Texas State Parks and the CCC: The Legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps

Texas State Parks and the CCC: The Legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps

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by Cynthia A. Brandimarte, Angela S. Reed
     
 

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From Palo Duro Canyon in the Panhandle to Lake Corpus Christi on the coast, from Balmorhea in far West Texas to Caddo Lake near the Louisiana border, the state parks of Texas are home not only to breathtaking natural beauty, but also to historic buildings and other structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the 1930s.

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Overview

From Palo Duro Canyon in the Panhandle to Lake Corpus Christi on the coast, from Balmorhea in far West Texas to Caddo Lake near the Louisiana border, the state parks of Texas are home not only to breathtaking natural beauty, but also to historic buildings and other structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the 1930s.

In Texas State Parks and the CCC: The Legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps, Cynthia Brandimarte has mined the organization’s archives, as well as those of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission and the Texas Department of Transportation, to compile a rich visual record of how this New Deal program left an indelible stamp on many of the parks we still enjoy today.

Some fifty thousand men were enrolled in the CCC in Texas. Between 1933 and 1942, they constructed trails, cabins, concession buildings, bathhouses, dance pavilions, a hotel, and a motor court. Before they arrived, the state’s parklands consisted of fourteen parks on about 800 acres, but by the end of World War II, CCC workers had helped create a system of forty-eight parks on almost 60,000 acres throughout Texas.
Accompanied by many never-published images that reveal all aspects of the CCC in Texas, from architectural plans to camp life, Texas State Parks and the CCC covers the formation and development of the CCC and its design philosophy; the building of the parks and the daily experiences of the workers; the completion and management of the parks in the first decades after the war; and the ongoing process of maintaining and preserving the iconic structures that define the rustic, handcrafted look of the CCC.

With a call for greater appreciation of these historical resources, especially in light of the recent Bastrop fire, which threatened one of the state’s most popular CCC-era destinations, Brandimarte profiles twenty-nine parks, providing a descriptive history of each and information on its CCC company, the dates of CCC activity, and the CCC-built structures still existing within the park.

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Editorial Reviews

Austin American-Statesman - Mike Cox

"This book, which has plenty of vintage and current photos, should stand as the definitive work on this interesting segment in the history of Texas's state parks program."--Austin American-Statesman
Texas Public Radio - David Martin Davies

"In Texas State Parks and the CCC:The Legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps, Cynthia Brandimarte has written a rich history about how this New Deal program left an indelible stamp on many of the Texas State parks."--Texas Public Radio
Southwestern Historical Quarterly - Ronald C. Brown

"Those interested in Texas State Parks and the [Civilian Conservation Corps] will want this coffee-table volume, but more importantly it is a logical purchase for all community, regional, and historical libraries in Texas. Published in 2013 in the Texas A&M Travel Guides series, this beautiful and informative book is a valuable resource for all who are curious about CCC legacy in the Texas parks. Throughout, the book employs maps, posters, photos of places and events, charts, architectural renditions, cartoons, and people in the parks to illustrate its story." --Southwestern Historical Quarterly
From the Publisher

“ . . . Somehow, on these pages [Brandimarte] has managed to express the experiences of the workers, early politicians, park visitors, and park professionals as if the words were coming from the old walls themselves. . . .”—Andrew Sansom, Executive Director, Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, Texas State University–San Marcos

“ . . . a timely reminder of the importance of the parks to the lives of Texans and visitors alike, and of the dedication and skill with which the people of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department protect and maintain them.”—David G. Woodcock, Professor Emeritus of Architecture and Director Emeritus, Center for Heritage Conservation, Texas A&M University

Dan K. Utley

"A book on this topic is long overdue. This will be an important study, and I look forward to having it on my bookshelf very soon."--Dan K. Utley, Chief Historian, Center for Texas Public History, Texas State University--San Marcos, and co-author, History Ahead: Stories Beyond the Texas Roadside Markers

James M. Steely

"It's a great story about an essential public service, and informs a new generation of park visitors. The authors have produced a very competent work, making strong contributions to Texas political and cultural history."--James W. Steely, consulting historian and author, Parks for Texas: Enduring Landscapes of the New Deal

