Historic Places in South Jersey

Historic Places in South Jersey - Places to Go and Things to Do

A discussion of things to do and paces to go, with the purpose of sharing, and encouraging exploration of South Jersey.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Civilian Conservation Corps (in New Jersey) 80th Anniversary

I mentioned in a previous post that I met up with a friend of a friend to offer my slight research on the CCC in NJ for a possible book.  Reading over my Power Point Presentation again, in preparation for the visit, it came to me that it would be a good thing to share on this blog.  I created the presentation five years ago for the Pinelands Preservation Heritage Series of lectures.  My talk was given in conjunction with a bus trip and the whole was called "Heart of the Pines - A Depression Era Tour.

When I handed over my research to Wes Hughes, a volunteer at Batsto Village, he asked "What got you interested in this topic in the first place?"  The answer was my father.  My father served in the Civilian Conservation Corps on the Skyline Drive when he was 16 years of age.  My father, Joseph Wright, had lost his father that year, and his grandmother, Catherine Young, had suffered a stroke in Ocean City.  Dad's mother, Mabel Wright, went to Ocean City to take care of her paralyzed mother and my father was left more or less on his own.  WPA Recruiters came to Phladelphia, to a site near where my father lived and so he joined up.

He was sent to live in barracks like buildings in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and it had a profound influence on him and the rest of his life.  He didn't talk about it much, but he kept his certificate from that experience in his fireproof safe and I often looked at it and the picture of him at that age.  He said it was bitter cold and hard hard work, all by hand.  Once a week they would take them to a nearby town for R & R, but the locals didn't like them much.   I had the impression that my father found it a great adventure, and it hardened him up for the next phase which was that he followed in his father's footsteps and joined the Merchant Marines after his CCC enrollment was up.

So, this will be a series of about 20 postings on the CCC in NJ.  My next experience with the CCC was hiking with a freind probably ten years ago and coming across the remains of tiled floors and other building elements in the middle of the woods.  We found out it had been a CCC camp.  Since I knew what that meant from my father's experience, I became more interested.  My knowledge was close to nothing.  For all I knew, the CCC had been the Skyline Drive period.  I began to do some research.

As you may be aware, the Civilian Conservation Corps was part of a broader program called the Works Projects Administration, or WPA, pushed into life by the efforts of President Roosevelt in the 1930's.  It served many purposes:  it jump started our Depression economy by putting men to work and giving them income, and it used the surplus of labor to complete many public programs to improve our nation, the repair of bridges, the reforestation of  wantonly ruined woodlands and rivers, the documentation of historic buildings, and a myriad of other projects.  Writers captured slave narratives before the last of our citizens to suffer that himan rights tragedy departed this earth.  Artists made mosaic murals on public buildings.  Visionary social architects designed and populated Utopian towns and villages such as Roosevelt, NJ and Woodbine, in order to save Jewish people in Russia and Eastern block countries from pogroms and other atrocities committed against them.  The vast scope of the enterprise beggars the imagination.  It made us what we are today and reminded us of what we were.  You see the evidence of this effort all around you today, in 1930's black and white framed photographs on municipal building walls, preserved historic sites, local parks with walkways where swamps existed before.  Also it prepared our young men for the coming of World War II.  

Next blog entry I'll talk a little about the State Guides series, and in following blogs, I'll give you the names and locations of state parks where CCC history is preserved.  At the end of the series  I'll offer a bibliography for further research.
Happy Trails!  Jo Ann

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