Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The CCC in Michigan

As residents, campers, hikers, nature lovers and travelers in and around the wonderful state of Michigan, my family has visited many a site that was touched in some way by the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC.

However, although I have seen signs indicating the CCC had been there and had done something, I was never sure what that was.

A little over a month ago, I saw that a man named Bill Jamerson was going to be coming to the local library to do a musical presentation about the CCC. I wanted to attend, but we were out of town at the time, so I missed it. I contacted Jamerson and he sent me a copy of his Dollar-A-Day Boys CD so the boys and I could hear some of his tunes.

The songs were interesting. Each told a story, and I wanted to learn more, so I checked his book, Big Shoulders, out of the library.

Well, I LOVED it. It told of a fictional character, Nick Radzinski, who went from getting into trouble on the streets of Hamtramck during the Great Depression to becoming a hard-working man at a CCC camp in the Upper Peninsula. The story, with the exception of a rather exciting fictional ending tale, was based on the real-life CCC experiences of a friend of Mr. Jamerson.

It was one of those books that made me sad when I finished it, because I wanted it to keep going on. It put a real, likable face on a piece of Michigan history that many have forgotten, or never learned about.

According to Wikipedia, "The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was a public work relief program that operated from 1933 to 1942 in the United States for unemployed, unmarried men from relief families, ages 18–25.

A part of the New Deal of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, it provided unskilled manual labor jobs related to the conservation and development of natural resources in rural lands owned by federal, state and local governments.

The CCC was designed to provide employment for young men in relief families who had difficulty finding jobs during the Great Depression while at the same time implementing a general natural resource conservation program...

During the time of the CCC, volunteers planted nearly 3 billion trees to help reforest America, constructed more than 800 parks nationwide and upgraded most state parks, updated forest fire fighting methods, and built a network of service buildings and public roadways in remote areas...

Despite its popular support, the CCC was never a permanent agency. It depended on emergency and temporary Congressional legislation for its existence. By 1942, with the war industries booming and the draft in operation, need declined and Congress voted to close the program."

Reading Big Shoulders and listening to the songs (my boys especially love "It's Tough to be a Rookie" and "Fire Fightin' Tree Plantin' Blues.") made me want to learn a little more about the CCC, so last week, when Jordan and I drove up to Grayling to meet up with my parents and pick Logan up after his stay with Grandma and Grandpa, we decided to stop off at the CCC Museum near Higgins Lake.

It turned out to be a fun, educational pit stop. My boys and I learned a little more about the CCC and this particular historic site.

Here is a sample of what a standard CCC barracks looked like

The packing house (couldn't go in this one)

The boys loved checking out the fire tower, even though they couldn't climb all the way up.

They thought the ice house was cool too (no pun intended!)

You can see Jordan looking at the example of the sawdust insulation. Logan thought it was neat that they cut the ice out of the lake and packed it in sawdust, and it stayed frozen all summer!

They also both liked the Cone Barn, where seeds were taken from the pine cones for planting. They had fun checking out the various machinery, like the pine cone tumbler.

And they liked the statue of the CCC boy.

Jordan was afraid to stand up on the pedestal.

Mr. Jamerson also made a PBS documentary film about the CCC called Camp Forgotten. I haven't seen it yet, but sure want to.

You can find out more about the CCC on Wikipedia.

Here is some info about the CCC Museum in northern lower Michigan.

And here is where you can find out more about Mr. Jamerson and purchase his book, CD and DVD.

I want to thank Bill, not only for inspiring me to learn more about the Civilian Conservation Corps, but also for his years of research and his work in sharing this fascinating slice of American and Michigan history with schoolchildren and other eager learners across the state.