POE VALLEY – In 1933 the United States was in economic shambles, and within his first 100 days in office, President Franklin D. Roosevelt set out to turn the tide with his “New Deal” legislation.
Part of that historic legislation established the Civilian Conservation Corps, which was designed to put people back to work by restoring the nation’s forests and building infrastructure throughout the country.
In June 1933, the CCC opened a camp in Poe Valley with its first batch of young men from Fort Howard, Maryland.
The senior foreman, Sumner Frankenburger, oversaw the daily operation of the camp, and now his grandson strives to promote the history of Poe Valley, along with the other CCC camps.
Bill Marcum can still remember his grandfather telling stories about his CCC days, and when he passed away, Marcum inherited much of the photographic history and documentation his grandfather collected over the years.
Marcum has added to the collection, including memorabilia from the another camp where his grandfather worked, located at Parker Dam.
“It was a big part of his life,” Marcum said.
There were nearly 160 people living and working at the camp, Marcum said. Workers signed up for six months, and could get extensions.
At the time the camp opened, natural resources in Pennsylvania, specifically the forests, were in bad shape from decades upon decades of unchecked logging.
“The country mowed down trees by the millions,” Marcum said. When the CCC camps opened up it was a case of good timing because “Their mission was to save our forests.”
Marcum said the workers “lived a military life, but they carried a shovel instead of a rifle.”
Lewistown played an important role for the camp. Besides supplying the workers with food and other supplies, it also served as a rest and relaxation town.
“They had their weekends off and a truck would haul them off to town to go to the movies or a pool hall,” Marcum said.
The workers were between the ages of 17 and 25. Some would later get married and stay in the area.
Marcum said he has love letters sent between a man who worked at the Poe Valley camp and a woman in Lewistown, who eventually married. He also has the engagement announcement for “Tate and Miller,” which was printed in The Sentinel.
“The camp had its own letterhead and envelopes … the camp also had a newsletter they published monthly,” Marcum said.
There were also some famous people who worked at the camp at one time or another, including Martin Filchock who was the creator of the popular “Check and Double Check” game in the children’s magazine “Highlights.” Filchock also illustrated several comic books in his lifetime.
Marcum said Filchock lived to be 100 years old and set a Guinness World Record for longest running cartoon.
By April 1941, the camp had disbanded, and most of the other CCC camps did as well.
“The economy had strengthened and the funding dried up for the camps,” Marcum said.
In 2006 the park underwent a massive multi-million dollar renovation project, which was completed in 2010. The new main building overlooking the lake has a changing area, concession stand, boat rental and flush toilets, replacing the old pit latrines. There is also a new playground for kids as well as some docks. Across the lake, on the opposite side of the beach area, is a reconstructed boat launch area.
The biggest part of the park renovations occurred in 2009 when much needed upgrades to the earthen dam were completed. The dam was built in the 1930s by the CCC workers, and since that time not much had been done to reinforce the dam. To repair it, the 25-acre Poe Lake had to be completely drained, the old control tower was removed and work crews reinforced the dam with concrete.
Beyond the dam there are several new campsites, including 27 with electricity, and a new bath and shower house in the camping area. There are also several cottages.