The new deal agencies and programs of Depression-era America were created to provide productive paid work for unemployed persons in order to stimulate the economy. Cities and towns throughout New Hampshire benefited from the New Deal in significant ways, particularly through projects funded by the WPA (Works Progress Administration) and the PWA (Public Works Administration). A third New Deal program, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), also had a positive impact on the state.
The CCC was created through an executive order signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on April 5, 1933. The program aimed to mobilize a large corps of able-bodied men to work on the conservation and improvement of government-owned forestland. The program primarily enrolled unskilled young men from the cities whose families were on relief — but it also provided jobs for out-of-work veterans of World War I, and for other categories of unemployed male workers.
CCC recruits signed up to serve for a minimum of six months. They were trained and given guidance from employees of the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service and the Departments of Interior and Agriculture. The men lived in rugged camps where they received free room and board and were paid a decent monthly wage. They were required to send most of their income home to support their families.
Between 1933 and 1942 the CCC operated 895 work camps in government-owned forests throughout the United States, and employed 2 million men. The CCC workers planted millions of trees, and helped protect public forests from the ravages of fires, erosion, insect pests, and plant diseases. They opened up some of America’s most beautiful wilderness areas by constructing roads and trails, and built useful facilities to serve visitors.
In New Hampshire, 28 CCC work camps were developed to house several hundred recruits. Among the many projects undertaken by these men were road and bridge repairs at Wadleigh State Park on Kezar Lake in Sutton after the 1936 flood and the 1938 hurricane; clearing of ski trails at Wildcat Mountain Ski Area in Pinkham Notch and at Cannon Mountain Ski Area in Franconia Notch; construction of a bathhouse and campground at Moose Brook State Park in Gorham; building a fire lookout tower in Hemenway State Forest in Tamworth; and the completion of various conservation projects in the White Mountain National Forest.
The only surviving CCC work camp in New Hampshire is located in Bear Brook State Park in Allenstown in central New Hampshire. In 1935 the United States Forest Service purchased about 10,000 acres of land in the town to create a new public forest. During a two-month period the CCC erected a camp consisting of 13 prefabricated one-story structures designed by the U.S. Army. The buildings had no foundations, and were made of pine and wallboard, and covered in tarpaper. The camp included a headquarters building, four barracks, a mess hall, a recreation building, an infirmary, a lavatory, a blacksmith shop, an education building and two garages.
Over the next seven years CCC employees converted the former farmland and scrubby woods into a fine public recreational area that included roads, bridle paths, man-made ponds, beaches, bathhouses, bridges, towers, shelters, campgrounds, fireplaces, and picnic areas.
The Bear Brook CCC camp stopped operating in January 1942. For about a year afterward the U.S. Navy used the park as a recreational facility for sailors on leave from naval bases in the Boston area. The property was turned over to the state in 1943, and the camp buildings were improved for park operations. Today, Bear Brook State Park is the largest developed state park in New Hampshire. Many of the park’s mature trees were planted during the CCC era.
In 1992 the former CCC camp in Allenstown was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in recognition of its significance in social, government, and conservation history. The Bear Brook State Park Civilian Conservation Corps Camp Historic District includes eight remaining CCC buildings which have survived remarkably intact. Today, one of these structures houses the Richard Diehl Civilian Conservation Corps Museum that displays photographs and memorabilia from Bear Brook’s CCC days. And, two other original camp buildings serve as the home of the New Hampshire Snowmobile Museum.
Next week: The Federal Writers’ Project in New Hampshire.