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Friday, September 22, 2017

The CCC Comes to Spotsylvania

Camp MP-3, Chancellorsville (National Park Service)

     When Franklin Roosevelt became President in March 1933, the United States was in a bad way. The Great Depression was by then in its fourth year--hundreds of banks had failed, farms across the country had been foreclosed, unemployment remained at staggering levels and millions of Americans were receiving some sort of public assistance. The new administration felt a great sense of urgency to implement a series of programs to provide work and help alleviate the suffering and despair of the people.
     One such program, the Civilian Conservation Corps, was considered by many to be the most successful of these government initiatives. During its nine-year life, 1933-1942, the CCC provided employment to 3,000,000 Americans (including 200,000 black Americans who served in segregated companies commanded by whites). During the CCC years, "enrollees planted nearly 3 billion trees to help reforest America, constructed trails, roads, bridges, lodges and related facilities in more than 800 national parks and also upgraded state parks, updated forest fighting methods and built a network of service buildings and roadways in remote areas" (Wikipedia).
     The emergency Conservation Work Act was submitted to Congress by the new administration on March 21, 1933 and was enacted into law by voice vote on March 31. In conformance with the new law, President Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corps on April 5 by Executive Order 6101.
     The CCC was managed by four cabinet-level departments: Labor, which recruited the enrollees; War, which operated the camps; and Agriculture and Interior, which organized and supervised the work projects. CCC enrollees were young men, age 18-25 (later expanded to include 17-28 year olds), who were unemployed, unmarried and whose families were frequently on relief. Enrollees signed up for six month enlistments. They worked six days a week and were paid $30 dollars per month, $22-$25 of which was sent to their families. These young men were organized into companies of up to 200 individuals, and one company would be assigned to each camp. Depending on the length of an ongoing project, several companies could be rotated into the camp until the work was done.
     A military commander from the Army Reserves supervised the activities of the enrollees in the camps. The park superintendents coordinated all the work projects, and the camp superintendents organized the daily work regimen. The enrollees received educational and religious instruction, and each camp maintained a small library.
     Three CCC camps were set up in Spotsylvania at the newly established national military parks: MP-1 at the Spotsylvania Court House battlefield; MP-3 at Chancellorsville (which also serviced Fredericksburg); and MP-4 at the Wilderness. "They cleared the vistas, built the trails, built the bridges, landscaped the road sides, applied seed and sod to eroded earthworks and trenches, built picnic areas and reconstructed a missing section of the famous stone wall at Fredericksburg" (Eric Mink, Civilian Conservation Corps at Chancellorsville).
     The local CCC camps published monthly newsletters for the benefit of the enrollees. These were "Out of the Wilderness," "The Battlefield News" and "The Blowout." The surviving editions of these news letters can be found online at Virginia Chronicle. For a flavor of what these publications were like, here are a few pages from the June 1939 edition of "The Battlefield News:"

(Virginia Chronicle)

(Virginia Chronicle)

(Virginia Chronicle)

(Virginia Chronicle)

(Virginia Chronicle)

     Eric Mink, historian with the National Park Service, shared with me several documents relating to the local CCC. This is a schedule of classes held at the Chancellorsville camp:

Camp MP-3, June 7, 1939 (National Park Service)
     These three documents list the salaried employees of the local CCC camps and their pay rates (once the CCC completed its work at Chancellorsville, its designation changed from MP-3 to NP-11):

Camp MP-1, August 23, 1934 (National Park Service)

Camp MP-3, November 20, 1936 (National Park Service)

Camp NP-11, May 6, 1941 (National Park Service)

     I have been able to put together a little information about several of the men listed in these papers. Here is some background on these salaried employees of the CCC:

William Key Howard (Ancestry)
     William Key Howard (1904-1981) was the camp superintendent, and later park superintendent, at Chancellorsville. William was a descendant of Francis Scott Key, and a brother-in-law of Spotsylvania clerk of court, Cary Crismond. His grandfather (1829-1899), for whom he was named, was born in Baltimore and served in the 1st Maryland Infantry (Confederate) until it was disbanded. He then joined the 4th Virginia Cavalry. He was captured in 1864 and spent the rest of the war in federal prison. After the Civil War, the elder William Key Howard bought Kenmore, and his family lived there for many years. The grandmother of the park superintendent was Clara Haxall Randolph (1831-1913). During the Civil War, she served as a Confederate spy who smuggled arms, letters and medicines from Maryland into Virginia. She was also captured in 1864 and spent the rest of the war in federal custody.
     Superintendent Howard's uncle, William Key Howard, Jr., spent a year repairing the artistic plaster ceiling at Kenmore damaged during the Battle of Fredericksburg. A video about his work at Kenmore is well worth your time and can be viewed at Saving Kenmore's Ceilings.

Alphonzo Apperson (Vickie Neely)

     Alphonzo Apperson (1875-1960) of Orange County served as a foreman both at the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House camps (the foremen managed work crews of 40-50 men). He was a nephew of Dr. John Samuel Apperson, about whom I recently wrote.

John Henry Apperson with his father, Eli (Vickie Neely)

     Alphonzo's brother, John Henry Apperson (1885-1964), was a blacksmith by trade. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, John and his brother, Bernard, undertook many blacksmithing jobs in the region utilizing their portable smithy, shown here:

John Apperson and his portable blacksmith shop (Vickie Neely)

     John was selected for the salaried job as blacksmith upon the CCC's arrival in Spotsylvania. He first worked at the camp at Spotsylvania Court House, and later at Chancellorsville. Among his duties were maintaining the tools used by the enrollees and fabricating hardware for the signs in the new military parks. He also held classes in blacksmithing.

