The Early Days before Bent Tree – Part 3
The CCC Camp
Don & Diane Wells
The Whittington’s sold the Old Dude Ranch to Sam Tate in 1924. By 1928, he was announcing plans for improving the Dude Ranch and for building his Tate Mountain Estates. However, those plans were greatly impacted by the Great Depression of 1929. With that financial disaster, Sam faced many problems including foreclosure of his mountain empire. With many people out of work by the late 1929’s, Franklin D. Roosevelt was swept into office as the new President in 1932 under the New Deal promises. One of his New Deal Programs was the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).The CCC was a public works relief program for unemployed, unmarried men, ages 17–25. They were paid $30 a month of which $25 was sent home to their parents. It provided unskilled manual labor jobs related to the conservation and development of natural resources in rural lands owned by federal, state and local governments. For the most part, the CCC workers were employed to build structures on highways, parks and in forest lands. Pickens County did not have any government land where the CCC could set up a camp. Sam Tate, with his influence, did manage to have a camp established in his mountain community. Professor Perrow, a leader at the Pickens CCC Camp, stated in the November 16, 1938 Pickens Progress that, “the State Forest Service established the camp here at the request of the Pickens County Timber Association.” What the article failed to say is that the land where the camp was built belonged to Sam Tate and it was adjacent to the Old Dude Ranch. Further, the area where the CCC workers built roads and improvements was mostly the 10,000 acres of land owned by Sam Tate.
The CCC Camp was established on July 21, 1933. It was known as Camp #1449 with an address associated with the Tate Post Office and Train Station. The Pickens Progress announced on June 15, 1933 that, “A Reforestation camp will be established in Pickens County by July and there will be a total of 250 men at the camp including 180 men from Camp Benning.” The article went on to say that, “The work will include protection of the standing timber, construction of fire brakes, building telephone lines, roads and trails.” Young men were selected from each local county to participate in the camp. Twenty young men were selected from a group of 60 applicants from Pickens County and began their employment in July 1933. Initially, the camp had tents to house the young men. The Army officers and civilians who assisted in training lived in some of the houses associated with the Old Dude Ranch. One of the first projects to be built at the camp was the mess hall and bunkroom. Lillie Mae Pendley said her father, Vernie Champion, helped build the camp. He hall/bunk house as being 60 feet wide and about 300 feet long. No evidence of where the building was located can be found today but it is estimated to have been near the current Bent Tree Administration building. The structure was probably a wood building with a metal roof. Unfortunately, no one can be found that has a picture of the building.
The June 29, 1933 Pickens Progress reported on the work plans for the CCC men at the Tate Camp. Two third class roads were to be built initially with one allowing access to Mt Oglethorpe from the camp on the west side of the mountain. Another road was to be built from the mountain peak eastward to the Tate Mountain School. From there it was to go on and connect with the state highway at Marble Hill. Four other roads/trails were also planned. These included a road from Burnt Mt. to Amicalola Falls in Dawson County; a road from Burnt Mt. through the Johntown’s area (north of Fausett Lake) and back to the county line on Sassafras Mt; a road from Burnt Mt. across Landsdown Mountain to Wolf Knob in Gilmer County; and a road from Burnt Mt. to the summit of Sharptop Mt. The CCC group was also to recondition the road from Burnt Mt. to the Cartecay section of Gilmer County. Professor Perrow, the chief surveyor for Sam Tate, was hired as a teacher for the CCC Camp. He taught the young men how to lay out roads and to build them as well as the fundamentals of surveying. The men were also taught writing, problem solving in business arithmetic, and best practices in timber management, erosional control and water resources management in night classes Lillie Mae Pendley told us that when she was a little girl growing up in their family cabin below the CCC Camp, the young men of the camp would come down to visit her older sister who Lillie Mae described as a “looker.” The young men would purchase some of Lillie Mae father’s peach brandy and they would give Lillie Mae a nickel or dime to crawl through the cat hole in the door so they could have some privacy visiting with her sister. The camp probably existed on the mountain until about 1942 when WW II started and there was no need to create jobs for young men any more. They were now being drafted into the war. Everett and Claudine Milford rented the CCC Camp building as a dance hall after the camp was shut down but that didn’t last long. The mess hall was later used to raise chickens before it finally fell into complete disrepair and had to be torn down. Josh Fitts and other men took down the mess hall probably in the late 1940’s to salvage the building materials and rock foundation. By the early 1950’s when Kenneth West was delivering the mail in the area of Mole, Hendrix and Oglethorpe Mountains, he said that none of the CCC Camp or Old Dude Ranch could be found. Another 25 years passed before anyone else tried again to develop the mountain area. That was when Bent Tree got its start.