Working for a Living
A new book describes how the Civilian Conservation Corps helped families survive the Great Depression — and transformed the local landscape in the process
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2008 marks the 75th anniversary of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, a series of bold initiatives that helped lead the nation out of the Great Depression. In many ways the centerpiece of the New Deal was the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a work relief program for unemployed young men who literally shoveled, planted, and otherwise built the country’s way back to prosperity through thousands of conservation related projects all across the country. The program was rooted in Roosevelt’s own childhood experiences at his family’s property in the Hudson Valley, and modeled after his innovative conservation programs while governor of New York.
The history of the CCC, and its enduring impact on the Catskill region in particular, is the subject of Diane Galusha’s fascinating new book, Another Day, Another Dollar: The Civilian Conservation Corps in the Catskills (Black Dome Press, $16.95). I dove into the book just as the presidential election was kicking into high gear. The enormity of Roosevelt’s accomplishments and scale of the work pulled off by the CCC seems like a story from another planet when compared to recent government failures and overall declining confidence in our elected officials. The bulk of the story delves into the activities and structures of the CCC in New York, taking us on a vivid tour of the rural landscape and how it was reshaped by the “boys of the CCC.”
Between June 1933 and July 1942, a total of 161 CCC camps were established across New York State. The majority of the camps fell into the categories of Forest, State Park, and Soil Conservation Service Camps; evidence of the work can be found throughout the Hudson Valley/Catskill region, including such notable landmarks as North/South Lake (Greene County), Lake Taghkanic State Park (Columbia County), Harriman State Park (Rockland County), Margaret Lewis Norrie State Park (Dutchess), and Goldens Bridge at the Croton Reservoir (Westchester).
The CCC workers were mostly males between the ages of 18 and 25, and came from families in economic despair. The men were paid $30 a month, with $25 going back to their families. Galusha describes how many men initially showed up for work impoverished and undernourished, but eventually underwent a transformation through physical labor and proper diet. According to the author, the typical one-week diet for 200 workers included one ton of vegetables, 700 pounds of bread, 1,800 eggs, 97 gallons of canned fruit, 661 pounds of meat, 130 pounds of coffee, and 300 pounds of flour. The vast majority of the food was purchased locally, which helped boost the economy.
The men enrolled in the companies were moved around the country to take on new assignments. The book closely follows “Company 291” (among others), a group trained in New Jersey. They were first sent to Cascade, Idaho for six months, then to Virginia, and finally to the Catskills where they took on construction of well-known locations including North/South Lake and Devil’s Tombstone state campsites. The “Tannersville Boys,” as Company 291 was called, reconstructed a 1.3-mile truck trail to provide access to Kaaterskill Mountain; today, the pathway serves as the beginning of the trail to Huckleberry Point. In 1934, they planted more than 800,000 trees.