One of the area’s most popular hiking trails, the Fiery Gizzard in the South Cumberland State Park (SCSP), might not have been possible without the work of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).
Founded in 1933, the CCC was established in the heart of the Great Depression as a public works relief program to provide jobs for unemployed, unmarried men between the ages of 18 and 25. Company 1475 in Grundy County employed 200 workers who were responsible for constructing a portion of the trail.
For five years, the workers lived, camped and worked on 200 acres of land in the Grundy Forest. In 1938, with its work done, Company 1475 moved on – the buildings on the campground site lost to history.
Now, the Friends of the South Cumberland (FSC) and SCSP rangers, through a grant from the South Cumberland Community Fund, have restored the CCC campground, added signage and an outdoor classroom, and opened the Civilian Conservation Camp Interpretive Area. The campground will be dedicated on Friday, April 12, and will be open throughout the weekend during the annual Trails and Trilliums fundraiser.
Visitors will have a chance to tour the camp during a hike, set for 9:15 to 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 13. Rob Moreland, FSC volunteer and principal project researcher, will offer hikers details on the CCC, the campground and the area. Moreland is the 2018 recipient of SCSP Park Manager George Shinn’s Golden Shell Award for outstanding volunteer service to the park.
Company 1475 and Camp Alvin C. York
According to information from the Grundy County Historical society, the CCC’s Camp S-67 site was purchased following a fundraising drive led by Grundy County businessman Herman E. Baggenstoss, who then donated the property to the State of Tennessee.
“Baggenstoss was a strong supporter of the CCC program, so much so that he became Company 1475’s project superintendent for much of its time at Tracy City,” said FSC board member Rick Dreves.
Named “Camp Alvin C. York” in honor of the famous World War I hero from Tennessee, the camp included a number of buildings which stored equipment and supplies, housed, fed, hospitalized and educated the workers of Company 1475 from 1935 until the unit was moved to Franklin State Forest, south of Sewanee, in 1938. A native of Grundy County, Baggenstoss was the son of Swiss settlers who founded the Dutch Maid Bakery in Tracy City in 1903. An alumnus of The University of the South, he also was a founding member of the Tennessee Conservation League and started the magazine now known as “The Tennessee Conservationist.” Baggenstoss and his wife, Mary Elizabeth, later purchased the Grundy County Herald, which they published for 20 years.
Baggenstoss received many awards for his work with the National Conservation Resource Society, Soil Conservation Society of America, and U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service – the latter for his role in establishing the U.S. Forest Service research lab at Sewanee.
“With his passion for conservation and the environment, it is not surprising that Baggenstoss was the driving force for the establishment of South Cumberland State Park, which today includes not only the original 211 acres of Grundy Forest, but also much of the Fiery Gizzard basin and Savage Gulf in Grundy County, Sewanee Natural Bridge and Sherwood Forest in Franklin County,” said Dreves. “South Cumberland State Park now protects over 31,000 acres of environmentally-significant land across four counties, and is Tennessee’s largest state park.”
CCC “enrollees” were typically paid $30 per month, with the majority of the funds being sent to family members. In Tennessee, a total of 76,600 enrollees served — 72,600 being residents of the state. On average, there were 45 camps operating in Tennessee during each year of the program.
The CCC members of Tennessee built 98 lookout houses and towers; erected 3,959 miles of forest telephone lines; built 1,469 miles of minor roads; constructed 387,208 check dams for erosion control; planted 36,091,000 trees for erosion control, 26,939,900 for reforestation, and 554,457 pounds of hardwood seeds; spent 134,811 man-days fighting forest fires and another 122,033 man-days in fire prevention work; and built the first state parks in Tennessee, including Pickett, Reelfoot, Frozen Head, Norris Dam, the Grundy Lakes, Big Ridge, T.O. Fuller, N.B. Forrest, Booker T. Washington, Harrison Bay, Cove Lake, Pickwick Landing and Cumberland Mountain.
Restoring the campsite
According to Dreves, Park Manager Shinn worked with the FSC to formulate a plan to research and document the camp’s history, uncover some of the remaining stone and concrete foundations of buildings at the camp, and develop an interpretive program that would help park visitors better understand the role of CCC Company 1475 in the history of the South Cumberland region.
Seed money was received from the South Cumberland Community Fund in August 2017, but initial work to begin restoration of the site was delayed for several months because the CCC site lay beneath what had become a popular overnight campground in the state park, which was fully booked and in use by campers until late November.
In early December 2017, park managers closed the campsite and restoration work began. For much of 2018, the CCC Project Team, consisting of FSC volunteers and SCSP park rangers, surveyed the site and began peeling back decades of forest floor overgrowth to reveal the foundations of several buildings, according to Dreves.
“The research effort was yielding some intriguing photographs of the camp and its inhabitants, as well as documents relating to the 1933 purchase of the Grundy Forest property,” he said. “Unfortunately, however, very little information was found about the layout of the camp, nor the specific functions of the buildings whose foundations were now emerging from the forest floor.”
The largest foundation uncovered to that point did, however, provide its own clues about its use, according to Dreves. Two large rectangular areas, sloping to a central drain, suggested a shower area and a concrete trench, exiting the back of the building and leading to a series of settling ponds in the woods below, suggested this building was the camp’s bath house and toilet.
Another, much smaller foundation, found near the center of the camp, had a reinforced portion of its floor, also containing a drain, suggesting it was a cooler for food or perishable supplies, where large blocks of ice were placed in the building, perhaps atop the reinforced area of the foundation. Water from the melting ice was then carried out of the building by way of the drain.
Other unique concrete structures were uncovered near the center of the site, some appearing to be troughs, sinks or other basins for collecting or disposing of water or kitchen waste.
“With nearly 200 men living here, one might assume these were kitchen or mess hall appurtenances, related to food service and dining operations,” said Dreves. “Based on some of these finds, researchers now have a pretty good idea where the large dining hall was located.”
FOSC volunteers and park rangers have placed a series of large, illustrated interpretive panels at various locations around the camp to explain the functions of camp structures such as at the bath house, ice house, fire tower foundation and camp laundry.
Trails and Trilliums
In addition to rededication of the CCC campsite, the annual FSC fundraiser, set for April 12-14, will offer three days of guided hikes, a plant sale, seminars, entertainment and children’s programs. To learn more, for directions or to register, visit www.trailsandtrilliums.org.