Drawing on more than thirty years of meticulous research, Kay Rippelmeyer details the Depression-era history of the simultaneous creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois. Through the stories of the men who worked in CCC camps devoted to soil and forest conservation projects, she offers a fascinating look into an era of utmost significance to the identity, citizens, wildlife, and natural landscape of the region.
Rippelmeyer outlines the geologic and geographic history of southern Illinois, from Native American uses of the land to the timber industry’s decimation of the forest by the 1920s. Detailing both the economic hardships and agricultural land abuse plaguing the region during the Depression, she reveals how the creation of the CCC under Franklin Delano Roosevelt coincided with the regional campaign for a national forest and how locals first became aware of and involved with the program.
Rippelmeyer mined CCC camp records from the National Archives, newspaper accounts and other correspondence and conducted dozens of oral interviews with workers and their families to re-create life in the camps. An extensive camp compendium augments the volume, featuring numerous photographs, camp locations and dates of operation, work history, and company rosters. Satisfying public curiosity and the need for factual information about the camps in southern Illinois, this is an essential contribution to regional history and a window to the national impact of the CCC.