Camp Jonesboro (3CG1250)
The following camp focus was written by W. Danny Honnoll, Craighead County Historical Society
President Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal projects had a big impact on Craighead County and NE Arkansas. The first step was to find a site for the new CCC Camp. Arkansas State College President, Victor C. Kays (1882-1966) owned 80 acres south of the college and this site was chosen for the new CCC Camp for Jonesboro. Pres. Kays used the hill to raise goats to supply the college with milk. Local residents call the little hill “Billy Goat” Hill. The CCC Camp was located mainly behind where the Jonesboro Police department building is located today, on south Caraway Road.
Mr. Victor Hale “Buddy” Kays (1919-2001) stated that it was a special camp. It was a place for young men and boys could go to help further their education. Some were illiterate and some needed a vehicle (Method not Car – Cars were not allowed to CCCers) to finish or continue their college education. That was the reason it was located close to ASC. The Jonesboro Sun reported on July 11, 1934 that Herbert Parker, president of the Jonesboro Chamber of Commerce has received word that a CCC Camp can be secured for Craighead County provided a suitable site can be secured. A payroll of $1,400 per month would be allowed for the project with the city or county having to furnish the supervisor. Work that the CCC did in this area was reforestation, soil conservation, flood control, swamp drainage, and construction and maintenance work.
The Jonesboro CCC Camp opened July 1, 1935. It was established June 26, 1935, as Company No. 3783. Also, it was known as SCS-7 (the SC stood for soil conservation). A cadre of twelve men from Company 768, CCC, Blue Mountain (3LO698), Arkansas under the command of Lieutenant Joseph B. Horgan, Inf. – Res., arrived at “Billy Goat Hill” on a dark and stormy night at 11:00 o’clock and immediately began to pitch tents. “We were awakened the following morning by cows nosing into the tents.” Everything they had got wet overnight because in their haste they did not trench around the tents and the water rained through the camp and their tents. An Important lesson was learned that night.
Lieutenant W. C. Diedrich, Ord.-Res. transferred from Company 3768, Walcott, Arkansas, and assumed command upon arrival the next morning, June 27. Water wagons had to haul water to the camp for the men’s drinking, cooking, and bathing. Lieutenant Earle D. McKelvey, Md.-Res., reported for duty as Camp Surgeon July 1st. On July 2nd Mr. G. F. Castleberry, SCS Project Superintendent, arrived.
The pay scale started at $30 a month and the men were required to send home at least $22 to (most CCCers sent back $25 and kept $5) help out their families during the depression. If they were upgraded to a skilled level, they would receive $36. The group leaders received top pay of $45. These were the men that trained the other young men on how to do their work.
Mr. C.C. Wright was construction superintendent. He started his project on July 1, 1935. Barracks No. six was the first building completed. The headquarters building was next. The men were assigned a barracks based on their last names. Men with the last name starting with A-B-C would be assigned to barracks number one and so on. The Mess Hall was completed on August 24. was at the camp the day that it opened.
Walter “Buck” Darling (1914-1997) returned home, and, by chance, one of his former schoolteachers saw him sitting on his front porch. She encouraged him to enroll in the CCC program. Walter was at the camp the day that it opened. He said, “The men lived in tents and helped build the buildings that were going to be used,” Darling related. “I worked thirteen days before I was picked as a leadmen.”
Doctor Aaron C. Modelevsky (1910-1999) was the camp doctor for a while during the 1930s. He serviced camps in Northeast Arkansas. Eric G. Hyde (1920-2001) of Paragould remembers Dr. Modelevsky and how he helped all of the campers when they needed medical treatment. Modelevsky was from Minnesota and had worked at other CCC camps across the country before coming to Jonesboro.
Lieutenant W.C. Diedrich was relieved as company commander September 1st and returned to his home at St. Louis, Mo. Lieutenant Horgan assumed command until Lieutenant Leland S. Hall, FA-Res., was transferred from Company 3785, Vanndale, Arkansas (3CS355) September 5, 1935 as company commander.
“Open House” Day at Camp Jonesboro was held on November 11, 1935. Citizens from Jonesboro and the surrounding area were invited to attend through the different civic organizations in Jonesboro. Over 200 visited the camp that day.
As for recreation, the boys did any number of things such as basketball, ping pong, boxing, baseball, checkers, etc. in camp. Even dances with local girls. Camp Jonesboro even had their own Newsletter: Billy Goat Banner (1936-38), Banner (1938), Gully Fighter (1938), and Jonesboro Journal (1938-40).