John Henry Apperson at his forge (Vickie Neely)

     John routinely brought CCC enrollees to his home near Parker in western Spotsylvania County so that they could enjoy a home-cooked meal. Among these young men befriended by John was Charles Dixon Pierro (1908-1982), a self-described commercial artist. Originally from Ohio, Charles came to Fredericksburg as a young man and remained in the area for the rest of his life. At some point during his friendship with John Henry Apperson, Charles helped himself to one of the signs in the camp and painted on it the scene above showing John at work in his shop. Charles Dixon Pierro evidently led a colorful life. On his World War II draft registration card, he listed his distinguishing marks as "Left arm tattooed--Bullet hole through chest."

Florence Apperson and George Elliott May (Vickie Neely)

     Another CCC visitor to the Apperson home was George Elliott May (1909-1980), a welder and mechanic from Norfolk. George was the salaried mechanic for the camps. George and John Henry Apperson's daughter, Florence, took a liking to each other and got married. The photograph below, showing George May's work space, appears in John Cummings' book, Images of America: Spotsylvania County. The caption reads: "This photograph shows the interior of the vehicle maintenance garage. Senior project superintendent William K. Howard reported, 'Mechanic May is kept continuously busy on repairs of trucks of the three camps, being assisted by Mechanic Beasley from Camp MP-4.'"

Vehicle maintenance garage, 1935 (National Park Service)

     There were two other salaried foremen from Spotsylvania that I would like to mention here. George Day Stephens, Sr., was a grandson of Reverend Melzi Sanford Chancellor. Frederick Lee Parker (1895-1980) was a son of Frank and Wilhelmina Parker, who owned the general store (and one-time stop on the Potomac, Fredericksburg & Piedmont Railroad) on Brock Road where Wilhelmina served as postmistress 1895-1940.

George Day Stephens, Sr.

Fred Parker (Donald Colvin)

Camp P-69 (National Park Service)

     A fourth camp, P-69--known as Camp MacArthur--was set up on property rented from the Payne family. On the map above, Camp Malcom MacArthur can be seen at the bottom of the image on Catharpin Road near its intersection with Stewart Road. Frank Payne's store can be seen at right, at Catharpin and Piney Branch roads. Unlike the other CCC camps in Spotsylvania, Camp MacArthur was not involved in the work at the nearby military parks. As stated in John Cummings's book, "The P-69 camp concentrated its energies on the surrounding rural needs such as fire lanes and trails...The Commonwealth of Virginia administered P-69."

Frank Payne (Donald Colvin)

Freemond Payne (Donald Colvin)

Amanda Kennedy Payne and Lottie Kent Payne (Donald Colvin)

     Thomas Pearson Payne (1852-1934) once owned much of the land on Catharpin Road between Piney Branch and Stewart roads. By the time the CCC established Camp MacArthur, Thomas' sons Freemond and Frank were living on the north side of Catharpin near Stewart. Both Freemond and Frank farmed their property, and Frank also operated a saw mill business.

Camp MacArthur (Donald Colvin)


     In the photograph above, Camp MacArthur stands along the north side of Catharpin Road. In the right foreground is the drive that led to Frank and Lottie Payne's property. Just beyond the tents, out of view of the camera, is the home where Freemond and Amanda Payne lived with their children.

House of Freemond and Amanda Payne (Donald Colvin)

     Also not seen in the camp picture above, just before the drive leading to Frank and Lottie's house, was what would become Sonny Davis' Garage, which began as the motor pool for the camp. A mess hall, built to serve the enrollees, can be seen in the two pictures below. The bicyclists in the second photo are Freemond and Amanda's son, Carey, and CCC worker, Charlie Rogers.

Camp MacArthur mess hall under construction (Donald Colvin)

Carey Payne and Charlie Rogers at mess hall (Donald Colvin)

     Below are images of an unidentified officer beside a truck, and a group of CCC workers in front of one of the tents.

(Donald Colvin)

(Donald Colvin)

     According to Eric's Mink article on the CCC at Chancellorsville, Camp P-69 was staffed in June 1934 by Company 1363, which had spent the previous month at MP-3. This company was comprised of 207 veterans of the First World War. Company 1363 apparently spent a short time at Camp MacArthur before being rotated back to Chancellorsville. I do not know which companies may have stayed at Camp MacArthur before or after Company 1363.
     After the CCC left, Frank Payne made use of the camp's boiler at his saw mill. The mess hall was used by the Payne brothers to host dances. Lottie and Amanda used to prepare food that was sold at these get-togethers. A third Payne brother, Ashby, played fiddle and called tunes at these dances.

Ashby Payne

     I am told that the posts along Catharpin Road where the tents had been pitched remained in place for decades after the CCC era, and that as late as the 1950s locals would use them to hitch their horses. In the years after the camp picture was taken, three houses were built where the tents once stood, namely, those of Joe and Margaret Harding, Elton and Lucille Jones, and Embrey and Isadora Payne.

My thanks to Vickie Neely, Donald Colvin, Eric Mink and John Cummings for their assistance.


- John Cummings, Images of America: Spotsylvania County. Arcadia Publishing, Charleston: SC, 2011.

-Eric Mink:
     Civilian Conservation Corps at Chancellorsville
     A Camp in the Wilderness: Civilian Conservation Corps Camp MP-4

- National Park Service: The National Park Service Camps

- Wikipedia: Civilian Conservation Corps



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