- The Washington Times - Monday, September 6, 2004

FREDERICK, Md. — The forest fire that brought love into Joseph J. Davis’ life still burns brightly in his memory nearly 70 years later.

He was a Civilian Conservation Corps forester at a camp near Frederick. Viola Rice was the redheaded nurse who treated his co-workers’ blistered hands after a fierce blaze on a Catoctin Mountain ridge.

When a co-worker’s bandages needed changing, Mr. Davis took him back to Miss Rice, who asked Mr. Davis whether there were any complications with the wounds.

“I said, ‘No, there’s a complication with me. Would you like to have dinner with me?’” Mr. Davis recalled.

For the first four years of their marriage, Mr. Davis worked for the CCC, a Depression-era jobs program created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. From 1933 to 1942, the corps employed more than 3 million young men who planted trees, built roads, blazed trails, improved beaches and constructed distinctive lodges and shelters on public lands nationwide.

The work done by Mr. Davis’ crews at Gambrill and New Germany state parks outlasted his wife, who died years ago. It is likely to survive him, too.

“I’m 92 years of age, and my memories of the CCCs are still vivid,” the Frederick resident said. “It was such a wonderful program.”

On Saturday, Mr. Davis and other surviving CCC members who left their mark on Maryland will be honored at a campfire in Gambrill State Park, just west of Frederick. Coordinator Eric Creter, a park ranger, said the gathering is part of a project to collect and preserve their stories.

“The generation of folks that were involved in the corps are reaching their elder years,” he said. “It’s good to capture that part of history while we can still get it.”

He said the CCC developed many state parks, including Gambrill, established in 1934. At High Knob, a 1,500-foot peak inside the park, the CCC built three scenic overlooks, three nearby picnic pavilions and the Tea Room, an L-shaped building with an outdoor balcony that is booked for private parties every weekend from April through October.

The architecture, known as American Rustic, is consistent with CCC projects from Vermont’s Winooski River Valley to Yosemite National Park in California. The structures are made of local stone and wood. Buildings are framed with logs or rough-hewn timber, their exposed beams and rafters stained a deep brown.

Many such buildings still stand, looking much as they did before World War II.

“It’s kind of like a little time capsule,” Mr. Creter said during a tour of the Gambrill structures.

But the nearby camp that housed the workers is virtually gone. Stone pillars on either side of Mountaindale Road mark the entrance to what once was CCC Camp S-57, but the mess hall and four barracks are gone.

Bits of their concrete foundations surround a three-tier stone fountain, now dry and overgrown with poison ivy. A cinder-block equipment shed stands on part of the site, which now is owned by the city of Frederick, just below Fishing Creek Reservoir.

Across the road is the only camp building still standing, a lodge that housed the 11-member supervisory staff. It included Mr. Davis, who had graduated recently from Cornell University. The staff was overseen by the Army.

“We had a commanding officer, a junior officer, a full cook crew — and, of course, those early cooks were lousy cooks,” Mr. Davis said. “We had a rec hall that showed movies once a week.”

The camp’s 40 to 50 enrollees, as the workers were called, were paid $30 a month, with $25 mailed directly to their families, Mr. Davis said. They spent the remaining $5 at the camp store or on trips to Frederick, about six miles away.

“It wouldn’t be much today but, by God, it took care of them,” Mr. Davis said.

Enrollees who hadn’t graduated from high school could earn diplomas, Mr. Davis said.

Maryland had at least 54 CCC camps, according to the National Association of Civilian Conservation Corps Alumni in St. Louis.

Donna Broome, an associate archivist, said the association has about 4,000 members who served in the corps, but their numbers are declining quickly. Most are in their 80s, she said.

After the CCC was disbanded in 1942, Mr. Davis went on to a management career with the Boy Scouts of America. Many former enrollees went to war.

“What the CCC did is prepare them for World War II,” Miss Broome said. “They would take these boys and help them as far as becoming leaders because they already had a certain amount of regimentation and discipline.”

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