by Nancy Gadzuk
Scott Len spoke to a large crowd at the January 18, 2016 meeting of the Federal Point Historic Preservation Society on the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942, with a special emphasis on the CCC’s Camp Sapona, located in Southport.
Scott grew up listening to his granddad talk about his days in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in Utah, and these conversations piqued his interest in knowing more. When Scott retired to Southport, he began researching the history of the CCC’s Camp Sapona, which had been built on and around Leonard Street, a stone’s throw from his new home.
The nation was reeling from the weight of the Great Depression when Franklin Roosevelt was elected President. One of his first acts as president was to introduce a bill for Emergency Conservation Work on March 27, 1933. The bill cleared both houses of Congress in four days and FDR signed it into law on March 31. The first enrollees signed up on April 7, and the first Civilian Conservation Corps camp opened on April 17.
Seventeen days after Roosevelt signed the legislation, the first camp opened. Imagine government moving that quickly now! Within three months, the CCC had 275,000 enrollees in 1300 camps.
Young single men between the ages of 18 and 26, who had dependents—parents, siblings, cousins, grandparents—were eligible to join the CCC. They could enroll for six month periods, and could re-enroll for up to a total of eighteen months. The men were given a place to live, a job, clothing, and $30 a month, $25 of which was sent home to family. And food. Food was a big deal for enrollees. Young men gained on average twelve pounds while they were part of the CCC. It was the first time many of them had had three meals a day in a very long time.
Camp Sapona, or Camp P-62, Company 427, operated from October 1934 to December 1937. The first enrollees lived in tents while clearing the surrounding pine woods to build camp buildings. Work then concentrated on building access to forest areas, and the enrollees built roads, bridges, fire breaks, as well as fire towers in Shallotte, Maco, and Bolivia. Wild fires were a big problem in the area and the Sapona enrollees spent 6,102 man-days fighting fires. (CCC kept very good records!)
Enrollees worked eight-hour days, five days a week. In off hours, there were plenty of opportunities for education, training, and recreation. The camp offered classes in literacy, math, carpentry and other vocational skills. Their large motor pool encouraged mechanic skills training. Camp Sapona had a wood shop and a blacksmith shop. Their big rec hall would hold dances open to Southport residents. The local Amuzu Theater provided entertainment for the enrollees.
The camp had organized sports teams and its own newspaper, the Sapona Sandspur. They had a series of canine mascots, including Soapy, considered by the newspaper to be the King Arthur of the Sapona Canine Round Table—“though he is not of royal blood and, so far as can be determined, is of the cur and hound breed.”
It’s not surprising that many enrollees would sign up for a second or even a third six month period, fulfilling the goal of training and rehabilitating young men.
North Carolina had a total of 163 CCC camps, with an average of forty-five operating in any one year, giving employment to more than 75,000 men and channeling more than $82,000,000 into the state.
Over 3,000,000 men served in the CCC throughout the country during its eleven years of operation.
President Roosevelt declared “a government worthy of its name must make a fitting response” to the unemployment of its citizens, and the Civilian Conservation Corps was part of that response. It was the most popular of the New Deal programs.
A government worthy of its name. We would do well today to follow FDR’s lead.
Interested in learning more about family members’ CCC service? The CCC kept excellent personnel records on enrollees. Start here for instructions on requesting these records:
CCC Legacy includes resources to continue CCC research and includes a complete state by state listing of all CCC camps.