The Civilian Conservation Corps in Cuyahoga Valley

The Civilian Conservation Corps in Cuyahoga Valley 

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was instrumental to the preservation of the Cuyahoga Valley. The young men of Virginia Kendall Company 576 created some of our favorite spots: the Ledges Trail, the Octagon Shelter, Happy Days Lodge. This week, dive a bit deeper into this important piece of CVNP’s history, from its controversies to its goals for young men in America.

Five CCC Historical Tidbits 

  1. One of the CCC’s goals, in addition to teaching marketable skills, was to develop young men “physically, mentally, spiritually.” At night, its members studied academics like English and math and learned occupational skills that would make them more attractive to employers when their camp experience ended. On weekends, they played sports, invited local young women to dances, and frequented watering holes in nearby Peninsula and Akron.
  2. Harold S. Wagner was the Harvard-educated director of the Akron Metropolitan Park District who leapt at the chance to bring a CCC camp to the Cleveland-Akron area. We can thank him in part for many of the gorgeous buildings that the CCC men constructed in this area.
  3. Members of the Virginia Kendall company planted trees, created trails, and learned to use heavy construction equipment—all for just a dollar a day! That’s equivalent to about $17 today—not a hefty sum for a whole day’s work.
  4. Some of the important tenets of the CCC were modernism and “parkitecture,” which proclaims that “structures should blend into the environment and not detract from the naturalness of the area.” Many of these principles can still be seen in the Virginia Kendall area today: simplicity, functionality, and the use of natural materials.
  5. The CCC wasn’t controversy-free. There were issues of segregation, tussles between federal and local government, and the fears of many that the military-run camps too closely imitated Hitler’s youth camps or the USSR’s Young Pioneers. The complexity of the times certainly played a role in the CCC’s struggles as well as its successes.

CCC Memories 

Laying the stone steps on the Ledges Trail (Photo: The Civilian Conservation Corps and the Construction of the Virginia Kendall Reserve)

Have you ever wanted to hear from an actual local participant in the CCC? Take a look at these examples from a book edited by Kenneth J. Bindas at Kent State University:

“The CCC was ‘the best thing that [the government had] ever done…The opportunity was there, and you could learn anything that you wanted to.” – Camp member F.J. O’Leary

“I think the CCC boys have…made places of beauty at…Virginia Kendall Park. …[The CCC] has given us beautiful picnic grounds… and done a service to the whole community by giving thousands of persons new means of healthful recreation.’” – Local resident Mrs. D.E. Davis in the Akron Beacon Journal, 1942.

At the end of Bindas’s book, one of his co-authors wistfully describes the area’s beauty by recounting the experience of recent visitors who had little knowledge about the CCC:

“I wonder what the CCC would think today. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Perhaps what matters is what they have provided for the American visitor in the twenty-first century… Visitors should be everlastingly grateful for the work done by the CCC.”

The Ledges steps today have stood the test of time (Photo: Chad Klug)

Here at the Conservancy, we strive to keep the good work of the CCC alive through continued use of the beautiful buildings and structures they created. From weddings every weekend at Happy Days Lodge, to special events at the Ledges Shelter, the Conservancy is helping the Cuyahoga Valley keep these structures full of life. Learn more >