Roughing It in Clark State Forest: The Purdue Forestry Summer Camp

 

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Students from the first Purdue Summer Forestry camp, 1929 at the Clark State Forest. Photo courtesy of Purdue Forestry and Natural Resources, FNR.1929.PRI.010.

A Purdue forestry student wrote in the forestry department’s satirical yearbook, The Log, in 1934,

If you can read, sometime and somewhere you have read of great discoverers that have made what we call History. Some of these famed discoverers and explorers were men such as Columbus, Balboa, and Magellan, but they are the past. Now, what I want to tell you about is the explorers of today, and the vast areas that have yet to be trodden by mankind.

These contemporary explorers were the freshman class of the Purdue forestry school, who braved the “Wilds of Southern Indiana,” every summer to practice forestry at the Purdue Forestry Summer Camp at the Clark State Forest, near Henryville, Indiana from 1929-1958. The summer camp, still in operation today in Michigan, provided a place for forestry students to apply the theories they learned in the classroom, bond with fellow classmates, and facilitate sustainable forestry management in Indiana and the greater Midwest.

Purdue first offered forestry classes during the 1905-1906 school year, and by 1926, Purdue had its own forestry department within the School of Agriculture. Though Purdue forestry students had been taking week-long trips to the Clark State Forest to study and practice forestry for years, the new department head, Burr Prentice, decided that a longer, more formal period of study was needed to prepare Purdue forestry students for the job market. Prentice established the first forestry camp in the summer of 1929. For eight weeks, the entire forestry student body roughed it in the Clark State Forest, and completed surveys, conducted research, and learned how to properly manage timber to ensure a sustained timber yield. It was so successful that students returned to the forest to work every year until 1958.

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First forestry school campers at work estimating the amount of timber on a tract to determine what can be cut and what left behind for further growth, 1929. Photo courtesy of Purdue Forestry and Natural Resources, FNR.1929.PRI.007.

Clark State Forest, Indiana’s first state forest, served as an ideal place for the students to practice forestry. Indiana established the forest in 1903 to lead the way in the state’s reforestation. Originally, half the land that currently comprises the United States was covered in forests; Indiana alone contained 20 million acres. However, like many forests nationwide, European-American settlers cleared much of Indiana’s forests for farming, fuel, and lumber by the mid-19th century. The widespread clearing of forests helped foster a new conservation ethic in the nation and Indiana in the late 19th century that advocated a different perception of natural resources. Instead of viewing natural resources, including forests, as inexhaustible, conservationists advocated using science and technology to rationally plan efficient development and use of natural resources to ensure enough would be available for future generations.

Foresters, including Indiana’s first state forester, the noted botanist Charles C. Deam, started practicing scientific forestry to help conserve enough trees for future use. They made sure annual cutting did not exceed annual growth of trees, employed methods to reduce disease and fire damage of trees, and conducted experiments to discover which trees were best suited to their specific location. By the time the Purdue forestry students arrived in 1929, the forest had grown from an original 2,000 to 5,000 acres. It also featured a large reserve of hardwood timber and evergreens, as well as over 100 experimental tracts Deam had created and monitored for years to help determine the trees that grew best in Indiana’s soil and climate.

The first camp site at the forest was far from glamorous. The only building for the students was an old red barn, which served as a kitchen, dining room, and study hall.

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Student foresters relaxing in their tents, 1934. Photo courtesy of Purdue Forestry and Natural Resources.

Students lived in tents pitched over wooden platforms, which were only big enough for two bunks and a small walkway. There was no running water or electricity. Students had to take turns carting water from the Forest Supervisor’s home for drinking, cooking, and bathing, so it was used sparingly. The rustic accommodations, and hot and dirty surroundings, inspired the students to christen their camp “Camp Butt.” Students nicknamed Stinky, Shiny, and Rosey even lovingly built a sign bearing the name for their camp in 1932 that the director of the camp, Professor Geltz, allowed them to keep for “the admiration and reverence of the coming generations.”

