Beach Town in a Forest

Beach Town in a Forest
Beach Town in a Forest, Pine Knoll Shores located in Carteret County on North Carolina's Crysal Coast. Photo compliments of Bill Flexman and Dave Prutzman

Friday, January 9, 2015

Civilian Conservation Corps

It was 1935, the height of the Great Depression, Jane Hobson’s father, Fred Hobson, was an education advisor, stationed at the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp at Fort Macon. He was courting her mother, who was back home in Leaksville, NC. His letters home and the material he saved provide a look into life on Bogue Banks at that time. We thank our neighbor Jane Hobson for sharing this material with the Pine Knoll Shores History Committee. The letters, together with related photos and papers, started a research effort to learn more about the CCC on Bogue Banks.

Company 432, Civilian Conservation Corps, Camp SP-1, Fort Macon, Bogue Banks, NC

The impact of the Great Depression was severe nationally, but it was even more so in North Carolina. In 1933, gross farm income was only 46 percent of its 1929 level. Consequently, the banking community, which was closely linked to the farming community, also grew weaker and more desperate, and the absence of credit for farmers and industry compounded an already miserable situation. Manufacturing activity declined by a third from its peak in 1929. Mass unemployment had become increasingly widespread across the state and nation. By 1933, in North Carolina, 27 out of every 100 persons were on relief; mountain and coastal regions were hardest hit. Even those who had jobs experienced a 25% decrease in income.
Franklin Roosevelt was elected President in 1932 on a platform that included many new programs to relieve the stress of the Depression. Few states were willing to accept wholeheartedly the liberalism of the New Deal's revolutionary programs, and North Carolina was no exception. The legislature, dominated by farmers and conservative businessmen, were determined to both resist Roosevelt's advanced social agenda and maintain a balanced state budget. Nevertheless, several New Deal initiatives had wide influence in North Carolina.[i]
One prime example is the Civilian Conservation Corps (C.C.C.) which began in 1933 and ended 1942. A program created to give young men a chance for an income and productive work when jobs were scarce.  It eventually enrolled over three million. Participants enlisted for six-month intervals and were able to serve up to two years. At the camps, the young men, in some cases WW I veterans, were provided three meals a day, uniforms and a place to sleep. Management staff of army officers and educational advisers ran the camp. The pay rate was $30 a month, with $25 of that sent home to families and dependents of the enlisted men.[ii]
The first two months of an enlistee’s life was served at an Army base for initial training, conditioning and discipline. An initial 48-man detachment came to Fort Macon in 1934 and lived in a tent camp. As barracks and other support buildings were erected, the camp eventually housed 234 corpsmen, officers and instructors. The camp also hired 22 local skilled employees at its peak.

                         Class Picture, CCC Co 432, 1935, Complements Paul Branch & NC State Archives
                                                Fred Hobson, 3rd row, white shirt, pith helmet on right

North Carolina had 66 CCC camps during the program’s existence. [iii] As a company’s tasks were completed, the company along with its facilities and equipment were moved to a new location. To facilitate this movement, the barracks and other buildings were “de-mountable”; they could be dis-assembled and re-erected in a new location. Corpsmen moved them from place to place.

The barracks camp at Fort Macon was set up south of the current Coast Guard Station and the park ranger maintenance area, near the ocean, on land that no longer exists, reclaimed by the sea. 

Photo by Fred Hobson, 1935

In a letter home postmarked March 12, 1935, Fred Hobson having just arrived in camp, gives his first impressions:
Well, I hardly know where to begin to describe this place. It is something what I thought a South Sea Island might be ‘cept there aren’t any Palms. . .The camp is located near the site of old Fort Macon which is on the point of the island and the fort once stood guard over the inlet leading into Beaufort & Morehead City. . .There is a sort of romantic air floating about — My room is just about 20 yards from the surf which seems to produce some kind of a symphonic arrangement. The sand is deep and continually shifting from one place to another. If you’ll send your Kodak I’ll get some pictures.