Andrew Sansom

"It is inconceivable to imagine that Texas would have a state parks system without the immense contribution of the members of the Civilian Conservation Corps. My colleagues Cynthia Brandimarte and Angela Reed, who know more about the cultural resources found in our state parks than anyone, have given life to that contribution through the voices of those who built the unique structures in beloved places like Bastrop and Palo Duro Canyon State Parks. Somehow, on these pages they have managed to express the experiences of the workers, early politicians, park visitors, and park professionals as if the words were coming from the old walls themselves. For those of us who have loved and enjoyed the Texas state parks system for so long, Brandimarte and Reed have found an eloquent way to tell the story of its origins and of the impoverished youth who found in these beautiful places their own humanity."—Andrew Sansom, Executive Director, Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, Texas State University in San Marcos
David G. Woodcock

“The CCC legacy to the Texas state park system is invaluable and irreplaceable. This well-researched book is a timely reminder of the importance of the parks to the lives of Texans and visitors alike, and of the dedication and skill with which the people of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department protect and maintain them.”--David G. Woodcock, Professor Emeritus of Architecture and Director Emeritus, Center for Heritage Conservation, Texas A&M University
Mexia News - Jerry Turner
"...an engrossing story of a great effort to help people, promote conservation, and create natural areas for all to enjoy. It is heart warming and a pleasure to read and explore."—Jerry Turner, Mexia News
Texans for State Parks - John Cobb

“Cynthia Brandimarte and Angela Reed have done a 'work of love' in the publication of Texas State Parks and the CCC: The Legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps. They have been able to capture the beauty and history of the development of our Texas state parks where the CCC started our system. We need to remember the hard work and effort these 'boys' of the CCC gave for generations of Texans and other visitors to enjoy. I would recommend this book to anyone who has gone to any of our parks and would like to visit others.”—John Cobb, President, Texans for State Parks

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781603448253
Publisher:
Texas A&M University Press
Publication date:
01/05/2013
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
188
File size:
15 MB
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This product may take a few minutes to download.

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Read an Excerpt

Texas State Parks and the CCC

The Legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps


By Cynthia Brandimarte, Angela Reed

Texas A&M University Press

Copyright © 2013 Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60344-825-3



CHAPTER 1

The CCC Creates a Texas State Parks System


When Franklin D. Roosevelt became president in March 1933, the United States was experiencing the worst economic depression in its history. Factories had closed, banks and companies had become bankrupt, and a quarter of all workers were unemployed. Agricultural income had plummeted, and debts, exacerbated by an unprecedented drought in the Southwest, had driven many farmers from their land. To get the nation back on its feet, Roosevelt created an array of programs known collectively as the New Deal. One of these programs, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), was aimed at putting young men back to work improving national and state forests and parks.

Almost 3 million Americans, most of them between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five, but including some destitute veterans of World War I and even the Spanish-American War, joined the CCC between 1933 and its disbanding not quite ten years later. An estimated fifty thousand were assigned to work in Texas during six-month enlistments, with a maximum of two years' service allowed. Guided by ideas and designs prepared by professional architects in the National Park Service (NPS), CCC enrollees constructed trails, cabins, concession buildings, bathhouses, dance pavilions, and even one hotel and a motor court to attract visitors to Texas parks. Before 1930, Texas state parks had totaled just over eight hundred acres, on which fourteen state parks existed. In 1942, after CCC workers had finished transforming land into places for public recreation, there were almost sixty thousand acres and forty-eight parks. By the time the companies were disbanded in 1942, CCC workers had laid the foundations for today's Texas state park system.


Understanding the Great Depression

When a typical young enrollee jumped out of a transport truck at a CCC work site in Texas, he had only limited knowledge of the circumstances that brought him there. He was, of course, keenly aware of his father's unemployed plight and his family's desperate need for income. He knew that jobs in his hometown were nowhere to be found and that neighboring families were in the same fix as his. But the economic forces that had brought his family and hometown to their knees were probably beyond his knowledge. To be sure, he had observed how the well-off in his town had benefited from the previous decade, the Roaring Twenties, though his family and most others he knew had gained little from that decade of financial extravagance. He knew only that whatever had happened was now being paid for many times over in the misery of relatives and friends.

The typical CCC worker, if he had reached the age of twenty-one, probably voted for the first time in 1932 and had most likely cast his ballot for Roosevelt and other Democratic Party candidates rather than Herbert Hoover and the Republicans. As president after 1928, Hoover had for four years relied mainly on reduced government spending to restore business confidence and on voluntary local and private sources of relief to lessen the average American's plight. These measures were in step with laissez-faire economic doctrines at the time. Personally, Hoover took heart from the success he had enjoyed overseeing the delivery of humanitarian aid to millions of Europeans on the brink of starvation in the wake of World War I, the Russian Revolution, and other wartime upheavals. But accepted laissez-faire ideas and largely voluntary aid efforts proved ineffective in the face of the unprecedented economic collapse that unfolded between 1930 and 1932.