In 1935, Arkansas had 65 CCC camps for its high point. Then by 1937 the camps were cut back to 38. The Jonesboro camp had Senator Hattie Caraway looking after it. Dr. F. M. Wilson (1921-2015) wrote in his 2000 CCHS story:
A routine day in the life of an enrollee was early rising, dressing, cleaning the barracks, making your bed, having breakfast, and being ready to work by 8 am. They worked from 8 am to 4 pm, with one hour off for lunch. If the work project was in or near the camp site, lunch would be in the mess hall. If travel was required to get to the work site, it was done on company time and the meal would be a sack lunch. This usually consisted of two sandwiches, such as peanut butter and jelly, meat or cheese, and fresh fruit when available. All meals at camp were hot meals, except on Sunday evening when cold cuts were served. The time after 4 pm until the next 8 am was your own, except when you had camp duties – K.P. or Standby. If you stayed in camp, you could spend your time as desired. Most of the activities centered on sports, movies, reading, writing letters, or taking advantage of the educational facilities. Church services were regularly available by Journeyman preachers of local churches.
By April of 1937, thirty-two boys had transferred to Camp 3783 in Jonesboro to attend ASC. One of the camps foremen from Trumann had worked the flood of 1927 and one answer to a washout was to down a tree to fill the gap in the levee. This was the solution a few times if a large tree was close to the levee. Their work saved Lake City from being wiped out by the flood waters. Monette and Black Oak never went under water because of their placement on the high ground that they were founded on, and they were farther away from the St. Francis River.
Walter Crise, Cecil Gage, Lewis Gage went to Bunney, Arkansas just south of Caraway to a preacher’s house. The room was thick with people from the area. They offered their rescuers some coffee. They said it was some of the strongest coffee they ever had, but it was very good. The flood waters were swift around the town of Bunney.
It was cold, wet, and very tiresome work. The workers clothes were freezing to their bodies at times. They had to work in four-hour shifts. The kitchen at the Camp Jonesboro was working overtime. They were making food around the clock to take care of the workers when they would return from working the flood.
The camp was set up in a military style setting. It had an Officer in charge and had barracks. The individuals in the camp wore denim uniforms. One of the local projects was the Pine Grove out at ASU’s Centennial Stadium where they planted the pine trees in 1938. The Jonesboro Campers also planted large groups of Pines/Poplar trees at Greensboro, Lake Frierson, and Craighead Forest and all up and down Crowleys Ridge. The red soil was easy to erode. Soil Conservation was an important part of their program.
Johnson said, “Quite a few CCCers were able to get their pilot licenses while at Jonesboro Camp. He said, “They called the landing strip the Kays Airfield of the CCC.” Buck Darling of Newport joked that when planting kudzu vines you would scratch the dirt and throw the kudzu seeds in and run. He said, “If you did not watch it the vines would beat you back to the truck.” He gave out a big laugh at that one. LOL!
Other projects included, Ranger tower at Craighead Forest, Pine Grove at Centennial Stadium, Built Water Storage Ponds, Planted kudzu Vines all over three counties, Cleared timber, Forest Culture, Forest Protection, Erosion Control, Flood Control, Irrigation & Drainage, Transportation Improvements, Structural Improvements, Range Development, Stock Ponds, Cleaned Fence Rows, Aid to Wildlife, Fought forest fires, Landscape and Recreational Development. CCCers also helped build the Craighead County Courthouse, Prospect School, Nettleton High School Gym, and Craighead Forest Pavilion
Two major projects undertaken by Camp Jonesboro were in the Crowley’s Ridge area and in Craighead Forest. They repaired 31,000 acres of land which consisted of some 175 farms. In Craighead Forest, the Jonesboro CCC surveyed 612 acres and launched a program to stop soil erosion.
In Arkansas, the CCC men built 446 buildings, constructed 6,400 miles of road, built eight dams, laid 250 miles of fence, erected 86 lookout towers in forests, planted 19,463,745 trees, and strung 8,600 miles of telephone line in addition to their work in the development of recreational facilities.
Hubert Adair (1919-2011) CCCer was born in Marmaduke, November 11, 1919, was in the Jonesboro Camp in the late 30s. Hubert was a mechanic and worked in motor pool he said, “Trucks had a governor on the carburetor and was set so truck could only go 40-45 MPH.” They would go to town or out with their friends then park their cars and walk back to camp. This worked very well until Camp Commander John C. Meadows found out and had all of the campers’ cars towed into camp. Meaders then lined up the men and ask the owners of the cars to go stand by them. The men obeyed his orders. One lone car did not have a camper by it. He told everyone that is standing by a vehicle would be expelled from the camp for breaking the rules of the camp. “That was the day of a lot of sad goodbyes!” Adair said. The lone car was still out on the camp grounds. Meaders asked repeatedly for the owner to come forward. No one came forward.
