History of Poe Valley, CCC camps explored
POE VALLEY — Legacy Day once again will take place 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. on July 15 at Poe Valley State Park. Legacy Day is an opportunity for the community to learn more about the birth of Poe Valley and Poe Lake, and about Civilian Conservation Corps Company 1333 camp S-63.
The Centre County Historical Society has partnered with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and Bill Marcum, research authority of the Poe Valley CCC camp, to put on the annual day.
“Our focus is just to provide the story of the camps and how it operated, who these young men were, where they were from, what they did in the camps–particularly Poe Valley–and their life in the camp,” Marcum said.
It’s a day full of history in the forms of a PowerPoint, stories and pictures courtesy of Marcum.
His grandfather was one of the original senior foremen of the CCC camp at Poe Valley. He left behind many drawings and maps, which sparked Marcum’s interest. He’s done lots of research and has talked to people who were part of the camp to gain more knowledge.
The CCC camps were created in 1933 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of his effort to bring the United States out of the Great Depression. Its main purpose was to “to get the people out of bread lines and into sustainable work,” according to the PA DCNR’s website. The website says that “Pennsylvania had the second highest number of camps, 151, to California.” The camps ended on June 30, 1942.
A total of 194,500 Pennsylvania citizens served in the CCC nationwide. The value of their work is estimated at $8 billion.
The first to enroll were unmarried men, ages 18-25. They typically arrived hungry and poorly dressed. They were given uniforms and fed three meals a day. Marcum said that they were paid only a dollar per day, but were also given clothes, transportation, food and shelter.
“It’s just like being in the army. Except you don’t carry a rifle, you carry a shovel,” Marcum said.
These men worked at Company 1333 to build the dam to create Poe Lake, which was a two year project.
“They built roads, rails, did forest management work, they eradicated unwanted vegetation, they did forest timber survey work,” Marcum said.
In their off hours, a lot of the men spent time in Lewistown and Millheim. After their time in the camp, Marcum said that many of the men settled in Lewistown.
They worked during the weekdays, and were on their own and could do whatever they wanted in the evenings and weekends. Marcum noted that it was hard for the guys to really do anything though, because they didn’t have any money.
“It was an extremely, extremely tough [and] difficult economic time in America,” Marcum said.
“There were two towns that the guys would hang out in. One was Millheim at the north side of the camp, and the other was Lewistown, at the south side,” he said.
Some found love in Lewistown. Marcum has a love letter from Lester W. Tate, sent to Alberta Miller, of Lewistown. The note was written in June 1934, when stamps were only 3 cents. His note was written on the Poe Valley CCC Camp stationary, which today Marcum says is extremely rare. The couple later got married in Hagerstown, Maryland. Marcum has saved their wedding announcement from The Sentinel.
This is the fifth year of Legacy Day. In 2017, about 200 people attended. Marcum encourages people to go and learn about the history of Poe Valley and CCC Camps. He said he plans to take a break after this year, so now is the time to go.
“I think I’m gonna take a break after this year for a few years,” Marcum said. “While Legacy Day is near and dear to me, I’m reaching a point where I’m just repeating myself … I don’t have a whole lot new to offer.”
Another special aspect of this year is that it is the 85th year since the start of the CCC camps.
Marcum said that while the men who worked at Camp S-63 have passed away, their extended family members could still be around. He hopes that anyone with knowledge on or with family members who were in Camp S-63 will attend Legacy Day and share their stories.