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Great Smoky Mountains Association Presents ‘CCC Boys of the Great Smokies’

Posted by | 10.10.2017

Imagine, you're 17 years old trying to survive during the Great Depression. Life is tough; food is scarce; jobs are non-existent; and you've turned to petty crime to eke out a living. One day you hear about a new job works program created by the federal government that pays a ‘dollar-a-day. You soon find yourself spending long days planting trees and building roads.

Photo from WCU Archives

Over the next year, you put on 20 pounds, develop good work habits, gain confidence and make life-long friends. The skills you learned help you find a job when you leave camp. Your experience in the Civilian Conservation Corps turns out to be the most important event in your life. It turned you from a boy into a man.

Michigan-based author/songwriter Bill Jamerson will present “The CCC Boys of the Great Smokies,” a music and storytelling program about the Civilian Conservation Corps, in three different locations in November:


Gatlinburg, TN, at the Anna Porter Library on Thursday, Nov. 16, at 6 p.m.

Townsend, TN, at the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage
Center on Friday, Nov. 17, at 6 p.m.

Sylva, N.C, at the Jackson County Public Library
on Saturday, Nov., 18, at 2 p.m.


Reservations for the program, sponsored by the Great Smoky Mountains Association, are recommended as space and refreshments are limited. Proceeds from ticket sales will support Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Dressed in uniform, Jamerson shares stories about the CCC, reads excerpts from his book, shows a short video from his PBS film, and sings original songs accompanied by his guitar.

Bill Jamerson

“It's a nostalgic program with songs, laughter and many heartfelt stories,” said Jamerson, a recent recipient of the 2017 National Educator of the Year award from CCC Legacy, a Virginia-based organization dedicated to preserving the history of the corps. “This program is as entertaining as it is important; as honest as it is fun. It's about people both ordinary and extraordinary, with stories of strength, wit and charm.”

A federal works program created by President Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression, the CCC put more than 75,000 North Carolina men to work during its nine-year run beginning in 1933. Operated by the U.S. Army, CCC camps added $82 million to the North Carolina economy by paying enrollees $1 a day for their services. At month’s end $25 of their pay was sent home to their families, most of who were desperate for food and other basic necessities.   

The CCC in North Carolina planted millions of trees, built hundreds of bridges and dams, and constructed thousands of miles of roads, including the Blue Ridge Parkway. Soil erosion control, gully repairs, fish stocking, fighting forest fires, and building state parks, including Singletary Lake, Fort Macon, Umstead, Mt Mitchell, and Hanging Rock, were all in a day’s work. Some two dozen CCC camps were operated in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with numbers evenly divided between North Carolina and Tennessee.

The camps not only revitalized North Carolina’s natural resources but also turned boys into men by providing discipline and teaching work skills. During the weekends, the men traveled to nearby towns like Sylva, Bryson City and Waynesville to patronized stores, movie theatres, billiard rooms, dance halls, churches and restaurants. Many enrollees met their wives while in camp and helped the local communities during emergencies, such as fires and floods

Jamerson's book, Big Shoulders, reveals a year in the life of a 17-year-old youth from Detroit who enlisted in the CCC in 1937, joining 200 other young men at a work camp in a remote part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Based on the life of an actual CCC boy, it is a coming-of-age story of an angry teenager who faces the rigors of hard work, learning to cope with a difficult sergeant and fending off a bully.

Some of the songs Jamerson performs include Franklin D., written by an appreciative enrollee. Chowtime is a fun look at the camp food, City Slicker is about the mischief the men found in the woods, and Tree Plantin’, Fire Fightin’ Blues tells of the hardships of work in the woods. The folk songs range from heartwarming ballads to foot stomping jigs.

Along with a novel and CD of songs, Jamerson produced the film, Camp Forgotten-The CCC in Michigan, which aired on 58 PBS stations in 1994.  In the program, Bill will talk about many of the interesting enrollees he has met over the years. A question-and-answer period and book signing will follow the presentation. People are encouraged to bring CCC photos or memorabilia to the program.

To reserve your spot for any of the three performances, use the links above or call Dana Murphy, GSMA marketing and membership associate, at 865.436.7318, Ext. 349.

Photos of Jamerson and CCC Boys can be found HERE.

General info on CCC, including photos, can be found HERE.