Fortunately for us, the future Mrs. Hobson (Miriam Tuttle) sent the Kodak two weeks later, on March 24, and Fred was able to provide photos (See photos above.) as well as more detailed discussions of the goings-on at camp:
Camp Education Advisoer
"My program: I like most of it. Of course there is a lot that I don’t know and cannot do, i.e., the technical part. . . I’m not expected to do all of the teaching .... See, it is a funny and peculiar system, odd, too. I have to convince others to do the instructional services without pay. Sometimes it is an officer, or an enrollee (CCC boy), or an expert who is stationed here as a foreman or consulting engineer on the project."

In the March 24th letter, Fred also rendered a map to help Miriam visualize the camp and surrounding area.

                          Rendering by Fred Hobson, 1935, complements of Jane Hobson

Accompanying the letters home and the Kodak moments, Fred included copies of the camp newspaper.[iv] In addition to construction skills, the CCC provided opportunities for the enrollees to gain experience in other areas. Many CCC camps had a periodical written and published by the corpsmen, documenting camp activity from their perspectives. Some were simple one-page newsletters, and others were more professional looking printed newspapers. The Fort Macon Company 432 publication was of the latter type. The Sand Dune Echo was published semi-monthly and contained news on the projects, social activities and sporting events and personnel changes as well as jokes, poems and stories by campers, and advertising from local businesses. Some issues included a list of the fellows’ nicknames.

                                                     Complements of Jane Hobson

An article in the September 11, 1934, issue, described camp activities: “Co. 432 is building a camp site, working on a road, reconstructing a fort, anchoring sand dunes, draining old roads and fighting mosquitoes at night and sand fleas all day.”

Following is an editorial written by a corpsman reporter in the same issue:       

“On Going to Town”

It is a fact that . . . some of the fellows go to town and allow themselves to be influenced too much by the use of intoxicating dopes. This does not mean that every one participates in such but it must be said that a few do allow themselves to become in an unpleasant and degrading condition by the use of strong drinks. This is not a part of the program of the Civilian Conservation Corps!

The September 11, 1934, issue contained a story about a visit home:


The long looked for day had arrived at last. The boys from Roberson County were going home. About 3:30 on the afternoon of Aug. 31, we left Fort Macon. After a long unexciting ride we arrived at Lumberton at 9:30 p. m. of the same day. The CCC boys were overjoyed at being home once more. The boys had been away for six long weeks and
home was welcomed.

After spending Saturday and Sunday at home we began to think about camp once more. We wanted to get back but hated to leave home again.

On Monday p. m. about six o'clock we left Lumberton bound for Morehead City. On the way back the main topic of conversation was the activities and doings while we were at home. Girls, parties and parents were the most discussed topics.

After we got to Warsaw we got on the wrong road and had to turn around and come back to Warsaw. This was galling to us because by this time we were becoming tired of riding. Soon we came to Jacksonville and here we stopped and bought hot dogs, candy, ice cream and drinks. We rested here quite a while.

After leaving Jacksonville we came to a dirt road which impeded our progress. "Cotton Top" furnished amusement along here. He seemed to be happy and every one entered into the spirit of the occasion.
When we got to Swansboro we began looking for the lights of Morehead City. It seemed to us that we would never reach Fort Macon again.

About 12:30 o'clock Tuesday a.m. we arrived at the Atlantic Beach Casino. We had gone hardly 100 yards down the beach before the truck mired down, Mr. Merle, the driver, decided that he could not make it to Fort Macon. We dived out and walked the four miles to Fort Macon and arrived here at 2 o'clock a. m. Tired and sleepy we went to bed and dream of home.

The CCC camp at Fort Macon in the mid 1930s was a “big deal” for Bogue Banks and the surrounding communities. In 1935, when Fred Hobson was stationed at CCC, Fort Macon, the camp, was the major population center on Bogue Banks. The full-time population of Atlantic Beach was no more than a handful. Day visitors and short-term renters enjoyed the pavilions, bathhouses, dance halls and refreshment stands, but when the summer ended, few permanent residents remained.