In 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) began work in the Clark State Forest. Part of their duties involved building a mess hall, study hall, modern bathroom, an instrument shed, and student and staff tent frames for the forestry camp. Students in The Log expressed uncertainty about their new campsite, saddened that their original campgrounds would “no longer flourish in all its simple grandeur.” One student wrote

Electricity and running water can’t always be a companion of the ambitious forester. Those facilities, in my opinion, are for foresters that can’t take it.

However, the thirty nine students who arrived at the new camp in 1935 found it unfinished. Thankfully, there was still no electricity, running water, or showers.

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New cabins built in 1947 to help modernize the camp, circa 1954. Photo courtesy of Purdue Forestry and Natural Resources.

But, there was a big mess hall and study hall complete with two fire places. Even when the entire modern camp was finished in 1936, Professor Geltz created a side camp to keep the tradition of rough living conditions alive that would show the students what field work in forestry was like. The students began spending a week of their experience living in the side camp, sleeping under the stars in tents, cooking for themselves, and writing field notes by lantern light in the evenings.

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Campers cooking in the side camp mess tent, at Clark State Forest, 1935. Photo courtesy of Purdue Forestry and Natural Resources, FNR.1935.PRI.007A.

Since the students spent so much of their time working, they seemed to have spent little time in their new, luxurious accommodations anyway. The work day was from 8AM to 5PM, Monday through Friday, and from 8AM to 4PM on Saturday. The students spent most days in the field, practicing dendrology (study of trees), silvics (growing and cultivation and trees), mensuration (measuring the growth and yield of timber), entomology (study of insects), and surveying, building roads or trails, maintaining the state forests’ buildings, or working in the nursery. In addition to forestry work, each student also had a special assignment to help cook meals, clean, chop wood for fuel, hall water, and other chores. After supper, students studied together in the study hall.

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Campers completing surveying work at the forestry summer camp in Clark State Forest, 1935. Photo courtesy of Purdue Forestry and Natural Resources, FNR.1935.PRI.004.

When the camp was shut down during World War II, Purdue forestry professors decided students could handle even more work and revised the curriculum. The department increased the camp from eight to ten weeks long and required the students to complete three courses (forest surveying, applied silviculture, and forest measurements) while attending. Instead of attending after their freshman year, students now arrived ready to work at Henryville after their sophomore year.

However, true to form as young college students, the campers still found ways to have fun in their off time. They played hockey, swam, and hiked. During the 1930s,

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Date Night at the Purdue Summer Forestry Camp, 1950. Photo courtesy of Purdue Forestry and Natural Resources.

the students played baseball games against the CCC men also working in the state forest, who had their own athletic field. On Wednesday and Saturday nights, the students were allowed to leave the camp. Many of them went to nearby Henryville to play pool or date the local girls. Most years also included a special trip to Louisville to tour Churchill Downs, the Slugger baseball bat factory, and a saw mill.

The students also dabbled in sketching and writing poems, essays, and jokes to express themselves in their free time. Existing copies of The Log contain humorous recollections of daily activities in the camp, cartoons, and poems about forestry work. Clement Bryan, a forestry student from 1933-1937 who edited the summer camp yearbook in 1934 wrote the following simple poem after a hard days’ work as a forester at camp:

Tired and weary,
Sweaty,
Dirty,
Lagging step and listless hands;
His work done

–the forester.

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“Surveyin” cartoon created by a forestry student, The Log, 1932, p. 21. Courtesy of Purdue Forestry and Natural Resources.

Unfortunately, in 1954 rumors started that the US Highway 65 (now Interstate 65), which roped around the forest, would be rerouted through the campsite. The students spread through the forest to investigate and found a State Highway Commission crew surveying the area for the new highway that would pass within a few feet of the camp. In 1958, the Purdue Forestry department acquired 17 buildings for a new campsite along the shores of Lost Lake in the Nicolet National Forest, near Tipton, Wisconsin. The last camp held at the Clark State Forest ended in August 1958.

