Penns Valley

CCC camp celebrates legacy of ‘change’

Richard A. Walker browses a book of photos from the CCC Camp S-63, Poe Valley, to try to find his cousin during the Civilian Conservation Corps Legacy Day on Sunday. Walker remembers picking his cousin up for weekends at home, before taking him back to camp for another week of work.
Richard A. Walker browses a book of photos from the CCC Camp S-63, Poe Valley, to try to find his cousin during the Civilian Conservation Corps Legacy Day on Sunday. Walker remembers picking his cousin up for weekends at home, before taking him back to camp for another week of work. adrey@centredaily.com

There was heat. There was humidity. There was rain.

But it was probably no worse than what the men who built the camp 83 years ago had to endure.

The Poe Valley Civilian Conservation Corps Camp S-63 Company 1333, which ran from 1933 to 1941, exists now mostly as a pair of buildings and a few scattered remnants of buildings long gone. But once a year, the camp gains life during the annual event celebrating its legacy.

About 100 people, many with family connections to the park, attended the celebration Sunday in Poe Valley State Park.

“Our hope is to promote our county’s history, and the CCC certainly played a large role in the county’s history during the Depression era,” Centre County Historical Society Executive Director Mary Sorensen recently told the CDT.

Hosted by the historical society, visitors were welcomed to tour the grounds of the camp, including the officers’ quarters and the forestry quarters, which still stand today.

Conceived during the Great Depression, the CCC put more than three million young men to work in the United States from 1933 to 1942, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. In Centre County, there are four sites that were either fully prepared by the CCC or were greatly enhanced by the CCC: Poe Valley and Poe Paddy, which were built out of the same camp; Penn-Roosevelt State Park, a separate camp; and McCalls Dam State Park in eastern Centre County.

“The one thing that happened among all of the CCC camps in all of the land, and in particular the one we’re sitting in, is change,” said Bill Marcum, whose grandfather was one of the original foremen for Company 1333.

Young men, typically ages 18-22, would cycle through the camp, he said, working on surrounding land while learning the skills of the job. The entire purpose of the CCC was to provide the opportunity to get people out of bread lines and into sustainable work.

Marcum walked the visitors through the changes of the camp during the years it was active, with photographs chronicling the camp through the years.

What started as a rural forest changed as the first group of young men set up tents to live in while building the camp, he explained. Trodding through dirt and mud, these men constructed their own barracks, as well as the officers’ quarters, mess hall and other buildings.

The camp continued to change as the mud paths became a wooden boardwalk, he said, which further developed into a stone pathway as more buildings were added, including forestry quarters and a recreation hall.

But more than just the camp changed, he said. The men who came through the camps changed the land itself, carving new roadways into the surrounding area, planting trees and constructing the dam that would create Poe Lake.

Between 1933 and 1936, the men who came through Camp S-36 were responsible for the creation of several roads — including Poe Valley Road, Mountain Church Road and the Siglerville-Millheim Pike — and created more than 50 miles of truck trails and built 10 bridges.

But the most important change came to the men themselves. Not only were they getting in a full working day sculpting the land around them, Marcum said, but they were also getting an education during their off hours.

“Many of these young men had abandoned school in the eighth or ninth grade and were just living at home,” he said. “The education program was quite organized — there were the three Rs, but there was typewriting, blacksmithing, carpentry, masonry and electrical work.”

These were coveted resume items, Marcum said. Meticulous records kept at the camp would be used by these men to show they were trained in a skill, making them valuable in the job market when they left.

“They were always proud of what they put together,” he said.

Jeremy Hartley: 814-231-4616, @JJHartleyNews

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