After a few days Commander Meaders told his driver to get a chain and they would pull the unclaimed car to Hummelstein Hide and Fur. He was going to sell the car for scrap. The reason no one came forward was because Meader’s driver Flex Booten owned the car. Booten did not want to be expelled from camp because his family needed the money. Meaders knew the car was Booten’s but he could not prove it. Hummelsteins gave Meaders five dollars for the car.
Meaders and Booten were walking back to the Commander’s vehicle and Meaders looked at Booten and gave the five dollars and told him that he knew that it was Booten’s car and wanted Booten to have the money. The two never talked about it again.
Booten was born on a farm NW of Jonesboro, on November 1, 1917. He described life as difficult during the depression. His family lived on the edge of poverty. He applied for a job in the CCC camp when he learned it was under construction in Jonesboro. The CCC accepted him, and he entered the corps on October 23, 1935. He began work under the Soil Conservation Service and was later promoted to truck driver which raised his salary from $30 a month to $36 a month. As the camp truck driver, Booten made weekly trips to the supply headquarters in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Felix said, “We taught local farmer how to raise cattle and not row crows to help reduce erosion.” He claimed that the “CCC was one of the best programs ever devised.” This does not mean it would work today. Booten’s had lived rather isolated life on the farm with only a weekly newspaper reaching them. His family did not receive electricity or the radio until after he was in the CCC camp.
Forman Harold McCormack Jinks (1906-1996) was one of the CCCers that did well for himself. He became the head of the rural division of postmasters for the United States and made the move to Washington, D.C. in April of 1962 at the request of newly elected President John F. Kennedy.
Of special note is CCCer from Newport, Arkansas Maurice Hoffman Steenburgen was best friends with Walter Buck Darling. His daughter is actress Mary Nell Steenburgen (b. Feb. 8, 1953), an American actress and singer. She won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Arkansas Gazette – Friday, October 24, 1941
Protest Proposed Abandonment of Jonesboro CCC Camp
To the editor of the Gazette:
We are members of company 3783, CCC; wish to state our case against disbanding Camp Jonesboro on November 1. Jonesboro has 174 enrollees, 85 of whom are attending Arkansas State College. These 85 are carrying enough hours this semester to compensate for six college degrees. They have paid approximately $2400 to the college, most of which will be forfeited to the college when the camp disbands. Many of these boys are not financially able to continue schoolwork outside the CCC.
Since the college was made available to us 307 boys have made 5233 College hours and therefore 44 college degrees. Seventy-Five boys have completed requirements and receive private pilot’s license. Some are in the Army Air Corps in practically all intend to enter the army or navy air corps as soon as they complete the required 60 hours or two years of college work period.
Ralph A. Morrison (1924-2014) born Aug 5, 1924, Campbell, Searcy County, Arkansas entered the Jonesboro Camp in early 1941 and said he was the last CCCer to leave the camp when it was closed in December of 1941. He liked Jinks, and Johnson worked for the US Post Office. He was the last Postmaster at Nettleton Station in 1958 and later he was Postmaster at Marmaduke. Ralph passed away June 12, 2014.
The camp being close to Jonesboro and Arkansas State College and with Senator Hattie Caraway being an advocate to keep it open to help the local population. In the end with war looming the fate of all the camps were sealed. We all know what happened on December 7, 1941 and that’s the end of the CCC camp story that played a part in getting thousands of men ready for military by being in the Camps like CCC CAMP – Company No. 3783- Jonesboro Arkansas.
Over the years the Craighead County Historical Society has published articles on the Civilian Conservation Corp Camp at Jonesboro. Most know that after Camp Jonesboro closed down it was used as a WWII prisoner of war (POW) camp.
Sources: KAIT, Jonesboro Evening Sun, Arkansas Gazette, Frank Sloan, Buck Darling, Bert Johnson, Dr. F.M. Wilson, Hubert Adair, Ralph Morrison, Herbert Parker, Jack Richardson, Jim Stotts, Billy Joe Emerson, Barbara Stevens, Bob Ridge, and Martha White.
The CCC in Craighead County, Arkansas; by Karen Lassiter, 1987
My CCC Book; Walter “Buck” Darling, 1936