From 1933 until 1942 through the Great Depression, more than 3 million unmarried young American men worked mostly outdoors and earned money for themselves and their parents through the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Some 78,000 of those men were based at 127 camps in Georgia, about 30-35 of which operated at any one time, according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia. One of those was Camp Ogeechee at Bloomingdale in Chatham County. Chica Arndt, a volunteer with the Bloomingdale History Society and its museum, shared information about Camp Ogeechee with the Bulloch County Historical Society at its first meeting of the year.
Part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal for national recovery, the CCC was the largest conservation work program in U.S. history. Elsewhere, “the boys of the CCC” built and repaired facilities on federal lands, including Fort Pulaski National Monument near Savannah, and helped build several of Georgia’s state parks, Arndt noted.
But the group at Camp Ogeechee was assigned forestry work under the supervision of the Georgia Forestry Service on originally 100,000 acres of private land, with some indication that it was later assigned another 150,000 acres, she said.
“The work that was done was all forestry,” Arndt said Monday. “It was meant to aid in fire suppression, building firebreaks and trails and fire towers, and I believe it was called Ogeechee because it dealt with what was known at the Ogeechee Forest, not too far from the Ogeechee River.”
The camp was activated Nov. 27, 1933, after the CCC as founded in April, the month after Roosevelt’s inauguration. Camp Ogeechee continued in operation until 1937.
Officially, the CCC recruited single men 18-25, although younger boys, some as young as 14, are known to have been let in as the program continued and to help families in hardship, Arndt said.
A dollar a day
For men not promoted to specialized duties, the pay was $1 a day, or $30 a month, and $25 of that was sent directly home to their parents or guardians. But they also received free housing and meals, and by an “inflation calculator” that $30 in the 1930s equates to about $540 today, she noted.
“So it would be certainly a great help to the family of the young man,” said Arndt, who has a master’s degree in history. She was previously manager of the Savannah Ogeechee Canal Museum and an interpretive ranger at Wormsloe State Historic Site.
At any one time 300 young men would be assigned to Camp Ogeechee, also commonly called “Camp Bloomingdale.” Of those, around 150 would be sent out to work in the forests each day, while 30-60 remained behind to maintain the camp and prepare meals, Arndt said.
‘Civilian’ and military
The Bloomingdale CCC crews were supervised in forestry work by a 10-member staff from the state Forest Service, she said. But the camp was run by U.S. Army Reserve personnel.
In this way, all Civilian Conservation Corps units were under military supervision. She exhibited photos of some of the camp’s officers, including a major and a captain who were in command at different times.
A typical day began with reveille at 5 a.m., followed by breakfast at 6 a.m., and the men would be on trucks to job sites by 7 a.m. They would return to camp at 4 p.m., and dinner would be served at 5 p.m. Then 5-7 p.m. was personal time. Education was also part of the CCC experience, with classes typically beginning at 7 p.m. and safety an important topic, Arndt said. Lights-out time was 10 a.m.
Local research led by the Bloomingdale History Society’s former president Barbara Rawlings netted 10 photographs and the camp’s records.
Meal menus were a predominant item in the records, Arndt observed. These included entrees such as Lyonnaise potatoes and “Spanish beef.”
Joy of eating
Recipes for some of the named items can be found in the popular 1931 “Joy of Cooking” cookbook, and Arndt said the food sounded delicious. But she also noted that complaints about food were heard from CCC camps in general, including claims that canned goods were left over from World War I.
Many of the men arrived from home underweight, and some were sent to conditioning camps to improve their weight and fitness, she said.
Nationwide, there were almost 3,000 CCC camps. Like other institutions of the time, they were segregated. The Bloomingdale camp was for white men, but there were camps for black men elsewhere in Georgia.
In addition to the CCC’s purposes in conservation and family assistance, its graduates benefited the United States when World War II came, Arndt said.
“They actually made good military recruits because they were already accustomed to the military life and they were already in pretty fabulous shape, having been going out doing all this physical work and being fed in a very good way,” she said.
A fire later destroyed the wooden buildings of Camp Ogeechee, leaving two chimneys. Now only one stone chimney remains standing. It can be seen as a fireplace in a 1935 photo of the day room, where some CCC recruits are seen reading newspapers while others are typing, possibly for a typing class.
Arndt displays group portraits in hope of identifying some of the CCC men. Bulloch County Historical Society member Delia Mobley identified one, her late grandfather Eugene Braswell.
The Bulloch County Historical Society’s next meeting is scheduled for Feb. 26 in the Pittman Park United Methodist Church social hall, with lunch beginning at 11:30 a.m.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.