April 13, 1995
Sixty-one years ago this month, in April of 1934, Perry citizens were struggling valiantly to survive the Great Depression. Farm prices, the lifeblood of this community, were perilously low. Clouds of red dust billowing on prairie winds compounded the misery. Savings had vanished, many able-bodied working people could find no jobs. We didn't have apple peddlers on the sidewalk here as they did on Wall Street; but demeaning labor and odd jobs were all that kept some families from going hungry. Authorities at every level of government were scrambling to find ways of salvaging the economic system that had only recently seemed to be an overflowing cornucopia of prosperity.
In the midst of all that came the jubilant announcement on April 27 that Perry had been selected as the site of a Civilian Conservation Corps camp, one of the innovative depression-fighting measures created by the new President, Franklin D. Roosevelt. The news was greeted with glee by Perry Mayor Ted Newton and other civic leaders. It was an economic shot in the arm. Today, our community is the proud owner of CCC Park, built with the labor of young American men who came here from many parts of the country to preserve their dignity and well-being.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated as President on March 4, 1933. Seventeen days later, on March 21, he proposed the creation of a Civilian Conservation Corps to employ young men in work camps. It was one of many innovative ideas offered by FDR during his historic first 100 days in office to put the country back to work and on the road to recovery. Perry community leaders quickly took steps to have one of the camps located here, and their diligent efforts paid off.
A recent column by Paul Harvey noted that the CCC provided work for more than 3 million men from 1933 to 1944 in a program administered by the Army Reserve. They worked for room and board and $30 a month doing useful things, such as reforestation, flood control and road construction. Americans are still enjoying and benefiting from some useful projects which might never have been completed without the CCC.
On April 27, 1934, a headline on the front page of The Perry Daily Journal announced: "CCC Camp Work to Begin May 1." The accompanying story disclosed that Mayor Newton had received a telegram "from the Army at Fort Sill," stating that operations at the CCC camp in Perry definitely would begin on May 1.
The story continued: "Indications were that the several hundred CCC workers who will be sent to Perry for a six-month camp may be housed in tents, although no definite announcement has been made as to this arrangement. Army officials who will have charge of erecting quarters are expected in Perry in the next few days to make arrangements for housing the youths. The city farm tract is to be converted by the CCC workers into a park and recreational center which will be one of the best in this section of the state."
The land known as the Perry city farm was southeast of town on a dusty and badly rutted dirt road. In a small dale nestled at the foot of two low hills was a shallow lake which was set aside as an emergency water reservoir if the need ever occurred. Scrub oak blackjacks dotted the landscape along with red cedars and an assortment of native grasses. A dilapidated shack sometimes used by Perry Boy Scouts on campouts was about the closest thing to an "improvement" on the property. This was the site of our CCC camp and it is now the location of the city's largest recreation area, still officially known as "CCC Park" after all these years. Some people with vision must have selected it. In 1934, few local residents thought the land had any potential for development.
On May 1, 1934, some 200 khaki-clad young men arrived here to set up a quasi-military base at the camp site. It remained their home for more than a year. Although some other communities greeted CCC camp personnel with hostility or indifference, a friendly feeling developed between Perry residents and the CCC workers right from the start. That local cordiality probably was extended because the presence here of those young men seemed to symbolize the resolve of this country to cure itself of a terrible malaise.
Some of our own Perry people joined the CCC upon arrival of the camp in Perry. Among them was Raymond Lawrence Edgar, son of Clarence and Tillie Edgar and the older brother of Lucille Foster. Mrs. Foster believes another young Perryan, A. C. Marshall, also enrolled in the CCC here. Lawrence went with the detachment when they were moved to Ponca City after closing the Perry camp, and there he met his future bride, the former Iola Swearingen of Morrison.
The story of Perry's CCC camp gives us an insight into a unique chapter of the history of this city and even that of the U.S. More details about this depression-era phenomenon will be forthcoming in a few days. Please stay tuned.