranger District Office is not open to the public during the COVID-19 Pandemic but their services are still available over the phone, via email and by US Mail. When the Forest Service Office reopens, they will have trail maps, guides and other natural resource field guides available for sale.
Additional trail maps and information can be found at the Shenandoah County Tourism office located at 600 North Main Street in Woodstock.