Bledsoe County CCC buildings eyed for preservation

photo Bledsoe County, Tenn., Mayor Bobby Collier, left, and Robert Reece speak about a Civilian Conservation Corps structure in the Bledsoe State Forest. Local officials and fans of the CCC are looking to preserve the camp and other structures west of Pikeville, Tenn.
photo A Civilian Conservation Corps structure in the Bledsoe State Forest. Local officials and fans of the CCC are looking to preserve the camp and other structures west of Pikeville, Tenn.

FAST FACTSThe Civilian Conservation Corps "District C" Company 1466 spent three-and-a-half years at Camp Warnick Robb atop the mountain west of Pikeville and listed many accomplishments during its stint there.• Constructed a fire break around the almost 10,000-acre Bledsoe State Forest land• Eight miles of horse trails• 80 miles of improved truck roads• Six fire towers over a 25-mile radius• Six fire tower caretaker homes• Telephone lines connecting the mountaintop system• An eight-acre nursery for locust, red, white, short leaf and spruce pine and yellow poplar• Three hundred acres of post oak forest, about 1,200 trees per acre• Stone maintenance building for nursery• Stone home for the forester, with garage and engine house• Barn and chicken houseSource: History written by camp Dr. John P. Young Jr. from records at the Bledsoe County Public Library in PikevilleCCC IN TENNESSEEThe Civilian Conservation Corps operated in Tennessee from 1933 to 1942. In May 1933, Camp Cordell Hull was established in Unicoi County, with Companies 1455 and 1472 occupying the site. Tennessee's CCC built the first state parks in Tennessee, including Pickett, Reelfoot, Frozen Head, Norris Dam, the Grundy County Lakes and Recreational Area, Big Ridge, T.O. Fuller, Nathan Bedford Forrest, Booker T. Washington, Harrison Bay, Cove Lake, Pickwick Landing and Cumberland Mountain.BY THE NUMBERS70,000: Tennessee men served in the CCC between 1933 and 194298: Lookout houses and towers built3,959: Miles of forest telephone lines erected1,469: Miles of minor roads built387,208: Check dams for erosion control constructed36,091,000: Trees planted for erosion control26,939,900: Trees planted for reforestation554,457: Pounds of hardwood seeds plantedSource: Tennessee State Library and ArchivesHOW TO HELPAnyone interested in helping with the preservation and conservation project may call the Bledsoe County mayor's office at 423-447-6855.

PIKEVILLE, Tenn. - A dozen buildings, made of quarried stone, sand and mortar-chinked logs 80 years ago by Civilian Conservation Corps workers, are the focus of a preservation effort in Bledsoe State Forest.

Originally called Camp Warnick Robb, the site, about 12 miles west of Pikeville, is the headquarters of the 9,500-acre forest and includes equipment barns, work sheds, offices, the forest technician's residence and a now-unused tree nursery building and spring house.

Bledsoe County Mayor Bobby Collier says the collection of CCC buildings not only serves present-day needs but is a farmstead model of self-sufficiency that should be saved.

"Part of our project is, first, kind of doing an inventory of the buildings," Collier said while walking with resident forestry technician Bill Hayne, state forest forester John Kunz, forestry crewmen Robbie Taylor and Robert Reece.

Collier said the preservation effort to save the structures needs supporters, and he's asked the Bledsoe County Genealogical and Historical Society, Tennessee Historical Commission, Tennessee State Library and Archives and Southeast Tennessee Development District's historical preservationist to help.

"This has had a big impact in the community out here on the Cumberland Plateau," Collier said. "And forestry and wood products is a big part of Bledsoe County now.

"The story of the CCC camps needs to be told and needs to be remembered," he said, noting the camp also impacted nearby Fall Creek Falls State Park.

The effort will start with the formation of a community group, and the initial focus will be on the old log cabin headquarters and nursery building about a quarter mile east on Highway 30, he said.

State forestry's budget really only pays for maintaining buildings necessary to operations, Hayne said while striding up the stone stoop into the old log cabin headquarters where a carved stone mantel bears the words "Bledsoe Forest C.C.C. 1940."

The old cabin isn't a priority from the state financial perspective, but it is a central feature to the CCC camp and a striking example of the men's capabilities.

Hayne and Collier said it would be important to get help from experts in the field of historical restoration to make sure it's all done right. Replacement materials could come from the Bledsoe State Forest, just as they did when it was built.

"We'd like to see this be a forest conservation center, " Collier said. "The buildings we're going to bring back to life so they'll be able to tell their own story and so people will understand."

The CCC program was the federal response under Franklin D. Roosevelt to the Great Depression that began with the stock market crash in 1929, and it put more than 2 million out-of-work men back to work, according to the CCC Legacy website, the Tennessee State Library and Archives and "Bledsoe County Tennessee: A History" by county historian Elizabeth Robnett.

The men were paid $30 a month, $25 of which was sent home to their families. Their lodging, meals, clothing, medical and dental care were free.

According to records at the Bledsoe County Public Library in Pikeville, the men of "District C" Company 1466 were sent to a work site with no telephone, no electricity, no water source or a tank for storing water, and the wiring for an electric generator was incomplete.

The road back to Pike-ville was terrible, and the men could only get to town if they could catch a ride.

The men, who numbered in the hundreds, were almost completely isolated. Even when they finally got a telephone connection it was a party line with at least a dozen customers on it, making it practically useless and not very private.

But they built the buildings that stand today and populated the state forest with trees.

The camp's men also netted a third ranking among the 52 camps in "District C" after all the camps were inspected in September 1937 by officers of the U.S. Army's 6th Cavalry, according to the Oct. 1, 1937, issue of The Bledsonian newspaper. Lt. Hughes L. Ash, the company commander at the time, got a letter of commendation for the achievement.

The rating at the time was the highest any Bledsoe County camp had ever gotten, the article stated.

Collier and Reece, who's a county commissioner, said they hope to launch the preservation project by putting a historical marker in place in late fall when the Tennessee Division of Forestry celebrates its 100th anniversary.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@times or or or 423-757-6569.