South Mountain Reservation was a 2200 acre
woodland oasis for many of the residents of the City. Many of its
visitors were unaware of the numerous amenities that were added
in the late 1930's by the Civilian Conservation Corps. I believe
the wooden structure at Washington's Lookout (the place where Washington
observed the Battle of Springfield) was one of their gifts. I visited
it many times in my youth. Like most unsupervised public buildings
it had its share of graffiti. The one that always caught my eye
was one written on the ceiling in chalk. The name was James Halsey
and the year was 1938. Was he one of the Corps who built it? In
the early 1960's I would bring my two older daughters up to the
Lookout. One day for their benefit I climbed like a monkey up to
the top of 12' ceiling. Right next to James Halsey's (and two hundred
others) I added in chalk their names and the date.
The hiking trails were the best. They were all marked because
most us could only relate to street signs and sidewalks. I'm sure
most remember going over the small bridges and other man made conveniences
that made hiking more enjoyable. They were built by the young men
from the C.C.C. (Civilian Conservation Corps). The C.C.C. was started
in the mid 1930's (during the Depression) by F.D.R. It's purpose
was to get young urban men off the streets and give them supervised
work in rural areas. It worked and also kept them out of trouble
most of the time.
With one exception:
Over 30 years ago I had an older maintenance employee share this
story with me. His grandmother was German and his grandfather was
a full blooded Apache. He was a little on the wild side, alcohol
and being poor didn't help. He lived Down Neck at that time. The
C.C.C. seemed to be an escape from the problems associated with
the Depression. They sent him to a very rural area of Maryland.
The Corps was similar to the Army. They wore the same type of clothing
and they all lived and worked together.
The camp that they lived in was close to a farm. Somehow he and
another member of the Corps got involved with the farmer's daughter.
This area was like a part of the Deep South at that time. They were
arrested and went before a local judge.
He said "Charley it was like you would see in the movies.
This tobacco chewing judge heard the case and also determined the
just punishment. The punishment was three lashes across the back
with a whip. Afterwards they carried us back to the camp and we
laid in bed for several days. From that day forward Mae West could
walk into the camp and no one would take their eyes off the ground."