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CCC’s work in 1933 Homestead forged the trails for Everglades National Park

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Posted: Thursday, May 3, 2012 12:00 am

Civilian Conservation Corps boys of Company 262 working in Everglades National Park with the help of a small dragline (crane). Note that the boys all have manually operated shovels and a very basic wheel barrow. Company 262 was assigned to Everglades National Park in October 1933.


Members of the CCC Company 262 work on a trail inside Royal Palm Park between October 1933 and May 1934. They cleared trails and underbrush while building trails and constructed buildings.






Pictured here is a structure that was constructed by the CCC out of heavy rock and wooden beams. To join the CCC the young men needed to be unemployed, single and their families on welfare. In the year of the CCC’s inception, unemployment was 24.9%. Photos courtesy of Florida Pioneer Museum.




The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) work at Royal Palm State Park pushed along efforts to create Everglades National Park.  Not only did the CCC boys create trails, nature walks and build a fire tower and a telephone line, but they also provided somewhat of a political opportunity for the advocates for the park.

  Niagara Frontier Company 262 of the CCC from the Buffalo, New York area arrived in Homestead in October 1933, just seven months after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had been sworn in. Unemployed young men were given jobs in the CCC with $25 of their pay going home to their families and they received $5. 

  It was not until November that they had their tools and supervisors, and were on the job in Royal Palm State Park. Their camp was in Homestead just south of the old American Legion Building on the east side of South Krome Avenue.

  The CCC boys had not been at work in the park more than six weeks when it was reported in late December of 1933 that “Ernest F. Coe of Miami, executive chairman of the Everglades National Park Association would give a 150 lantern slide show of plant and animal life native to the area in the Homestead grammar school auditorium as part of an educational program arranged for the local Civilian Conservation Corps boys by their commander, Captain M.R. Finney, US Army.  C.H. Rice, instructor in woodworking at Homestead and Redland High Schools gave the CCC boys a lecture on the native woods of Florida and G.F. Sirman of Opa-Loca gave the boys a talk on snakes and other reptiles of Florida.”

  In early January of 1934, the national director of the Civilian Conservation Corps Robert Fechner made an inspection visit to Company 262 in Homestead and Royal Palm State Park.  He took a four-hour plane trip (probably by blimp) over Royal Palm State Park and the “proposed Everglades National Park.”  Ernest F. Coe, executive chairman of the Everglades National Park Association and A.D. Barnes, the Dade County parks superintendent (who was also the procurement officer for the two CCC Camps in Dade County) accompanied him.

  The following day the two men were joined by Fechner’s daughter for an automobile trip of the conservation and reforestation, which the CCC boys were doing in the section of Royal Palm State Park burned by the fire of 1927.  In late May of 1927, fire swept through the north part of Royal Palm State Park.  Fire trucks and men were sent from Homestead, Coral Gables and Miami to fight the fire.

  In March of 1934, Neil McLaurin Coney from the national CCC office of Robert H. Fechner inspected the Company 262 Camp in Homestead. There is no mention of any briefings given him by local Everglades National Park advocates.

  An early April 1934 newspaper account indicates that Mrs. W.S. (May Mann) Jennings, chairman of the Royal Palm Park committee, arranged to have Robert Fechner taken over the park in a blimp during a recent visit.

  While speaking to the Rotary Club of Homestead she reported that she was determined to have the local CCC superintendent William H. Phillips returned in the fall of 1934 to supervise four or five other CCC companies wintering here.  

  In June of 1934, after hearing the departing Company 262 U.S. Army Captain M.R. Finney speak to the Rotarians, that club put together a powerful committee with the Redland Lions Club with W.J. Fisk and T.E. Kirby representing the Redland Lions and Homestead Mayor P.B. Bird and Frank Rue, the Homestead Rotarians.

  May Mann Jennings also reported to the Rotarians that “Theodore Roosevelt had at one time wanted to make a national monument of Royal Palm State Park and the area around it.” 

  She was probably the one responsible for the transfer of Company 262 from Glacier National Park in Montana to work in Royal Palm State Park in October of 1933.  Congress later passed a bill making any areas being looked at for national park designation ineligible for CCC assistance.

  As strong a woman as she was, she was not able to arrange for the return of any CCC companies to work on Royal Palm State Park.

  May Mann Jennings was the president of the Federated Women’s Club of Florida (1914-1917) when she made the establishment of Royal Palm State Park a part of her ecology program for her term of office. 

  Her project grew to be Everglades National Park.  She continued as chairman for the Park until 1936 and was present on the platform to deed over the Royal Palm State Park when President Harry Truman dedicated the National Park in 1947. 

  Several Federated Women’s Clubs were chartered at Mrs. Jennings’ behest to support the founding of this first state park in Florida.  Her husband had been governor of the State 1901-1904, which gave her the advantage of understanding the working of politics.  She was able to successfully lobby the legislature to donate 960 acres to match the 960 acres donated by Mrs. Henry Flagler to establish Royal Palm State Park in 1915. 

  The Florida Department of State selected Mrs. Jennings as one of the Great Floridians 2000 for the contributions she had made on this and several other projects.  The designation plaque was mounted on the Redland Hotel porch in recognition of her speaking to the area’s Women’s Clubs at that location and the establishment of the Woman’s Club of Homestead there.

  This article was based almost entirely on predecessor local newspapers to the South Dade News Leader.


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