Trails in the Virginia Kendall Reserve of Cuyahoga Valley National Park are heavily forested today.
But that area, south of Peninsula, had been cleared, farmed and was almost barren of trees in the 1930s. Then the federal Civilian Conservation Corps came to Summit County.
The New Deal program, initiated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, had a huge impact on the Virginia Kendall tract and serves as one of the great successes of the CCC, according to a new book edited by Kent State University history professor Kenneth Bindas.
CCC Company No. 576 — with its 208 workers — built two shelters, eight latrines, a dam, a bathhouse, 17 footbridges, a 40,000-gallon well, a 600-foot toboggan run, a 13-acre lake, a swim beach, 208 tables/benches and a 5-acre campground. The men also moved 15,000 trees, planted 122 acres of trees and built trails.
The 132-page book, The Civilian Conservation Corps and the Construction of the Virginia Kendall Reserve, 1933-1939 (Kent State Press, $19.95), is a spinoff from a 2009 class on Depression history taught by Bindas, chairman of the History Department at KSU.
Seventeen graduate and upper-level history students at Kent State learned how to research and write history from original sources on the CCC in Summit County. They relied on government documents, oral histories and other sources.
Bindas then edited the papers by seven students for the book. Historic photographs are included.
The book was published in cooperation with the National Park Service and Eastern National, a nonprofit group that promotes national parks and publications.
It is the first detailed account of what the CCC accomplished in the Cuyahoga Valley.
Bindas will speak on the new book and the CCC at 7 tonight in a free public program in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The talk will be held in the Happy Days Lodge — at one time a barracks for CCC workers — off state Route 303 in Boston Heights.
A reception and book signing, sponsored by the park and the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the friends-of-the-park group, will follow the talk.
For more information, go to www.nps.gov/cuva.
Bindas said he became curious about the CCC’s role in the 530-acre Virginia Kendall Reserve with its sandstone cliffs after hiking there with his family.
Evidence of the CCC can be found throughout the Cuyahoga Valley. The workers built shelters with timbers cut from dead American chestnut trees they had cleared. They planted more than 60,000 trees. By wheelbarrow, they moved 624 cubic yards of hand-mixed concrete for the Kendall Lake dam. The lake itself was dug by hand.
The Virginia Kendall Reserve had been purchased in 1913 by Cleveland coal magnate Hayward Kendall. He died in 1927 and willed the land to his wife, Agnes. She gave the land to the state in 1929, and the Akron Metropolitan Park District got the land in 1933. It later became part of the national park.
The Kendall Reserve was largely shaped by the vision of Akron parks director Harold Wagner. He wanted to create a natural recreation landscape open to the public. Those in charge believed nature needed to be made more “natural” than its wild state.
Trails were mapped with the idea that “when you turn this bend, you’ll see this,” Bindas said.
The CCC workers not only built the park, but they also built their own skills, Bindas says.
The CCC was aimed at young men 17 to 21 years old. That group had an unemployment rate of about 38 percent during the Great Depression — twice the national average — and little hope for jobs.
They were fed, housed in barracks and camps and paid $30 a month, of which $25 had to be sent home to their families. They were trained in construction and craftsmanship, vocational and literary skills.
Ohio once had 41 CCC camps with 6,600 men. An additional 3,951 Ohio men were sent to out-of-state CCC camps.
Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.