Click here to listen to a radio broadcast by host Tom Slayton, courtesy of Vermont Public Radio. About half of Vermont’s state parks were established in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal program established by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It’s an era of history not widely remembered, but journalist and commentator Tom Slayton has found plenty of evidence of it in his travels to the state parks this summer.
(Slayton) Stone structures, all across Vermont – stone picnic shelters and restroom buildings, stone water fountains and fireplaces, roads carved out of stone or paved with stone, with stone catchbasins for drainage, stone chimneys still standing long after the buildings they warmed have collapsed and disappeared – all these and more are the archaeology of the Civilian Conservation Corps – the CCC – in this state.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the CCC in 1933 and very shortly after that, Vermont State Forester Perry Merrill, who knew an opportunity when he saw one, went down to Washington with a list of projects in hand. The projects were, in the language of construction engineers, “shovel-ready,” and so was Vermont.
Merrill soon had a not-so-small army of CCC lads working at projects across the state. They built what became the heart of the State Parks system here – a lot of it made with stone.
And now, about 80 years later, those stone structures can still be seen in parks across the state. Some, in fact, are still being discovered.
As Ranger Bill Schreiber made his rounds at Calvin Coolidge State Park about 10 years ago, he noticed what looked like stone walls or boxes set into the ground along the side of his park’s roads. Out of curiosity, he dug one out and discovered it was a drainage catchbasin, originally built by the CCC to capture water from the road. Schreiber found other stone catchbasins, dug out the mud of eight decades, and restored them. He found several stone fireplaces and water fountains and restored them, too. And with help from Americorps volunteers and others, he restored an elegant old picnic pavilion deep in the forest and cut away some trees to re-open the hill’s magnificent view of Killington Peak. He later built a log-cabin-style nature center at the park and dedicated it to his late wife, Janie. In short, he became a sort of latter day, one-man CCC, and improved his park – which was originally built by the first CCC – much in the spirit of his predecessors.
It’s hard to comprehend the immensity of the Civilian Conservation Corp’s work in Vermont State Parks. At Little River State Park, for example, just below the huge earth-fill dam that creates the Waterbury reservoir was located the largest CCC camp in the East. Earlier this year, park volunteer Ann Imhoff and I walked for about a mile through the woods, seeing old stone chimneys, old foundations and wells. The camp just went on and on. It had churches, a theatre, a hospital and was home to more than 3,000 young men who built the huge Waterbury dam.
There were more than 40,000 CCC men in Vermont in the mid-1930s, and they made an immense impact on this state. Their work has largely been forgotten today, and very few of the people who visit the parks know their story.
But their legacy lives on. It is written, you might say, in stone.