Adirondack Daily Enterprise, Weekender, June 3, 1985
Paul Smiths CCC men: Stewards of the land
By MATTHEW RUSSELL
Enterprise Staff Writer
PAUL SMITHS - The trees have reclaimed the land where once a forest was cleared, but the memories of what happened here 60 years ago remain.
Moss, grass and saplings have grown over the concrete foundations and stone chimneys of a once-bustling camp where men lived and worked during the worst years of the Great Depression. But those who still remember the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp here sometimes return to the place that figured so prominently in their young lives, and they want to leave some sign here so others will know what they did.
"They made men here. The CCC took boys who had no employment and gave them work, gave them some structure to their lives. They became a forest army," said Paul Smiths forester Gould Hoyt.
CCC Camp S-60 in Paul Smiths was one of hundreds of such camps built all over the United States under a Depression-era federal program launched by President Franklin Roosevelt within weeks of his inauguration in 1933, according to town of Brighton amateur historian Ruth Hoyt. The idea was to put hundreds of thousands of unemployed young men to work on public improvement projects at a time when the nation was in the middle of the worst economic crisis in history. The Civilian Conservation Corps, Roosevelt believed, would do more than help needy American families - the program would stabilize society by keeping the idle men busy and giving them vital job skills.
The men, mostly between the ages of 17 and 25, lived together in barracks-style camps which were quickly erected all over the country. By July 1933, there were 274,375 young men living in 1,300 camps under a military-style regimen. The men were restricted to the camps during the work week and had to take orders from officers. The work was physically demanding, but the CCC provided clothes, good food and better living quarters than most were used to. Most veterans of the program say they were glad for the opportunity, and that morale was high in the camps.
"It was good to be working! Times were hard, you can't imagine what it was like...back then you couldn't even buy a job," said Walter Stahl, a Saranac Lake man who lived at Camp S-60 for two years. He said the men he lived with were in good spirits and that the work was rewarding.
"The pay was fabulous - a dollar a day! They gave us clothes, they fed us," Stahl said. The men were required to send most of their pay to their families, he remembered.
Stahl said he didn't mind the camp discipline.
"It was no problem. You did as you were told. There was kitchen duty, you had to keep the place neat, and you had to have a pass to go to town."
Stahl, now 79, was 20 years old when he joined CCC Company 220 based at Camp S-60. The camp, located in a clearing east of Route 30, included three large barracks, a wash house, a supply building and a kitchen. Stahl and dozens of other men started work on a number of projects, including the construction of the state campsites at Meachem Lake and Fish Creek. The men built dams, felled and planted trees, and cut new roads and trails. But, as Stahl recalled, the men at camp S-60 may be best remembered for fighting the great Bay Pond forest fire of 1934, which burned 27,000 acres of timber in Franklin County.
"We fought it for months. The fire kept burning underground," Stahl recalled.
The CCC men toiled in shifts around the clock for weeks to stop the blaze. Stahl remembered one close call in which he had to abandon the truck he was driving when the fire surrounded his crew.
"It was a new truck, too. They weren't too happy about that."
The men of Company 220 were formally commended for their firefighting effort by a grateful Governor Lehman who honored them with a "Best Conservation Work" award. A history of the company credits the men with planting more than 2 million trees, culling acres of downed and dead timber from state forests and constructing 45 miles of trails.
"All the land around here is the better today because of the work they did. We owe them a debt of thanks," said Ruth Hoyt.
She led an effort to raise funds to place a stone and plaque honoring the men of Company 220 alongside Route 30 near the former entrance to the camp property. Now completely overgrown by thick forest, the site of Camp S-60 can be reached only by bushwhacking through the woods a short distance from the road. Two stone pillars mark the driveway entrance, and the foundation of the old wash house can be located nearby. The ruins of other foundations are all but completely overgrown, but a tall fireplace and chimney still stand.
"I still visit there now and then, to reminisce," Stahl said recently.