Photographs taken by the Farm Security Administration (FSA) capture the hopelessness, enforced idleness, and haunted faces of millions of Americans during the Depression years. As social scientists Kenneth Holland and Frank Ernest Hill wrote a few years later, "Millions had left their homes to crowd in upon unwilling relatives or occupy unused farm buildings." Businesses had disappeared, and the employees of those that remained wondered if they would be the next to be laid off. "It was," Holland and Hill wrote, "a cheerless time of pay cuts, part-time labor, distracted social volunteers, apple vendors, bank closures, panhandlers, men on park benches, and riots of teachers and other civic employees demanding the payment of overdue salaries." Many of the 14 million jobless were young men whose adult lives had been upended before they had really begun. Hopelessness threatened to consume an entire generation.

America's physical landscape was also badly degraded. For a century or more, many lands west of the Appalachians had been cleared, plowed, and grazed with abandon. Consequently, topsoil that was no longer grounded by root systems of native grasses became blowing dust as winds swept over land made dry by a disastrous drought. Six out of every ten inhabitants of the southwestern states fled to the country's West Coast to escape the terrible conditions, a migration dramatized by John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath. Unchecked lumbering in the country's western regions had made lands vulnerable to floods. Where once there had been 800 million acres of forest, by 1933 only 100 million remained.

The array of New Deal programs constituted Roosevelt's response after he entered the White House. His administration quickly created federal agencies to monitor and regulate industry, employ men and women in mammoth projects like Boulder Dam, and provide others with work in community organizations funded by Washington. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) alone put 8 million unemployed Americans to work on projects that ran the gamut from building roads and dams for hydroelectric power in the Tennessee Valley to writing state guidebooks and recording oral histories of former slaves.

Roosevelt sketched another idea as part of his New Deal efforts, an outline for the CCC. The hastily drawn diagram belied his long-held belief that physical vigor and spiritual health were intertwined. He knew well the precedents of European work camps to renew the spirits of soldiers and youth after the devastation of World War I, Although only a sketch, it spoke to Roosevelt's abiding affirmation in the healing power of nature and the strengths of individuals. This was the basis of the CCC, and it proved to be a centerpiece of all these New Deal efforts.

Roosevelt proposed the CCC to Congress on March 21, 1933, just days after taking his oath of office, and the enabling legislation was quickly passed. Nicknamed sardonically "Roosevelt's Tree Army," CCC enrollees were soon rehabilitating land damaged by fires, lumbering, and erosion by planting millions of trees, digging ditches and canals, stocking lakes and rivers with upward of a billion fish, restoring historic battlefields as memorials, and building hundreds of campgrounds and structures in previously empty locations. A crucial aim of these undertakings was to revive the spirits of disheartened young men. As Roosevelt said when he introduced the CCC in an address to Congress,

More important ... than the material gains will be the moral and spiritual value of such work. The overwhelming majority of unemployed Americans, who are now walking the streets and receiving private or public relief, would infinitely prefer to work. We can take a vast army of these unemployed out into healthful surroundings. We can eliminate to some extent at least the threat that enforced idleness brings to spiritual and moral stability.


Despite early and strong congressional support for his CCC initiative, Roosevelt knew that public support for it was hardly universal, and some pockets of skepticism were quite vocal. Business leaders objected to the CCC's cost and a large new government bureaucracy; labor leaders worried that the CCC would undercut and lower union members' wages. Some intellectuals disposed toward socialism feared CCC camps would become breeding grounds for military regimentation akin to what rising fascist states were doing in Europe; critics fearful of socialism believed a system of CCC camps might well brainwash and radicalize workers in them.

Within a few months, nonetheless, CCC camps were dotted across the country, most of them engaged in environmental conservation, but some aimed at creating parks and other recreational facilities for public use. Initially, the Department of Labor in Washington was in charge of selecting CCC enrollees; to do this, it cooperated with county welfare agencies to find and certify enrollees. The Departments of Agriculture and the Interior selected projects for CCC camps to carry out. The War Department (today's Department of Defense) had multiple responsibilities: assess and approve CCC campsites for water supply and sanitation; supervise camp construction, maintenance, and administration; and ensure the health, welfare, and discipline of workers in the camps. The War Department was also charged with selecting and supervising camp administrative personnel, including teachers and advisers selected by the Office of Education. The Department of the Interior was responsible for planning, executing, and administering projects by hiring and supervising project directors, as well as officers to liaise between directors. Overall, the Departments of War and Interior played the most important roles: the former being responsible for camp operations; the latter, for delivering all sorts of completed projects.


