History of DeKalb
County Alabama - The Civilian Conservation Corps
March 4, 1929, when Republican
Herbert Hoover was inaugurated President of the United States, the jazz age economic boom
of the 1920s was in full force. The jazz age of the automobile, of radio, of
prohibition and speakeasies, and of flappers who danced the Charleston, cut their hair,
shortened their skirts, and smoked cigarettes in public.
Fueled by new industries and new
products, the American economy roared along with little hint that success and prosperity
were not permanent. Only the South and the debt-blanketed farm belt which suffered from
the fall of farm prices after World War I, marred the ambience of well-being, and only a
few voices dared to warn of disaster as the spiraling "Bull Market" marched
upward. The crash came suddenly when the English, trying to lure European capital back to
Great Britain, raised their interest rates. As foreign investors dumped their shaky
American securities in the New York market, panic ensued and an overindulgence of stock
The stock market collapse ushering in the Great Depression. In rapid succession, banks
failed, taking with them the savings of millions; factories shut down, farm and home
mortgages were foreclosed, real estate prices collapsed, and unemployment soup kitchens
appeared all across America. President Hoover, confident in the ability of the free market
capitalistic system to recover, failed to appreciate the dire conditions of the economy or
the suffering of the people.
Although in Alabama the prosperity of the jazz age was uneven, and never was as abundant
as in areas outside the South. The state did prosper before the 1929 stock market crash.
In 1927 Alabama elected Bibb Graves as Governor and he developed a liberal program. The
Alabama legislature, under Graves executive leadership, abolished the convict lease
system, raised teachers salaries, built roads, constructed schoolhouses and
lengthened the school year. Graves spending spree was ended by the depression, and he left
his successor, Governor Benjamin M. Miller who became governor in 1931, with a debt of
In 1928 the Democratic candidates
caused a heavy Republican vote in Alabama. Four years later Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave
a land slide victory. Alabamians hoped Roosevelts promised New Deal would change the
economic despair. The New Deal was designed to bring relief to millions of unemployed
Americans and allow industry to recover and force the reform of business.
In the first week of office
Roosevelt pressed for a bill incorporating his reforestation program. Later he presented a
bill, which included a program for relief of the unemployed by creating the Civilian
Conservation Corps. On March 28 the Senate passed the CCC by a voice vote. On the house
floor, Congressman Oscar DePriest of Illinois amended the bill to prohibit discrimination
"on account of race, color, or creed," and by a voice vote, the House passed the
bill. The Senate accepted the House amendment and after Roosevelt signed the act on March
31, the Civilian Conservation Corps was born.
While Washington was pressing
ahead to iron out the administrative details of the program, state welfare and relief
agencies began to organize. Selection agents were hired to recruit young men who met the
federal guidelines. Men who were interested in joining the program were required to fill
out an application form and were interviewed. Those eligible had to be between the ages of
18 and 25 (although later the age was dropped to 17 and raised to 28). They had to be
physically fit, unemployed, unmarried, have family dependents and willing to send an
allotment home to their parents. They would be paid thirty dollars a month. Twenty-five
dollars of this was sent to their families leaving them with five dollars a month.
In Fort Payne, Alabama, there was
a considerable effort on the part of local government and business officials to obtain a
CCC camp in DeKalb County.
In 1935 State Park No. 5 was built
on the top of Lookout Mountain, just below River Park (now known as DeSoto Falls). The
development of this park was a particular project of the CCC. The CCC taught valuable
skills to the young men of Alabama and provided America with trained, skilled labor when
they left the CCC.
State Park No. 5 is now known as
DeSoto State Park. In 1935 the park was 950 acres of which some land was donated by
citizens of Mentone and Fort Payne. DeSoto Park surrounded what was then known as the
Valley Head Airport. Airplanes were available during the dedication of the park. Also in
this area, a golf course was finished; there is no evidence that it was ever opened. You
can still make out the remains of tee number one through the trees in what is now the
Wilderness Camping Area.
Several cabins were built of 6x10
hewn timbers; the ceiling joist and rafters were also hewn. After the cabins were
completed, they were outfitted with a living room, kitchen and dining room combined, one
bedroom and bathroom equipped with hot water. The cabins had electric lights and water.
The cabins were constructed to be rented by vacationers at $2.25 a night or $15.00 a week.
The cabins remain a big attraction of the park today and are still available for rental
through DeSoto State Park.
DeSoto State Park was dedicated on
May 24, 1939 and at the time was the largest State Park. All the hard work and effort of
the CCC is still visible throughout the park today. Many of the original structures are
still standing and used in the park. Located off the white hiking trail is the rock quarry
where many long hours were spent by the CCC removing the large stones for construction of
a variety of facilities and structures. An old star drill, wedged in a rock, still remains
after 60 years. This old tool can be located at the CCC rock quarry on the white hiking
One of the more interesting
projects is an old unfinished bridge. The magnificent bridge was to span across straight
creek and be a part of the original DeSoto Parkway. It is guessed it was never finished
because of the out-break of World War II. The members of the CCC dropped what they were
doing and left to defend our great country. The beautiful rockwork, in the middle of the
deep forest, acts as a monolithic memorial to all their hard work. You can find the
unfinished bridge in DeSoto State Park. Take the paved cabin road passed the Lodge. The
CCC trail is between Chalet 21 and 22. The unfinished bridge is at the end of the trail
approximately 1.75 miles.
A group Lodge was planned and
built in the park (now DeSoto State Park Lodge/Restaurant/Gift Shop). Many local people
speak of Saturday afternoons dancing to music from an old jukebox. In the 1970s
attachments were added to the Lodge and a motel was constructed next to it. Inside the
main lobby you can still see the front center stone with the word "lodge" carved
into it. The back part of the Lodge was turned into the restaurant.
Many of the structures built by
the CCC can be found throughout DeSoto State Park. A Shelter (Pavilion) in the Primitive
Camping area has open fire places on one end, hewn cut wood beams in the ceiling and in
the middle of the stone floor there is a diamond shaped stone with the state of Alabama
carved in to it. The Northeast corner of the state has a small hole depicting DeKalb
County. There is also a well in this area built by the CCC. The structure called The Old
Entrance or Old Contact Station along with a beautiful stone wall is located on the
campground road of the Park. On the floor at the front door of the entrance you will see
DeSoto State Park carved into the concrete. One of the most admirable structures is still
the CCC unfinished bridge located at the end of the CCC trail overlooking Straight Creek.
Close to the Unfinished Bridge is a small Rock quarry where the CCC collected rock for the
bridge. The Quarry is located on the 3rd access road to the left before you get
to the bridge. At the bridge there are piles of large cut rocks that were to be used in
finishing the bridge. On the hillside past the bridge and along the CCC trail are stone
culverts and stone walls. Most of these are well hidden by beautiful trees and bushes but
can be found with a just a little exploring.
In July of 1993, during the annual
CCC reunion, a memorial was dedicated to the members of the CCC. It is located near the
parking lot at the DeSoto State Park Lodge. Though DeSoto State Park is no longer the
largest state park in Alabama, it is one of the most pristine and scenic parks, thanks in
great part to the men of the Civilian Conservation Corps.
These photos show the men of
the CCC and their camp that was located in Fort Payne. More images and history of DeSoto
State Park and the CCC can be found at