Statue dedication at Pickett State Park
Submitted by: Wm. K. Robbins, Executive Director, Byrdstown- Pickett County Chamber of Commerce
On September 20, the Pickett CCC Memorial State Park commemorated the 75th anniversary of Tennessee State Parks and as a part of this celebration a memorial statue of the CCC worker was dedicated to commemorate their service to their county and to remind us of the legacy and benefit they created for us to enjoy for generations to come.
The history of park begins long before it was first opened in 1949. Around 1910 the Stearns Coal and Lumber Company based out of Michigan purchased several thousand acres in Pickett and Fentress Counties and began logging and harvesting timbers and continued used this land until it was no longer feasible. In 1933 when the Stearns Coal and Lumber approached the State of Tennessee on an idea they had to donate this land to the State. Dec. 13th of that year Tennessee Governor Hill McAllister declared the land a state forest. The land placed under the control of the state forester James Hazard in the Tennessee Department of Agriculture who administered this land until 1937.
The Stearns Coal and Lumber Company were not completely altruistic in this donation of land. They also had ulterior motives. With this land becoming part of the state forest system; the state would then need to construct fire towers to keep watch for wildfires erupting that has the potential, if allowed to burn out of control, to endanger lives, destroy property and livestock on the surrounding area. These towers would also keep a watchful eye over the other land holding of Stearns Company adjacent to the properties donated.
During the time leading up to these step being taken the Great Depression has raced like a wildfire through the economy on a global scale. Back in 1921 a national conference for the establishment of state park identified Tennessee as one of 28 states with no state parks. In 1925, the state established a state parks and forestry commission to investigate the possibility.
By 1932 with the Great Depression, unemployment had reached 23.6%, and it peaked in early 1933 at 25%. With the economic collapse and unemployment at levels beyond comprehension, the federal government started promoting land use planning and that support within the state came together to acquire land, establish and construct state parks.
Federal funding including programs created as part of the New Deal work programs; provide the means to get the labor and resource to complete the work. The James Hazard and the Stearns Lumber & Coal management recognized the areas recreation potential and began the effort to coordinate and get resources lined up taking advantage the programs available.
The Civilian Conservation Corp was started in 1933 to help relieve the rampant unemployment among the young men by bring them out of the cities and into rural areas for six month assignments originally to qualify and be apart of the program they had to be unemployed, unmarried men from relief families, ages 17–23. They were paid $30 per month and they had to send $25 of their monthly pay back to their families. The reserve officers from the U.S. Army who were in charge of the individual camps with General Douglas MacArthur placed in charge of the overall program oversaw the CCC.
In 1933 Civilian Conservation Camp #1471 was organized at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia before being deployed to Putnam County and then moved to Pickett County in 1934 There, they constructed a dam and a 12-acre lake, 22 miles of roads, telephone lines, trails, a lodge, picnic areas, cabins, and other facilities for the new Pickett Forest State Park (the area was also known as Pickett Forest Recreation Area). The National Park Service provided assistance for the design of the buildings and structure using native timber and stone to meld in with the surrounding landscape. In 1937 the land was transferred from the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Conservation and administered by the newly established Division of State Parks.
To understand what the boys of the CCC earned and that $30 in 1933 dollars would be approximately $499.71 in today’s dollars. So the $25 they sent home would have been like receiving $416.42 and the $5 they kept after mailing the money home would have been $83.29 for running around pocket money.
I had the privilege to know some of the men whose working careers started out the CCC include folks like David Hassler. I did not know until that day that I had a great uncle from Wayne County Kentucky that served in the CCC.
I suspect we may all have relatives that served in the CCC that we do not even know about. If you do and they are still alive sit down with them an learn about what it was like and prepare to humbled and to leave having a better understanding why they are referred to as the “greatest” generation.