The CCC in Loveland
© by Sharon Danhauer, 2012, used by permission
The decade of the 1930s in America aptly earned its infamous tag The Great Depression. The economic crisis that gripped the country by the throat simultaneously with great quantities of mid-west topsoil carried aloft by voracious winds was the worst of hard times for most Americans. Spring of 1933 ushered in a new president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and his relief programs for thousands of unemployed Americans. Congress supported the President’s plan and implemented several ‘alphabet-soup’ agencies; a couple were short-lived, a couple morphed into another name. The ECW (Emergency Conservation Work) of 1933 evolved into the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), but the name wasn’t officially changed until 1937.
A loud local political hue and cry secured a CCC camp location near Loveland, Larimer County, in northern Colorado. The CCC sub-leased acreage from the City on grounds adjacent to the Loveland Water Filtration Plant. The site was 8 miles west of town on the north bank of the Big Thompson River at the mouth of a small canyon and on private land leased by the City. The camp housed 200 men plus officers. Six 80-foot wood frame barracks, each with two pot bellied stoves and beds for 40 men were quickly put up. The complex also had a mess hall, latrine, and a large recreation hall. For many younger men from poor families, this was their first encounter with running water and indoor plumbing, daily showers, vaccinations, and a toothbrush. Clothing was provided and three regular meals a day were welcomed as novel to many. The men earned $30 a week and were required to send twenty-five dollars a week home to their families. Camps were run with military efficiency and procedures. Namaqua Camp SP-9-C opened October 6, 1934.
The site of the camp was originally homesteaded by pioneer John Chasteen. The Chasteen family’s land holdings grew from 160 to 460 acres that straddled 3 miles of the Big Thompson River and included imposing high bluffs, a large grass hay meadow, and a rugged scenic gash pretentiously called Loveland’s Grand Canyon. In 1880 a farsighted irrigation project was undertaken to build a substantial log arched dam at the mouth of the canyon on Chasteen’s land. Although built well, it succumbed to a major flood and was replaced in 1894 by another arched dam; this one was made of gigantic fitted stones set in tons of concrete. This engineering feat has withstood several floods of varying size and intensity, including the 500-year Big Thompson Flood that sent a 30’ wall of debris-clogged water charging down the canyon on July 31, 1976, the eve of Colorado’s one hundredth birthday. The dam is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Wooden water piping was laid from the Big Dam to the town. The first building of a water filtration plant was built in 1924 on land leased from John Chasteen. For the twenty years prior to that, different methods of screening and sand filters were employed at the site where Loveland’s water is taken from the river; John Chasteen took care of the filter system for about 10 years before his death in 1912.
John, his son Ed, and their families raised livestock, operated a saw mill and a stone quarry, and used various other means of bringing in a living from the self-sustaining ranch until the land was sold to the City of Loveland in 1947 upon Ed’s death. On the river bank in the hay meadow southeast of the ranch house was Chasteen’s Grove, a popular picnic grounds favored by the public for many decades. The 1976 flood ripped out the shade trees and picnic tables and the area was closed. It was in this meadow, farther back from the river than the picnic grounds, that CCC Namaqua Camp SP-9-C was erected in 1934. Four other CCC camps in Larimer County are also shown in this 1938 map: two in Rocky Mountain National Park, one in Estes Park and one in Buckeye.
The camp was populated by the men of Company 1822-V, consisting mostly of WWI veterans. This company was organized June 16, 1933, soon after President Roosevelt extended CCC criteria to include WWI veterans. With the official end of accepted social prejudices still 30 years in the future, the company was white men only. Company 1822-V had previously been stationed in Forestry camps F-16 and F-27 near Delta and Grand Junction in western Colorado. In its first three years, 825 men from many states served in this company; as of June 1936 most of the enrollees were from Colorado. The designation “SP” indicated a State Park camp, but in Colorado there were no actual State Park projects, only municipal park projects. “C” indicated Colorado. Namaqua Camp SP-9-C mostly worked on Loveland’s mountain metro park and was supervised by the National Park Service. Loveland Mountain Metro Park was later renamed Viestenz-Smith Mountain Park after the men who established Loveland’s municipal power plant at the location.
“…….After a welcome snow storm September 24 and 25, 1934, word was received to move the camp as soon as possible. Side camps moved in, tents were taken down, and on October 2, the entire company moved to the Armory in Delta, Colorado. On October 4, a motor convoy moved from Delta for Namaqua Camp SP-9-C, nine miles northwest of Loveland, Colorado. October 5, the balance of the company entrained at Delta for an overnight trip to the new camp. Arriving at Loveland, the vets found a new camp awaiting them, located on the Big Thompson, and after spending a few days cleaning up the camp grounds, project work was started. The work of this camp consisted of road-building, landscaping, trail-building, and improving picnic areas and construction work in the Loveland Mountain Park, an area consisting of 720 acres, in which was located the Loveland hydro-electric plant.
