The Civilian Conservation Corps in Washtenaw County

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was (one of) Depression Era America’s great gifts to future generations of Americans. It’s hard to think of anything good coming out of the depression, but the CCC did immeasurable good. This was especially true in Michigan where from 1933 to 1943:

“Michigan enrollees planted 484 million trees-more than twice as many as any other state. They spent 140,000 man-days fighting forest fires, planted 156 million fish and constructed 7,000 miles of truck trails, 504 bridges and 222 buildings. They revitalized the Michigan State Park system, established Isle Royale National Park and built campgrounds in Michigan’s national forests.” from Roosevelt’s Tree Army: Michigan’s Civilian Conservation Corps  by Roger L. Rosentreter

I can’t even wrap my head around the fact that half a billion trees were planted in Michigan in a 10 year span- plus all the other stuff the CCC did. It’s pretty amazing!

The above link also does a great job of explaining in detail all the ins and outs of the CCC, it’s organization and administration. Basically, the camps were modeled along Army lines with groups of young, single men organized into companies working out of the camps. A lot of the camps in Michigan were manned by city dwellers who were having their first taste working in the forests and back country of the State. There was a lot more to this but I want to focus on the question: Were there any CCC Camps in Washtenaw County? Most of the CCC work was done in Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, but did anything happen in our County?

Short Answer: No – BUT there was one 1.75 miles from the county line in Jackson County!

The non-profit “CCC Legacy” maintains a list of CCC Camps by State (Michigan found here). I can’t verify it’s completeness but scrolling through it we find the following:

Project No# NP-4, Company: 3695, Founded: 6/30/1939, Post Office: Waterloo, Location: Waterloo, 8 mi. NE.

So there was a CCC camp near Waterloo west of Chelsea but i’m still not sure where. As described on Page 6 of a Michigan DNR History of Waterloo State Recreation Area (found on Page 6 here). The Camp was established in the context of the U.S. National Park Service receiving approximately 12,000 acres of failed or under performing farmland from the Federal Resettlement Administration and cobbling it into a National Park of sorts. CCC “boys” and Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers provided the labor to make that happen. The “NP” project number for the camp signifies that this was a “National Park” camp.

If you search for “CCC Camp Waterloo, Michigan”in a search engine, you get a bunch of news stories about how once the CCC program was ended in 1943, the Camp became a POW Camp for German-POWs during World War 2 and then was turned over to the State which used it as a prison camp until around 2000 when it was closed and abandoned before being torn down sometime between 2013 and 2015. The news articles mention generally that the camp was located on “Maute Road” which, not being a local doesn’t help me much to identify where it was.

Tracing Maute Road near Waterloo in Google Earth, I think it might be here but want to confirm it. This is a big clearing that in 2013 had a bunch of buildings on it but is now cleared.

Maute Road.png

Luckily, the years the camp was in operation (1939-1943) straddles the 1940 Census so we can use census maps to confirm this. These maps can quickly be searched for here which will link you the National Archives census (enumeration) maps.

Looking at the map for the whole county (here)….we find Camp Waterloo! Just southwest of Waterloo on Maute right where the above image is.

Map 38-73.PNG

It’s even called out as “CCC Camp NP-4 (Waterloo)”! Yes! So there is our answer, we have a location to Camp Waterloo and can confirm that it was generally pretty close to our County.

Even better than just confirming that this Camp actually existed though, the Census Map provides the exact enumeration district code (38-73) for the Camp. We can actually see who was here at the Camp the day the Enumerator came by to count everyone

The results of the 1940 Census are entirely on-line (here) at the National Archives. Knowing our enumeration district code for the camp we can quickly go to the census rolls which are scanned in here. If you have some time, it’s fascinating to go through it and get a sense of who the boys at the camp were.

Here are a few screen shots of what the enumerator recorded when they arrived at the Camp on June 18, 1940 with.

Laborers.PNG

Pretty much everyone counted was a laborer! I love how one of the laborers got cross out and cook written in instead.

Wayne.PNG

This one is hard to see but 9 columns from the left  is the County where the counted lived in 1935 most of these guys came from Wayne County (Detroit and other nearby cities) but there are a few from Cook (Chicago) as well.

Here are some other items I thought interesting:

  • Of all the 80 counted only the two cooks were older than 23 (60 and 43)!
  • Pretty everyone counted was a laborer except for the cooks, a welder, an electrician, a mechanic, a book keeper, a truck driver, a clerk, and one other illegible profession
  • For 10 weeks of work they got $75 or $1,290.28 in 2016 money (CPI calculator)
  • The camp commander and other administrators are not listed on this census. The enumerator showed up in June, so maybe they were counted elsewhere when the census officially was taken in 1 April? I don’t know why the count was in June for these guys. Maybe they were in training or heading out to camp when the census took place?

So this is where Camp Waterloo was. The closest Camp to Washtenaw County. I’m still pulling together information regarding what was accomplished at this camp, how long it was manned every year etc… and want to revisit those as soon as i’m able. It’s pretty cool that the CCC actually did some work here in Southern Michigan!

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