Forestry students included an article in their 1959 Log year book dedicated to the closing of the camp at Clark State Forest to show how embedded the camp was in Purdue forestry tradition.

Since the summer of 1929 nearly 800 students and staff have studied, and taught, and cried, and laughed, and sweat[ed], and learned, and lived, at the Forestry Camp, Henryville, Indiana. But on August 1, 1958…the camp was abandoned. But memories of the camp will never die, and for years to come Purdue foresters will talk about ‘when the camp was at Henryville.’

Purdue Forestry and Natural Resources is one of a few universities that still offers a residential camp for students. Increasing expenses led many universities to eliminate their camps. Purdue’s camp survived because of the generosity of John S. Wright, who endowed the program to keep it affordable for students. The camp now also includes students in other disciplines, such as fisheries, aquatic sciences, and wildlife. Participants focus on land measurement, surveying, inventory of natural resources, and resource management. The 2016 summer camp was held in Iron River, Michigan. To enjoy more of the school’s history, explore their FNR Past and Present webpage, which contains histories and photos of the summer camp, copies of The Log year book, and class photos from 1938.

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Purdue summer practicum group, 2016 at Iron River, Michigan. Photo courtesy of Purdue Forestry and Natural Resources.

 

World War II Comes to Indiana: The Indiana Army Ammunition Plant, Part I

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Indiana Ordnance Works, 1940s, Image courtesy of Hagley Digital Archives.

The Indiana Historical Bureau recently completed research and marker text for the massive WWII smokeless powder plant in Charlestown, Indiana known as the Indiana Army Ammunition Plant. The plant received multiple military awards for production, transformed the local community and bolstered its economy, and provided job opportunities for women and African Americans. This historical marker helps fill a void in the State Historical Marker Collection by commemorating Indiana’s WWII home front and the contributions of Hoosier men and women to the war effort.

At the outbreak of war in Europe in September 1939, the Allied Powers desperately needed war supplies to combat Germany’s war resources, as the country had been producing material since the early 1930s. In response, the U.S. established an extensive ordnance system, hoping in part to stave off their own involvement in war. The Evacuation of Dunkirk in May 1940 and Fall of France in June greatly hastened U.S. efforts to construct ordnance plants and resulted in the establishment of the smokeless powder plant in Charlestown. Smokeless powder was crucial to combat because traditional smoke obscured combatants’ vision and revealed their location. Smokeless powder, made from colloided nitrocellulose, acted as the primary explosive propellant for various war ammunition.

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Cords of smokeless powder before being cut into appropriate sizes, 1940s, Image courtesy of Hagley Digital Archives.

Steve Gaither and Kimberly L. Kane contend in their comprehensive 1995 study, The World War II Ordnance Department’s Government-Owned (GOCO) Industrial Facilities: Indiana Army Ammunition Plant Historic Investigation, that the smokeless powder plant in Charlestown, referred to as the Indiana Ordnance Works 1 (IOW1), was one of the first ordnance plants in the nation established to meet WWII war material needs. The southern Indiana town of 939 residents was chosen as the plant site because of its inexpensive land, ready labor force, close proximity to railroads, massive water supply provided by the Ohio River and removal from the country’s borders to avoid bombing or invasion.

Former Charlestown resident Mary T. Hughes described Charlestown to the Indianapolis Times in November 1940 as a “quiet, easy going upland town-one of those southern Indiana towns where rambling homes line the shaded streets and the still peace of the afternoon is like Sunday.” Walter A. Shead similarly profiled the town in a December 1940 Madison [IN] Courier article, stating that Charlestown “has watched the years slip past through the century without even the quickening of a pulse-beat . . . most of whom are retired farmers, has lived the simple life undisturbed by modern conveniences or the quickened tempo of present-day life.” Unsurprisingly, the influx of thousands of workers and rapid industrialization shocked the small town.