Five miles west of Atlantic Beach, Alice Hoffman had her home and the support staff she employed. By the mid 1930s, the economy and her personal declining wealth had curtailed her business activities significantly. A census would have found perhaps five people there. Six miles beyond the Hoffman complex was the settlement of Salter Path with approximately 25 families—100 people. The path ended at the west side of the settlement. Beyond was unpopulated wilderness. So, the 230 members of the CCC camp more then doubled the Bogue Banks population.

In order to renovate the Fort, the CCC finished and paved with compacted clay the road from the Atlantic Beach Circle to the Fort.
1935, looking east to Fort Macon, NC State Archives

At the time, this was the only improved road on Bogue Banks and probably contributed to the early real estate developments west of the circle.
The camp brought new money to the community during a bleak period in the form of funds spent locally by the fellows and staff, supply and equipment purchases as well as the hiring of local construction experts.

In October 1935, Company 432 completed its assigned activities and was moved to Laurinburg, North Carolina for a new assignment. During their stay they completed the road from Atlantic Beach, cleaned out the fort and cleared the surrounding grounds, made repairs to stabilize the structure, restored the interior of some of the casemates to civil war era style, and built some rudimentary park facilities. Over the years while the fort was not in use several feet of sand had filled the moat and fort itself, removing all this by shovel and wheel barrel was a major task. Once the moat was restored they also cleared the culvert and gate system that extended north to the sound, thus allowing the moat to once again be flooded.[v] The Civilian Conservation Corps work left Fort Macon as the first developed State Park in North Carolina and to this day it remains the most visited park in the system.

1935 was a notable year in the Hobson family history. In discussions with Jane Hobson explains, “ My parents were married on August 31, 1935. Dad had been at the CCC camp here for about 6 months. From his letters, it is obvious he is anxious about where he and mother would be after their marriage, and possible living arrangements, as I'm sure she was as well.  Many of his letters mentioned rumors of the camp closing and moving to one of several locations, with various dates mentioned.  Some of them were thought to be pretty inhospitable, with no nearby towns where he and mother could live.  Only three days before he left camp to drive to their wedding on August 31 did he find out.  He wrote in his 8/27 letter to her: "News!!! General orders Co. 432 to move to Laurinburg N.C. as soon as possible after Sept. 1 - The camp is already set up over there and all we have to do is move in and start to work.  I don't think that you will get to live in Morehead at all - certainly not more than two or three days."  Since the letters stopped when the marriage began, I don't know much of anything about the next four years of life with the CCC camps.  I do know they lived in Laurinburg, Monroe, Newton, and Washington (NC).”

Fred Hobson’s letters home provide us a glimpse into life on Bogue Banks 80 years ago, and led Jane and her husband, F.W.Boring, to select this “South Sea Island . . .without palms” for their home.

The depression era activity was just the beginning of Federal influence on Bogue Banks, soon WW II was underway. see "WW II on Bogue Banks"

Post Author: Walt Zaenker
To contact the author or the History Committee

The author thanks Paul Branch, Park Ranger, Historian of Fort Macon State Park for lengthy discussions during which he shared his vast knowledge of the background and history of the Park, the CCC, and Bogue Banks. His publications include The Siege of Fort Macon (1982), Fort Macon: A history (1999), Fort Macon – Images of America (2013)

[i] Great Depression, by Douglas Carl Abrams and Randall E. Parker, 2006, NCpedia
[ii] Library of Virginia, 800 East Broad Street, Richmond, Virginia 23219-8000
[iii] Works Projects in North Carolina, 1933-1941. North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, NC, USA. 
[iv] The Center for Research Libraries, Digital Delivery System, has some issues on-line,
[v] “Fort Macon, a history”, by Paul Branch, The Nautical & Aviation Publishing Co, 1997