Texas in the Great Depression

Texans had much to gain from Roosevelt's New Deal programs, although it took some time before many Texans comprehended just how widespread the need for these programs was in their state. Texans tended to support Hoover's mild measures to counteract the economic crisis, but being distant from "stock speculators" on Wall Street, they believed the crisis would be fleeting and Texas would be little affected. However, when economic conditions worsened steadily during 1931–1932, many Texans were forced to conclude that the government in Austin, like the government in Washington, was being overwhelmed. As a CCC enrollee who helped build two Texas parks recalled, "I didn't know anything about the stock market, when it fell or anything like that. But I remember [in] the Depression that times were hard and nobody had anything."

In the 1932 presidential campaign Roosevelt chose Representative John Nance Garner of Uvalde as his vice presidential candidate, and Texans voted resoundingly for the Democratic ticket that November. In addition to Garner, the state had many influential voices in Washington, who made sure Texas got its share of CCC and other New Deal funds. Many Texans were grateful for the chance to work in the CCC and not above resorting to a little subterfuge to get the chance. For example, upon hearing about the CCC quite by accident, one sixteen-year-old Texan was undaunted when told that enrollees had to be eighteen years of age. His informant said that the local CCC administrators might not guess his true age. "So all I needed was a suggestion," the young man later recalled. "I go in and joined. Nobody ever asked me—I told them in the beginning I was eighteen." The teenager thus lowered the average age of CCC workers in Texas, which was twenty, a tiny bit.

A 1940 survey of CCC enrollees in Texas found that the men had signed up mainly to help their families. Poignantly, one former enrollee remembered his sharecropper father saying to him, "'Would you mind going into the CCC for six months? It sure would help the family.' I said, 'Dad, I will do anything to help our family.'" This enrollee and many like him did more than help their families; through laborious work they built a park system for Texas.


Texas Parks before the CCC

During the 1920s, a few prominent Texans argued strongly for creating state parks. One in particular was especially influential and vocal: Pat Neff, who as governor from 1921 until 1925 was the chief proponent of a state park system. One of Neff's predecessors in the Governor's Mansion, Thomas Campbell, had earlier listened to "the ladies" in the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT), an organization that had lobbied long and hard to acquire and preserve historic Texas landmarks, most especially the Alamo. In 1907, Governor Campbell designated San Jacinto Battleground as a state park. Campbell's successor, Governor Oscar Colquitt, then designated Gonzales State Park; and his successor, James Ferguson, designated Washington-on-the-Brazos to commemorate the place where Texas independence was declared in 1836.

Historical parks commemorating past events were part of a national "colonial revival" movement oriented to the pre–Civil War era. By about 1910, Texas was eager to mark its 1836 triumph in the revolution against Mexican rule and turn away from Civil War defeat. The colonial revival movement meshed with a burgeoning regard for nature, broadly construed. Reflecting this, the NPS was created in 1916, and its first director, the inspirational Stephen Mather, convened a National Conference on State Parks in 1921 to encourage state and local systems of parks that would complement a national parks system.

* * *

The Political Web to Washington

Texas connections with Washington were strong in the 1930s. Paramount among them was John Nance Garner of Uvalde, former speaker of the house and now vice president, for whom Garner State Park was later named. Keenly aware of Garner's strong political connections in Washington, President Roosevelt needed Garner's influence to pass his programs by securing southern Democratic votes in Congress. He got what he needed with the help of the powerful Texan.

Representative Sam Rayburn, later speaker of the house, was also a proponent of the CCC, as was Congressman Richard M. Kleburg, the namesake of CCC "Camp Kleberg" [sic] at Lake Corpus Christi. As a secretary to Representative Kleburg, Lyndon B. Johnson, his presidency still decades ahead, was new to the Washington scene. His contacts nevertheless led to appointment as head of Roosevelt's National Youth Administration (NYA), another New Deal program.