The Hoyts have drafted an inscription of the plaque, which is to be formally dedicated at the Second Annual Brighton History Day to be held Aug. 20 at the Asplin Tree Farm.
"This tablet placed here by CCC members and friends," the inscription will state.
"Members...fought fires, helped build Meachem Lake and Fish Creek campsites, planted trees, built trails and dams and improved forest stands."
"They were stewards of the land. This honor to them is long overdue," Ruth Hoyt said.
The Hoyts are also trying to contact any former CCC men in the area. Among those the couple already know are Paul Benoit and James Titus. Anyone with information is encouraged to contact Mrs. Hoyt at 327-3274.
Stahl recalled that Company 220 was commanded by Capt. Charles P. Eckhert. While many of the camp men were from all over Franklin County, some came from as far away as New York City, Stahl said. The boys used to stage wrestling and boxing matches, and often went to Saranac Lake on weekends for a bit of socializing. Stan liked the area so much that he returned to Saranac Lake after he was discharged from the armed forces following World War II.
Stahl said the skills and experience he got at the CCC camp helped him in later life. During the war, he was a combat engineer, serving in the Pacific theater.
"You were just starting out in life, and you needed to get your feet on the ground. We learned how to use saws and tools...a lot of the guys were lumberjacks. The CCC gave you a chance to learn something," Stahl said. Now retired, Stahl worked locally for 30 years for Swift and Company, a meat distributor.
To this day, Stahl has a number of photographs of his camp days, including a group photo of the camp men and officers and a panorama shot of the camp with the mountainous horizon in the distance. The well-kept grounds of the camp in the photo are starkly contrasted by the thick woods at the site today.
The CCC program ended in 1942 after the nation undertook a wartime economy with nearly full employment for all. Historians have observed that many of the CCC veterans went into the armed forces with a useful background in the military way of life.
The works the CCC program left behind still benefit the public today with a heritage of parks and public places, of roads and dams and forests created by the hard work of hundreds of thousands of men like Walt Stahl. They are justifiably proud of their accomplishments. ##
Lake Placid News, September 8, 1933
TO PLANT 300,000 TREES IN THIS SECTION
Barnum Pond Boys to Plant Bay Pond District Near Rockefeller Estate — Territory North of Bloomingdale to Be Planted
Tree planting, one of the most important activities of the Civilian Conservation corps, will get under way immediately.
Boys of Barnum Pond camp will replant the state plantation between Keese Mills and Bay Pond, a tract which was first planted in 1927, and which extends to the east line of the Rockefeller Estate. They will fill out the blanks in the plantations at Slush Pond and Osgood River. In all, they will plant about 300,000 trees.
Boys of Fish Creek camp will plant 300 acres about their camp.
Spruce and pine will be planted. And if Senator Huey Long fulfills his promise to "eat all the saplings that survive," he will need a healthy appetite in this section of the Adirondacks.
Lake Placid News, May 18, 1934
C C C FIELD DAY AT SARANAC LAKE MAY 30
Will Parade with Groups in Morning and Participate in Field Meet hi Afternoon at Fair Grounds
Francis B. Cantwell, Saranac Lake attorney, has announced the Adirondack Fair association is planning a CCC field day on the grounds near Saranac Lake, May 30.
The festivities will last the whole day. Invitations have been sent to all CCC camps in this area including Paul Smiths at Barnum Pond, Fish Creek on Upper Saranac, Cross Clearing near Tupper Lake; Lake Placid at Whiteface Inn; Port Henry, Newcomb and others.
It is planned to have all the CCC boys participate in a parade with the G. A. R. veterans and the legionnaires, the Saranac Lake boys' band, Legion drum corps, and Lake Placid band. In the afternoon at the race track, there will be a track and field meet with boxing and wrestling on an open stage and a doubleheader baseball program with two CCC teams in the opener and Saranac Lake vs. Lake Placid in the second. The CCC officials have been asked to enter their camps.
See also Barnum Pond