It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Camp Thunderbird of the Civilian Conservation Corps!

Today’s post was written by Holly Rivet, archival technician at the National Archives in St. Louis.

The Washington State Park Civilian Conservation Corps Historic District (NAID 63818134) in Washington County, Missouri is protected by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 as of March 4, 1985. This site was home to the Civilian Conservation Corps Company (CCC) 1743, an all-African American crew between 1933 and 1939.  The crew constructed fifteen structures and the 1,000 Step Trail which is composed of large limestone blocks quarried and cut locally by Company 1743.   The park was constructed to feature the natural landscape as well as highlight the area’s archaeological sites of more than 1,000 year old petroglyphs associated with the Mississippian peoples.  What is known as the “thunderbird” is frequently found in these petroglyphs.  Company 1743 named their base camp ‘Camp Thunderbird’ after these historic pieces.  Some of the men created a musical group called the ‘Thunderbird Ramblers’ as one of their off duty activities.

man standing on top of a circular stone structure with the beams for the roof that is about to be completed
Lookout Shelter, Under Construction, Jan 1936 (NAID 63818134)

Thunderbird Lodge and Nature Center (formerly known as the Old Contact Station, c. 1936) are still in use today at the park.  The original limestone steps have also been maintained and are still utilized by the park’s visitors.  You can connect with Company 1743 in the National Archives Catalog:  Record Group 79: Records of the National Park Service, 1785 – 2006; Series: National Register of Historic Places and National Historic Landmarks Program Records, 2013 – 2017 (NAID 20812721); Missouri MPS Washington State Park Civilian Conservation Corps Historic District (NAID 63818134).  This application includes historical context, geographical data, list and description of structures, maps, and photographs.

view of limestone steps going through woods
1,000 Step Trail, looking South from the Hillside Shelter, Nov 1983 (NAID 63818134)

More photos of African American CCC activities and enrollees can be requested from Record Group 35: Records of the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933 – 1953; Series: Photographs of African-American Enrollees, 1936-1940 (NAID 513432).  States included in this series are: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

group of men in 2 rows posing w/pick axes
Section 3 at CCC Co. 1743 – De Soto, MO (courtesy Missouri State Parks)

More Information in the Missouri Department of Natural Resources Preservation Issues, Vol. 6, No. 1

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