* * *

In step with or even ahead of his contemporaries, soon after becoming governor in January 1921, Pat Neff devised a plan for a system of parks that went beyond historical monuments and parks to showcase the diversity of Texas' landscape, encourage tourism, and promote conservation. In 1923, Neff persuaded the state legislature to approve the framework for a park system, although the legislature then declined, repeatedly, to appropriate funds for purchasing parklands or making improvements to lands already donated to the state. In 1925, and despite Neff's staunch advocacy, a state parks bill stalled in the legislature and lay there until Margie Elizabeth Neal, the first woman senator in Texas, resurrected it two years later.

Miriam "Ma" Ferguson, Texas' first woman governor, nudged the fledgling park system forward early in her second (nonconsecutive) term of office, which began in 1933. Within days of Roosevelt's announcement of his CCC initiative, Ferguson sought and obtained federal funds for twenty-six CCC projects in Texas, including the construction of fifteen state parks. She directed her newly created Texas Relief Commission to help recruit and place workers at these park projects, a task she assigned to the State Parks Board later in 1933. Previously, the state government had relied on convict labor to maintain parks supervised by the Parks Board, but by the end of 1933 companies of CCC enrollees had arrived at locations for new parks to be built without convict workers.

Federal funds poured into Texas for soil projects and park development during 1933, the Great Depression's worst year. Ferguson's successor, James Alfred, further reduced unemployment in the state by obtaining funds for additional CCC projects and for other projects funded by the NYA, the WPA, and the Public Works Administration (PWA). But it was with the CCC's arrival that a proper state park system began to take form.


Designing CCC Parks

Master plans drawn up for the new parks by veteran NPS architects specified improved roads that would bring automobile visitors through formal portals made of local stone, followed by drives on roads with modern "super-elevated" curves that crossed carefully crafted stone bridges and culverts. According to the plans, visitors would typically arrive at a refectory or concession building, also made of local stone and wood, where they would be able to obtain park information, use areas for groups to gather, purchase food and supplies for camping, take advantage of well-constructed restrooms, and have patios available for outdoor dancing and other activities. Master plans for parks with lakes specified boathouses and beach shelters, and for parks with swimming pools, bathhouses and play areas. Plans for larger parks, such as those to be built at Bastrop, Lake Brownwood, Daingerfield, Garner, and Palo Duro Canyon, provided designs for simple cabins to be used for overnight and longer stays. Service facilities at the parks were to have distinctively rustic water towers, keepers' lodges, and maintenance areas tucked away from the key public buildings.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Texas State Parks and the CCC by Cynthia Brandimarte, Angela Reed. Copyright © 2013 Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Excerpted by permission of Texas A&M University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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What People are saying about this

James M. Steely
It's a great story about an essential public service, and informs a new generation of park visitors. The authors have produced a very competent work, making strong contributions to Texas political and cultural history."—James W. Steely, consulting historian and author of Parks for Texas: Enduring Landscapes of the New Deal
David G. Woodcock
The CCC legacy to the Texas State Park system is invaluable and irreplaceable. This well-researched book is a timely reminder of the importance of the parks to the lives of Texans and visitors alike, and of the dedication and skill with which the people of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department protect and maintain them.—David G. Woodcock, FAIA, FSA, FAPT, Professor Emeritus of Architecture and Director Emeritus, Center for Heritage Conservation, Texas A&M University.
Andrew Sansom
It is inconceivable to imagine that Texas would have a state parks system without the immense contribution of the members of the Civilian Conservation Corps. My colleagues Cynthia Brandimarte and Angela Reed, who know more about the cultural resources found in our state parks than anyone, have given life to that contribution through the voices of those who built the unique structures in beloved places like Bastrop and Palo Duro Canyon State Parks. Somehow, on these pages they have managed to express the experiences of the workers, early politicians, park visitors, and park professionals as if the words were coming from the old walls themselves. For those of us who have loved and enjoyed the Texas state parks system for so long, Brandimarte and Reed have found an eloquent way to tell the story of its origins and of the impoverished youth who found in these beautiful places their own humanity.—Andrew Sansom, Executive Director of the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University in San Marcos
Dan K. Utley
A book on this topic is long overdue. This will be an important study, and I look forward to having it on my bookshelf very soon."—Dan K. Utley, Chief Historian for the Center for Texas Public History at Texas State University—San Marcos; co-author of History Ahead: Stories Beyond the Texas Roadside Markers

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Meet the Author

CYNTHIA BRANDIMARTE is director of the historic sites and structures program at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in Austin, where she oversees the architectural preservation and protection of historic park resources. ANGELA REED, who now serves as preservation program manager for Preservation Austin, formerly coordinated the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Civilian Conservation Corps Legacy Parks Initiative.

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