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The Civilian Conservation Corps and Its Impact on Delaware

ccc header against forest backdrop

A New Era: The Inception of the Civilian Conservation Corps

The Great Depression of the 1930s paralyzed the United States with unmatched unemployment and economic stagnation. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, inaugurated in 1933, identified an urgent need to get people back into the workforce. His response was the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a centerpiece of his New Deal legislation. This bold move would harness the energy of thousands of unemployed and underprivileged young men, putting them to work on essential conservation projects.

“The young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps earned more than a day’s wage for a day’s work. They earned self-respect and a sense of purpose. They also earned a very special place in the history of Delaware and the nation.”

The CCC’s Nationwide Impact

Between 1933 and 1942, the CCC put to work hundreds of thousands of young men aged 18 to 25. They found employment across the nation, from fighting forest fires in Oregon and building the Appalachian Trail, to planting trees in Virginia and draining swamps in Delaware.

Widening ditches at Slaughter Beach, October 1936
Widening ditches at Slaughter Beach, October 1936

The CCC’s Influence on Delaware

Remarkably, as many as 7,000 Delawareans were employed by the CCC nationwide. Despite being the “First State,” Delaware was the last to establish CCC camps. The purchase of Redden State Park paved the way for the CCC in the state. Camps sprung up in locations including Lewes, Magnolia, Leipsic, Georgetown, Slaughter Beach, Frederica, and Wyoming, with the CCC ultimately employing over 5,000 men in Delaware.

Delaware’s CCC men made a significant impact. They:

  • Planted 274,000 trees
  • Improved 692 acres of forest
  • Treated 52,874 acres of land for mosquitoes

In just two years (1936-1937), Delaware benefited from the construction of two-vehicle bridges, the laying of 1,183 feet of sewer lines, 33 acres of field planting, and 7,234 man-days of mosquito control.

A Lifelong Legacy: Jack Lewis and the CCC

The CCC not only revived the economy and the environment; it also created lasting bonds and fostered individual growth. A striking example was the artist Jack Lewis. In 1935, Lewis joined the CCC and was stationed in Delaware, where he painted scenes from the daily activities of three Delaware CCC camps involved in mosquito control. This connection sparked a lifelong love affair with Delaware, leading Lewis to settle permanently in the state in the 1950s. His illustrious career was marked by awards including the Governor’s Award of Arts in 1981 and the Order of the First State in 2010.

Jack Lewis 1936 watercolor of CCC workers at Slaughter Beach.
Jack Lewis 1936 watercolor of CCC workers at Slaughter Beach.

The End of an Era: The CCC’s Lasting Impact

The onset of World War II in 1942 marked the end of the CCC. However, the program left a profound impact across America. The CCC’s nationwide efforts breathed new life into the economy, the environment, and the spirits of the thousands of young men who served. The Corps’ legacy lives on, a testament to the transformative power of united effort in the face of unprecedented adversity.

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