April 15, 1995
Here's more about Perry's CCC Park and the young men who carved it out of a rugged landscape 61 years ago. As reported in this column previously, some 200 khaki-clad men, mostly in their late teens or early 20s, arrived here on May 1, 1934, to start the project in the midst of the Great Depression. They came to Perry from a park camp in Oklahoma City.
The Civilian Conservation Corps was the brainchild of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 as he tackled the country's moribund and stagnant economy. Millions were out of work. The CCC and other alphabetical agencies which followed were created to reduce unemployment, provide laborers with self-esteem and a few dollars, and to give local communities, like Perry, some things of lasting value. Enrollment in the CCC was limited to men from 18 to 25 years of age.
The city of Perry provided the land, formerly called "the city farm," sprawling over approximately 150 scrubby acres southeast of town, as the site of a proposed large municipal park to be created by the CCC. When the work force set up a quasi-military base there in May 1934, they were warmly greeted. Perryans took to the CCC men right from the start. That summer, the CCC was invited to field a team in the city's softball league, and the men gladly accepted.
Tents were set up for temporary living quarters a few yards south of the present park caretaker's home. The tents were eventually replaced by wooden, barracks-like buildings, including a mess hall, only a short distance east of the dusty, unimproved road, which became state highway 86 several years later. Work on the Perry park was expected to require six months to complete, but the job was still going on more than a year later. The extended timetable was required because of the vast amount of work to be done and not because of laziness or incompetence on the part of the laborers. The WPA (Works Progress Administration), which came later, was caricatured by men leaning on shovels, but the CCC was well disciplined and productive, possibly because of the quasi-military supervision.
Bruce Lucas, city water and light department superintendent, was in contact with the district office of state park emergency conservation work, located in Denver, and assisted in completing arrangements for the campsite. The camps were not truly military, although Army garb was issued to the men and to the Army officers who supervised them. Max Seton, a civilian, was the camp work superintendent, and Lt. Walter F. Berg was the Army officer in charge here. Lt. Berg did not live at the campsite. He and his wife had an apartment over the City Drug Store on the north side of the square. He was a quiet, reserved man but presented quite a dashing figure in his starched khaki uniform. The Bergs were guests in many city homes while he was stationed here.
Location of the camp on the city property was secured as the result of joint action of the Chamber of Commerce, city officials and private citizens interested in the park project. Will Rogers (not, the comedian) was Oklahoma's congressman at large at the time, and he was given credit for working with the Interior Department to assure a camp in Perry. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of communities throughout the U.S. were bidding to obtain such assistance.
Perry civic leaders realized they had a good thing on their hands and were delighted to have been chosen. They had a vision of what the new park would mean in terms of a city asset, and we today are the beneficiaries of their diligent efforts to bring the park to reality.
Another installment of the CCC Park story will follow in just a few days.