Fort Snelling and the Civilian Conservation Corps

In 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt took the top position in the United States from Herbert Hoover and started his long tenure as President. At the time, the country was deep in the depths of the Great Depression. Unemployment was approaching 25% and more than 12 million people were unemployed. Something needed to be done quickly to get the country back to work.

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Thirty-three days after Roosevelt took office, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was born on April 5, 1933, via the Emergency Conservation Work Act, passed by Congress just a week earlier. Men between the ages of 18 and 25 would work on projects including erosion and flood control, forestry, and park improvements. Known as the “tree army”, nearly three million men fanned out across the country, improving parks, managing erosion that ate away at topsoil, and planting nearly three billion trees.

We see their legacy every day in our national parks through the forest management and park buildings they erected. The CCC camps were built and run by military personnel, usually a lieutenant, and workers wore surplus Army uniforms. For both the men and the officers, camp life was good training for the world war that was to come just a few years later. The men learned the discipline of working hard as a team, and officers learned how to set up and run sprawling camps of men focused on a singular purpose.

In Minnesota, there were roughly 150 camps spread throughout the state. In the north woods, they worked on logging and tree planting to create healthy forests. In the southern part of the state, workers primarily worked to control erosion. The men were paid $30 per month, $25 of which went back to their families. In the depths of the Great Depression, that money was most welcome to help pull families out of dire straights. Room and board was covered by the government, so the men had few items to spend their paycheck on.

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At Fort Snelling, a large cement block warehouse was built to store all the material heading to the camps. As the largest Army base in the state, the post became the primary logistics point for the CCC. It supplied the camps with tools, uniforms, and daily necessities. The warehouse, building #223, is still standing. The warehouse is a large, white, nondescript building in the middle of the Upper Post campus. Currently, the Veterans Administration uses it for storage, but before that it had been used as a fire station for the area. It’s not the sexiest building on the post, but it packs a lot of history into its space!

Here are a few photos of the warehouse and the camps it helped supply. We all owe tribute to the men, women, and bones of this building for helping to pull our nation out of one of the worst crisis this country has ever seen.



About the author:

Todd Adler got involved in Fort Snelling preservation when he became a WWII living historian and saw the deteriorating buildings around the post.  That lead to a board position with the Friends of Fort Snelling and an avid hobby researching the post with an eye towards documenting its history and preserving its legacy.  When he’s not preparing for the fort’s 200th anniversary in 2020, Todd puts on displays for the public to show them what life was like during the world wars.