Camp Rocky Fork in 1940: Mansfield’s Black CCC Company

The Civilian Conservation Corps was probably the single most effective Government program instituted in our nation’s history to help struggling Americans find their footing as society was crumbling around them.  It was in 1930, when money was scarce everywhere, especially for young men whose families were having trouble feeding them.

President Roosevelt created a program to put these young men to work planting trees and repairing the country’s ravaged farmland.  Administered by the Army, known then as the War Department, camps were established from coast to coast where young men could live and work, grow strong and responsible, and plant pride in themselves. 

One of these camps was in Mansfield.

The camp in Mansfield was devoted specifically to Soil & Water Conservation, so that farmers in the area could take advantage of manpower enough to rescue their crop fields from erosion.  The young recruits who shouldered this work here were all African American. 

Segregation was not the law, but it was certainly the practice at that time on the nation’s timeline.  Of the forty-four CCC camps in Ohio, six were designated to be made entirely of Black men.  Every one of the camps ate the same food; they all did the same work at the same identical schedule; they all received the same pay.  But the white guys and the Black guys didn’t live in the same camps.

That doesn’t mean the City of Mansfield wasn’t glad to have them here.

When word reached downtown that guys in the CCC camp had to wallow through mud to get from their barracks to the mess hall, a huge truck arrived mysteriously the next day loaded with recycled highway bricks.  By summer of 1940, there were beautiful brick sidewalks all through the camp.

That worked so well, the camp Commander let it slip that the Government wouldn’t spring for a fence along Route 39, and, within a few days a lumber truck dropped off piles of boards and beams.  Two days later, there was a truck loaded with paint.

The entire operation seemed to work that way.  In January, the City let it be known they could offer a 12-acre site southeast of town for a CCC camp. In February, there was a short telegram from the Statehouse approving the plan, and then on May 1, a convoy of huge Army transport trucks rolled into town unannounced with enough lumber and roofing to put up 23 buildings that would house a contingent of 200 men.

On June 3, the young men moved in.  They voted to call their new home Camp Rocky Fork, after the river at the bottom of their hill.

If anyone in town had any lingering doubts about a camp full of rowdy youngsters, they all evaporated the following summer when a disastrous fire took out two lumber yards in the heart of the manufacturing district.  Turns out, one of the skills being taught at the CCC camp was firefighting. As the towering blaze lit the night sky in the Flats, crews of young men appeared on the scene ready to shoulder the hoses and swing shovels.

Camp Rocky Fork reached its full complement of 200 enrollees by the summer of 1940, and peaked at 220 in 1941. At least a dozen of the men were from Mansfield.

The young men of Company 3519 originally enrolled through their home counties in North Central Ohio, and formed a company of 200 men at Elyria in 1935. By 1938, the Company had been relocated to South Bend, Indiana, and finally landed in Mansfield from 1940 until the end of the CCC program in 1942.

Classes in dozens of subjects were available in the Education Building every evening after dinner, ranging from Wood Shop Class (seen here) to Public Speaking.

Very few pages from the camp newsletter survive from Company 3519. Called the Rocky Fork Tattler, the monthly issues were written and printed onsite to “inspire, inform”, and cajole. Mostly cajole.

Camp Rocky Fork had 8 Barracks, a Mess Hall & Kitchen, Latrine & Showers, Education Class Rooms, a Post Exchange and Rec Hall, Supply Buildings and Garages, an Administration Building and Officer Quarters.

“The work day schedule was like this: breakfast; work call & roll call, at which time all members of the company were turned over to the technical service; lunch (hauled by company truck to those working in the field); retreat, supper; classes in the Education Building; and lights out at 9 PM. On Saturdays a company inspection.

“The enrollees were free on Saturday afternoons and Sundays. They could not leave camp without a pass. Normally we borrowed three trucks from the tech service to haul 75 enrollees to the city on Saturday night.”

One of the classes in the Camp Rocky Fork schedule was listed as “Letter Writing.” The enrolled men were paid a dollar a day—enough for $5 a month pocket money and $25 sent home to their families.


Most of what we know about Company 3519 and Camp Rocky Fork comes from a memoir written in the 1990s by the camp’s Commander shortly before his death.  Col. Roy U. Clay’s account deals candidly with the kinds of racism he encountered from the community, but even more so with the aspects of racism he discovered within himself that he had been blind to.  When his office at the camp needed curtains on the windows, his wife sewed up some fabric which depicted scenes of a comic Black character holding an umbrella.  He never thought twice about it until he was confronted by an angry Lieutenant who explained how offensive it was to the people of his race.  Thus admonished and chastened, Col. Clay took the curtains down himself.

These two men from Camp Rocky Fork were photographed practicing their new skills as tree doctors at a roadside rest on US Route 30 just west of Mifflin (today Route 430.)

One of the many erosion control services the Co. 3519 men performed was preventing hillside runoff by covering and seeding the soil. This documentary photo was taken somewhere east of Lucas.

In our time it is difficult to imagine how horribly depleted and damaged the croplands and soil were by the 1930’s Dust Bowl days, after a century of careless and abusive farming practices. This gully was created through the decades simply by unchecked rain runoff.

Shafer’s Field

These events all happened so long ago, and involved something so transient as feeding young men whose bellies were seldom full, that it’s easy to think there is nothing left to show for all their historic activity.  Those men are almost all gone now.  The camps are long gone.  The paperwork documentation is boxed and shelved deep in archives seldom visited.  It would seem the colossal effort of 1940-42 served its purpose and disappeared into the dry pages of WWII.

But this is not exactly so. 

It was only a few years ago, when I was hiking over a piece of land south of Lexington with a neighboring farmer, that I found out what remains of those young men. 

We came out of a beautiful old woodlot into a field high above the valley and he happened to tell me that when he was a youngster he remembered this very field was one that could not be planted in crops because a giant, deep gully cut right through the middle of it.  “It was deep enough we used to dump old cars in there,” he said.  “You can’t tell it today—it looks perfectly natural.”  So I asked how that was possible.

He explained that in 1941, a crew of 25 young men from the CCC camp built a series of large wooden erosion coffer dams in the gully, down the hill, and then brought in top soil by the truckload.  “You can’t tell now—it’s all buried deep underneath here.  They made this field good as new.  We had it planted in spring wheat within a couple months.”

He pointed to the forest we had just walked through and explained that those trees were planted by the CCC kids to hold the hill in place.

Whatever temporal benefits those CCC workers derived in their lives from the time they spent at Camp Rocky Fork, we can never know; but they touched our Richland Earth in ways that still benefit us today, and will for generations to come.

If I had known Lloyd was in the CCC, I would have asked him all about it; but I only found out after his daughter handed me a suitcase of his stuff stashed away in the basement. She thought I might like the Westinghouse pin and the chess pieces–and they are nice–but what I love most are these things he never let go of through 96 years: the moth-eaten uniform badge from 1940, and the totally flattened FDR pin.

Camp Rocky Fork was closed in 1942 when Congress eliminated funding for CCC programs, and the site was eventually repurposed for construction of the County’s Tuberculosis sanatorium on State Route 39 in 1950.

Today the site of Camp Rocky Fork would be found in the parking lot and fields surrounding the Foundations for Living facility, the former TB Hospital seen at 1451 Lucas Road.

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