Hard Labor: State park, Friends group holding workday Saturday, Feb. 6
Story and Photos by Kathryn Schiliro
It's a surviving piece of history, of FDR's America, of the President's answer to The Great Depression. Without your help, it will no longer be able to stand on its own, literally.
What is the CCC?
In an effort to remedy the economic and social problems that overtook America in the 1930s, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) proposed to Congress a program, part of his "New Deal," to recruit 250,000 men to "preserve the natural resources of these United States," the point being not only preservation, but employment.
Money in support of the CCC came to Georgia after the passage of the bill by Congress in 1933, and following FDR's threatening of then-Governor Talmadge too pull CCC funding if Talmadge continued to keep black men from entering the program. Talmadge knew the state needed the money and relented, provided the black workers were segregated into another camp. (Enrollment of black men in CCC camps eventually declined to nothing as residents of the towns and cities located near the black corps camps protested the proximity of the camps to their homes.)
One of the more important tasks given the CCC was reforestation.
In the South, farming of non-sustainable crops that stripped the topsoil rendered much of the land worthless. The land was then purchased by the U.S. government and re-built by the CCC.
In the case of Hard Labor Creek State Park, 46 landowners got together and sold their adjacent land, more than 5,000 acres.
According to the park’s Summary of Proposed National Register/Georgia Register Nomination, the CCC was also responsible for road construction, combating soil erosion, building national and state parks and flood control projects.
At Hard Labor Creek specifically, one of 10 CCC-built state parks, the corps was charged with damming the creek and clearing land for the creation of Lakes Rutledge and Brantley, constructing roads and bridges, reforesting land, constructing telephone lines and building the group camp, complete with cabins, rock walls, paths and trails. In addition, the CCC reshaped the one-time farmland to prevent erosion.
“They built lakes because of erosion due to the poor farming practices of the day,” Daniel Hill, park manager, said.
The camps themselves functioned much like the military, complete with a hierarchy of officers, and similar amenities (mess hall, laundry, recreation hall, canteen, etc.). Moreover, the buildings that housed the CCC men were meant to be portable; they could be taken down and put up with relative ease, making it easy for members of the corps to complete a project and move on to another.
In the CCC's eight-year lifetime, more than 2.5 million men came through the program, and each man was paid $30 a month. The initial 250,000 grew to twice that in 1936, and the number was reduced to 300,000. The corps worked at that level until its dissipation in 1942 due to the outbreak of World War II.
Why does this matter?
Hard Labor Creek State Park, in Rutledge, is the last site of a still-standing CCC camp in Georgia, and one of the few left standing in the nation. And the word "standing" is being kind.
"We're leaning but we're still standing," Susan McCullough, of the Friends of Hard Labor Creek State Park, said.
In fact many of the CCC camp structures, which once housed corps members, have collapsed on themselves within the past 25 to 30 years, according to Hill. Two CCC structures are still erect, and it is those two structures that the state's Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Friends of Hard Labor Creek State Park want to save.
To that end, Hard Labor Creek was allocated $100,000 in bond money by the DNR. This funding will go towards roof repair as well as foundation pier shoring and stabilization of the Welfare Building (or Recreation Hall); the repairing of a failed pier and minor roof repairs on the Army Hospital; and termite control for the two structures. Park administration also wants to remove trees throughout the camp and seal around the chimneys in the Welfare Building, but doesn’t anticipate the $100,000 will cover those improvements.
However, in an effort to stretch every dollar, park administration and the Friends of Hard Labor Creek State Park are asking for your help. They are organizing workdays (the first being Saturday, Feb. 6) and are hoping for volunteers to help clean-up the historic structures.
“The more we can get volunteers to do, the further this $100,000 will go,” McCullough said.
Of course, skilled laborers – carpenters, plumbers, stoneworkers, chimney sweeps, even – are in demand. But straight-up, willing-to-work volunteers, whether individuals or groups (scouts, youth groups, for example), are needed too to get the physical work of cleaning-up the camp done.
Can’t do physical labor, but want to help? Park administration and the Friends group are also looking for volunteers to trek to the state park archives in DeKalb County and gather information about Hard Labor Creek State Park and the CCC camp, as the ultimate goal is to convert the Welfare Building into a museum.
The Friends group is also accepting material donations – things like shingles, lumber, etc. – as well as the donation of services like sawmill work and tree removal.
Time itself is a factor in saving these pieces of history, and the work needs to be done soon.
“If we don’t do something now, then they’ll be gone forever,” Hill said. “It’s not about the stuff; it’s about the people, and how we can be tied into history.”
Get to work!
Hard Labor Creek State Park and the Friends of Hard Labor Creek State Park will hold a workday Saturday, Feb. 6. They are hoping for volunteers, whether it’s for the whole day or just a few hours. No special skills are required.