Shortly after Congress passed funding for munitions production on July 1, 1940, the federal government awarded E.I. deNemours DuPont Co. a war contract to establish IOW1. The arrangement, known as a Government-Owned Contractor-Operated (GOCO) collaboration, was undertaken frequently in WWII. In GOCO collaborations, the federal government owned the ordnance plant and a business experienced in mass production was responsible for plant design, construction and operations. Soon after DuPont was awarded the contract, agents arrived in Charlestown to purchase properties including businesses, churches, farms and private residences to build the plant, affording local residents unheard of economic opportunities.

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Purchased house, Indiana Ordnance Works Real Estate Acquisition 1941, Charlestown, Indiana, Image courtesy of Indiana Memory Digital Collections.

When construction began that summer thousands of  workers from around the nation flooded the small community, hosting 30,000 transient workers at the peak of construction. An article in the September 13, 1940 Louisville Courier-Journal vividly described the transformation, stating:

“. . . farm houses were being wrecked. In that wreckage could be seen bruised and tangled masses of cultivated flowers, some in bloom, and imported shrubbery. The fields which this spring were planted in corn, soybeans and other crops were being subjected to the same treatment as if they had contained ragweed. Ears of golden yellow corn were being trampled underfoot by the  workmen or ground under the wheels of motor cars.”

In addition to the smokeless powder plant, the federal government worked with the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in early 1941 to establish a bag-loading plant known as the Hoosier Ordnance Plant (HOP). HOP workers weighed, assembled and packed smokeless powder into silk bags. HOP, along with an uncompleted double-base rocket powder plant, Indiana Ordnance Works 2 (IOW2), drew thousands of construction and production workers to the area.

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Mixer House Building 208, 2014, Image courtesy of Abandoned Online.

Housing these workers became the town’s most immediate problem, as Charlestown had approximately 235 existing homes and one hotel so crowded that “you can’t get a room for love or money” (Gary-Post Tribune, December 1940). Indianapolis newspapers reported that new arrivals were so desperate for housing that they lived in trailers, cars, chicken coops, barns, lean-tos and even the town jail. A Charlestown Courier article colorfully reported in February 1941 “It may have been a hen house, wash house, wood house, garage or what have you for lo, these many years, but the minute it has been insulated, windows and chimney installed and Powder Plant workers have moved in and hung lace curtains, it becomes a guest house.”

Another immediate problem facing Charlestown was the town’s lack of rudimentary sanitation systems. According to a 1942 public health survey, prior to the plants’ establishment the town had no systematic trash or human waste disposal program. Additionally, Charlestown lacked a public water supply, depending primarily on private wells and cisterns. The absence of sanitary accommodations caused residents and officials to worry about epidemics. The 1942 survey reported “The dangers to health flowing from a congestion of workers drawn from north and south and east and west, eating and sleeping under the most elementary conditions, crowded into inadequate quarters and served by water, milk, and sanitary facilities designed for a small community can hardly be exaggerated.” The establishment of trailer camps, accommodating hundreds of workers and their families in close proximity, worsened these fears. Conditions proved so precarious that even the town jail was condemned and closed by the State Board of Institutions for sanitation reasons.

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Charlestown, 2014, Image courtesy of Abandoned Online.

The overcrowding of local businesses, infrastructure and sanitation facilities generated tension between local residents and transient workers regarding who should shoulder the burden. A Madison [IN] Courier article explained that “Native folks in Charlestown are a little dazed, for they hardly know just what to make of this hub-bub which has come to shake the even tenor of their ways, a manner of life which has endured for more than a century.” Locals often labeled newcomers “du Ponters” and their children as “powder children” in an effort to differentiate themselves. Conversely, Margaret Christie reported in the Indianapolis Star that many migrant workers resented the implication that locals considered them “’trailer trash.” Debates between local residents and transient workers played out publicly in letters to editors of local newspapers. For the most part, however, locals adjusted to the influx of transients and Charlestown permanently benefited from their patronage.

Check out Part II to learn about how the ordnance facility led to permanent improvement of the town, the use of German POWs, and how the plants ushered women and African Americans into the WWII labor force.