The Cortez CCC Camp: Chestnut Street in 1940, Part 2

Thursday, March 9, 2017 6:14 PM
Overview of the Cortez Civilian Conservation Corps Camp.

Some of the history of the local Civilian Conservation Corps has been preserved in photographs of the camp and the men who lived there.

From a photo taken Sept. 13, 1940, we know that the company commander from the Army was Wilber Rester and that the project superintendant from the SCS was D.W. Smith. We also have the names and photos of all the enrollees who were there that day. They are photographed lined up in their uniforms, and many of the names listed with the photo are still found in Cortez and Montezuma County. They were receiving $30 a month, of which $22 to $25 was sent home. They were also fed, given clothing and medical attention and had barracks.

Other photos document the camp, but they don’t identify what each of the buildings was used for. We do know that the camp included quarters for officers and technical staff; offices for administrative and technical staff; a medical dispensary; a recreation hall; an education building; four barracks and a lavatory; a tool room and blacksmith shop; and garages.

By early April 1940, a headline in the Montezuma Valley Journal read, “Many accomplishments to credit of CCCs in short time.” The article described what had been done in the eight months since camp establishment. Agreements with private landowners to do conservation work were in place for 13,417 acres. Work could also be done on 264,400 acres of federal land. Cortez streets had been upgraded with 943 cubic yards of crushed rock. In rural areas, 4,300 cubic yards of dykes had been constructed; 700 log and rock check dams were built; 26,000 linear feet of water spreaders were constructed; 200 miles of contour furrows had been plowed in; 37,000 trees had been planted; and two cattle guards and two stock tanks had been built.

Over the next several years, articles provide information on progress the camp enrollees were making, while other articles tell different stories. In November 1940, the newspaper reported that the county sheriff had investigated four camp enrollees for the theft of tools, clothing, blankets and a car battery. The investigation discovered that the loot was stashed in an enrollee’s car, which had been hidden in a garage away from the camp. The Journal does not follow up on how the CCC or the civilian justice system dealt with the suspects.

As the potential for involvement by the U.S. in World War II developed, CCCs faced a change in direction. Military officers left the camps for the Army. Conservation work continued, but vocational classes were introduced. Some of these were intended to increase the young men’s skills if they were drafted into the military. This was reported in the Journal in November 1940 as part of an article on the expansion of vocational classes at the camp. In March 1941, the Journal carried an invitation to the local pubic from Camp Superintendent D.W. Smith for a two-day open house that would feature the camp’s vocational programs. Smith apparently expected a good turnout for the event because he reported that the open house in the previous year had attracted 500 visitors.

The Civilian Conservation Corps ended shortly after the U.S. entered the war. There isn’t much information concerning the fate of the Cortez Camp. In some places, camps continued in use to house conscientious objectors or prisoners of war. No information is available that points to those kinds of continued use in Cortez, but a closer inspection in the Carpenter Natural Area east of Market Street can turn up bits and pieces of the camp. These are chunks of concrete walkways, foundations and the base of the camp flagpole. All this has been pushed aside to make way for more modern Cortez.

If anyone has additional information about the camp, the Montezuma County Historical Society would be glad to receive it. We can be contacted at 970-565-3862.

Presented by the Montezuma County Historical Society