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MOVING HISTORY FORWARD: 1930s CCC Camps in the St. Joe Forest

by RICHARD SHELDON/Museum of North Idaho
| December 30, 2022 1:00 AM

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected U.S. president in 1932, he was faced with solving the problems of a country rich in resources but with a declining economy, which was strangling growth and limiting prosperity.

Among the many fixes he proposed was the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). His idea was to use federal money to establish camps where unemployed citizens could come to be paid to live and work on public works projects such as building roads, tunnels, dams, trails and fighting fires, among others. Idaho was especially open to such a plan. The employment of three million young men starting in 1933 and ending in 1940 has been identified as being the most successful of all his “alphabet plans.”

To be in the corps, applicants had to be at least 16 years of age and had to enlist for anywhere from six months to five years. Room and board were free, as was health care. Work clothing was provided. Starting salary was $30/month and enrollees were to send home $21 and keep $9 for themselves.

The St. Joe River was the site of 14 camps, which collectively employed 1,000 men at its peak. Each camp was self-sufficient with its own infirmary, canteen, store, school and, in some cases, a rail depot and gymnasium. Administration of the camps was the job of the U.S. Army at Fort Wright, Spokane.

One of the most productive camps was in Avery. Its noteworthy accomplishments included building the road from Avery to St. Joe. It built a concrete bridge over the railroad tracks near St. Joe City. The most ambitious project was the 415-foot tunnel called the Fishhook Tunnel.

The dirt removed from the tunnel was used to build other roads such as the Fishhook Road, a road from Avery to St. Maries and the Red Ives Road. These roads opened the valley to automobile use.

Starting in the late 1930s and early 1940, camp members noted the increasing time spent training with rifles and doing calisthenics under the direction of instructors from Fort Wright. Soon, the reason for this became apparent. The camps were closed as the military draft drew more and more men to the Orient, Africa and Europe.

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WWII will be the theme of the Annual Gala for the Museum of North Idaho on May 20, 2023, at the North Idaho Fairgrounds. More information will be provided at www.museumni.org. The MoNI is open for research by appointment during the winter hours.

photo

Courtesy of Museum of North Idaho

This 1936 shows men with crosscut saws and peaveys working on logs and stumps at the Upper Beaver CCC Camp.