The 1930s Great Depression brought a new level of hardship to the American experience, where daily life could often be summed up in one word: Desperation.
The U.S. economy was on the ropes after 1929 and by the early 1930s, many American workers had gone from the assembly line to breadlines or marching in union picket lines. Poverty was everywhere.
By 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s answer to the crisis was the New Deal. That program included a national citizen’s relief effort that, among other governmental actions taken, resulted in the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC.
The CCC provided hundreds of thousands of unemployed men with a way off the streets and into military-style work camps whose locations were spread all across the country. The camps were open only to males.
The sites were headquarters for supervised work crews that labored on a variety of public works projects, including the Shenandoah Valley’s Shenandoah National Park and its ambitious Skyline Drive mountain roadway.
The CCC “boys,” as the camp enrollees were called at the time, led a vigorous outdoor life. The camps insulated them from the danger of falling into a state of hopelessness, with no future to look to back home, and kept them away from various sorts of prevailing disreputable behaviors and unhealthy temptations.
Most importantly, they could work hard and send their pay money back to needy families. Whenever they left the camps for good, they often took along newly-acquired job skills. The CCC program continued until the outbreak of World War II.
The very first CCC camp, Camp Roosevelt, had been built on one side of a forested mountain ridge, in eastern Shenandoah County, Va. On the other side, Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park were waiting to be built.
It’s true that the Valley was the “Breadbasket of the Confederacy” and the location of many important Civil War battles, but this part of the Old Dominion was also an early frontier gateway to the West. James Madison and Thomas Jefferson had connections here; George Washington had an office in Winchester.
The Massanutten Mountain range is a unique collection of folded sandstone ridges that divide the lower Shenandoah Valley. Two upper forks of the Shenandoah River flow northward along either side of its flanks. One the western-most ridge, there is a steel tower that overlooks “Seven Bends of the Shenandoah River.” The Woodstock Tower is there for anyone willing to hike along a few hundred yards of the ridge’s peak.
The structure was built in 1935 as a CCC project and it offers a 360-degree panorama, looking to the east across the tops of the long, even Massanutten ridges toward Shenandoah National Park’s Blue Ridge Mountains, and over the seven sweeping curves of the Shenandoah’s North Fork, toward the Allegheny Mountains that form the western horizon. Shenandoah County has always offered plenty to see and do outdoors.
Shenandoah County Library Archivist Zachary Hottle’s job has made him a sort of defacto curator of the county archives and he also works to build partnerships among the county’s small community museums and libraries.
Officially, he manages the “Shenandoah Room” archival collections at the Shenandoah County Library in Edinburg, Va. Coincidentally, Edinburg is also home of the Civilian Conservation Corps Legacy, a non-profit CCC Legacy organization that works to preserve the memory and heritage of the CCC.
Hottle was born and raised in the county seat of Woodstock, Va., and says that he’s always loved to see how present times connect with the past.
“It really defines a lot of what we do,” he says. “And I see that all around here, in Shenandoah County. Really … why places are where they’re at. Why a building looks the way it does. All that can really be related to something that happened in the past, that you can really go and learn and discover.”
He says that he is personally aware of how the CCC has defined life in his home county, particularly through its contribution of wonderful hiking trails and camping areas.
He feels that Shenandoah County history still strongly influences the actions of people who live there today, including those in his own life.
“So, when I look back, I see that a lot of the things that I do to be reflected from the past. And that really kind of leads me in my decision-making that I deal with on an everyday basis.”
Despite the intrusion of technology in 21st Century life, Hottle also says he sees a lot of evidence that younger people continue to be interested in history.
“People want to understand, even if there’s someone who moved in. What’s the history of the community, and how they can kind of tie into that,” he explains.
“They want to know what’s going on and why it’s going on. And history is a really good way for them to do that. They’re looking for a sense of place. They’re looking to how to connect in the community, and in history is often a way that they find that.”
Thanks to Shenandoah County Library in Edinburg, Va. for contributed photos and images. This story was first published in 2015.
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Hugh Morrison Jr. photographed the people and places of Shenandoah County, Virginia, during the first half of the 1900s, until 1950. He compiled an immense body of work, now archived by the Shenandoah County Historical Society. The collection includes more than 25,000 digital images. Photo: Hugh Morrison Jr. Archives Collection
Shenandoah County, Virginia, formerly known as Dunmore County features a string of towns along the historic Valley Pike, US Route 11: Strasburg, New Market, Mount Jackson, Edinburg, Toms Brook, Woodstock (the county seat), and about two dozen unincorporated communities.
Some historians attribute the name Shenandoah to the the Senedo American Indian Tribe that inhabited the area up until the 17th century. Others believe that George Washington named the county after John Skenando, an Oneida Indian chief who helped the colonists during the American Revolutionary War. The land that forms Shenandoah County was purchased from the Iroquois Indian tribe to becomme established in 1772.
The scenery of the of the mountains and views of the Seven Bends of the Shenandoah River have long attracted visitors. Shenandoah Caverns is the only Valley cave that offers elevator access for visitors.
Others come for the local Civil War history. There are annual reenactments at preserved battlefields, such as the Cedar Creek and Fishers Hill Battlefields near Strasburg and at the Virginia Museum of the Civil War in New Market.
The county is rich in local arts and culture, home to the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival, various other town and villiage festivals, artisan shops and museums. Many local artists are part of the O Shenandoah Artistans Trail. Local wineries offer award-winning Virginia wines. Bryce Resort is a four-season, family-friendly getaway destination.
Shenandoah County celebrates it's farm community heritage each August during the Shenandoah County Fair. And, the huge Route 11 Yard Crawl draws thousands each summer, offering more than 30 miles of yard sales along the Valley Pike.