In May 1935, Capt. J.M. Bridwell took charge of materials to prepare Denton’s Civilian Conservation Corps camp for the Aug. 15 arrival of 200 corps members. Decorated World War I veteran Capt. F.W. Maxwell would run the camp.
Denton city government provided electricity, sanitary facilities and paid $300 per year to W.W. Wright to lease 16 acres fronting Malone Street and bounded by Crow, Aileen and Linden streets.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s April 5, 1933, executive order established the CCC. The program gave 18- to 25-year-old men environmental conservation jobs to combat the Great Depression’s 25% unemployment rate. Corpsmen, including World War I veterans, received room and board and $30 per month. They sent most of their pay to families. Corps members benefited from nutritious meals, medical care and job skills. An estimated 87,000 men also learned to read during their time in the corps.
Nearly 3 million men, about 5% of the U.S. male population, participated in the CCC under the U.S. Army and the National Park Service between 1933 and 1942. The CCC was best known for building America’s park system. Actors Walter Matthau and Raymond Burr worked in the CCC, as did Chuck Yeager, the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound.
In addition to jobs, the CCC benefited local farmers and businesses. Conservation efforts counteracted the “Dust Bowl.” Repeated huge dust storms resulting from wind erosion after nine years of drought, blistering summers and poor agricultural practices left an estimated 2 million people homeless. No one knows how many infants, children and elderly died of dust pneumonia.
By April 1936, an inspector rated Denton’s CCC facility among the best in the region. A fruit grove, garden and chicken coops supplied fresh food. The camp eventually included volleyball, croquet and softball facilities.
The Denton County Courthouse on the Square was the setting for the camps’ April 1937 fourth anniversary celebration. Leaders reflected on accomplishments, including constructing 81 dams, planting 4,700 trees for erosion control and timber on land unsuitable for crops, and building 115 miles of terraces to protect 3,232 acres of cultivated land. Farmers paid for materials and the corps supplied labor. The CCC created a ripple effect by establishing best agricultural practices for farmers.
The April 1941 eighth anniversary celebration featured a three-hour tour of farms in Pilot Point followed by a banquet at the camp mess hall. According to a statement from Washington, D.C., Soil Conservation chief H.H. Bennett, “The CCC is making history, and as history is written in the future, it will record that in the 1930s and 1940s, the CCC made an invaluable contribution to the conservation of America’s most vital resource — it’s soil.” Denton’s CCC assisted 242 farmers with contour cultivation, terraces and crop rotation, helping each farmer make the best land use.
When World War II loomed, and the economy improved, the program vanished in 1942. Although Denton’s CCC tremendously impacted Denton County farms, the only traces of the camp are fruit trees from the orchard. The CCC was arguably the most successful new deal legislation project.