Among other projects a fine saddle trail was constructed in this park some five miles long. Tree-planting, beetle-control work, rock work, picnic and parking areas, lookout shelter house, and general road work occupied the company until October 31, 1935. Orders to vacate the camp and move to a Boulder camp were received. These orders were rescinded and orders issued to move to Camp SP-14-C, Genesee Mountain, Golden, Colorado. This move was made entirely by truck convoy, and was accomplished in one day, a record move, considering the distance of approximately 75 miles.”
Loveland Mountain (Metro) Park
The men at SP-9 primarily worked up the canyon 5 miles west of their camp at Loveland Metro Park (photo above), erecting three rock and wood structures that stand today on either side of the Big Thompson River. The work was done by hand without benefit of large equipment. Crossing to the south side of Highway 34 from the park, today known as Viestenz-Smith Mountain Park, you may walk along a hiking trail the men built as an access road to the city’s intake dam and wooden water pipe upstream of the power plant. At a scenic promontory just off the trail, the CCC men built another small rock shelter (photo right) to be enjoyed by visitors who can view a sweeping panorama of the park and canyon below.
In the park, the North Picnic Shelter is high on the left bank of the river. Access was possible by a bridge that has been replaced by the city several times. It is the largest of the three CCC buildings, with a gabled roof, flat fitted stone walls, 8 arched doorways, and large rock fireplaces at the east and west ends. Along its north and west sides is a wide groomed lawn. Today it is available by reservation only and is a popular small wedding venue.
The second Shelter is on the south side of the river and abuts the power plant’s tailrace pond. Its walls are made of huge boulders expertly stacked and situated so as to solidly support a shallow peaked roof. The shelter is divided into approximately two halves by a wall of large natural boulders three-quarters the depth of the building. There is a natural rock fire place in each of the east and west rooms. A cedar deck overlooking the pond was added by the city in the 1980s. The shelter is overall strikingly handsome and welcoming.
The third CCC structure was built as the park’s latrine and is smaller than the other two buildings. Today it is a Nature Center with information on native wildlife and plant life in the park. The CCC men may have been aware they had built the strongest outhouse in the state, probably in the entire country. Even a large SUV, forced off the road to land on the roof of the structure, failed to damage it. It more resembles a roof perched on piles of boulders than a conventional building. Its appearance is the most rustic of the CCC buildings in the park.
The catastrophic flood of 1976 completely disintegrated the brick power plant in less than 30 minutes, swooping most of the heavy equipment off its mooring and down the river. The huge wall of water killed 145 people and caused $16 million dollars of damage. But the three CCC buildings stood fast through the watery holocaust. When the power plant was rebuilt, the remaining ruins of the water wheel and dynamo were left as a visual testimony to the power of the flood.
The Corps planned for each camp’s tenancy in 6-month periods. The City of Loveland had lobbied and won the camp location, and expected it to provide work for local men for at least two years (four periods). The city government was mystified when the Corps closed the camp in September of 1935. Loveland had just begun the process to secure loans and grants through the Public Works Administration for more work at the mountain park and several other projects. The town contended the work at the mountain park was unfinished and couldn’t be completed without the CCC. However, Namaqua Camp SP-9-C was closed and dismantled. Company 1822-V was transferred near Golden to work on improvement projects at Denver’s Genesee Mountain Park.
The City of Loveland did secure grant money through the WPA for oiling 30 blocks of streets, constructing a new post office in 1936, a municipal sewer plant and a municipal hall in 1939. WPA money also replaced wooden water lines with steel in 1940, constructed public tennis courts and cemetery projects, and ensured installation of a long-awaited rural electrical system.
Today all Loveland’s alphabet soup projects are still standing as a testament to the work the CCC and the WPA men did while they were here. Only the sewer plant has since fallen into disrepair, as it was shut down in 1962. The Mountain Park Shelters’ roofs and picnic tables have been restored. The post office is still open and kept in good repair, and the municipal building is being remodeled for modern use. Chasteen’s meadow once again produced nutritious hay until the Loveland Water Department built a large concrete water tank on the site of the old camp in 2010. Chasteen’s ranch is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the entire complex including the filtration plant now being named Chasteen’s Grove. The old Water Works building has had several additions and the filtration system is now state of the art. The CCC men have passed on or have moved out of the area. But their descendants talk about their fathers’ and uncles’ lives at the CCC camp on the river west of town in beautiful Chasteen’s Grove.