by James Rada, Jr.
1965 — Training the Unemployed from the Catoctin Mountaintop
Catoctin Mountain can boast a lot of interesting history from Camp David to the Blue Blazes Still raid. From an Office of Strategic Services training camp during World War II to Camp Misty Mount for children.
“Also on the Government side is the ‘mother’ camp of President Johnson’s Poverty Program,” the Frederick Post reported in 1965.
President Johnson had been the Texas director of the National Youth Administration. It was a New Deal program under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, similar in objective to the Job Corps. Johnson convinced Congress it could work again, according to Barbara Kirkconnell in Catoctin Mountain Park, An Administrative History.
The camp, called Camp Round Meadow, opened in January 1965 and served as the place to train people who would be sent out across the country to depressed areas to open and operate other similar camps.
At the camp, 75 people were hired and trained on how to run a poverty training camp. “While these people are being instructed, some 20 persons accepted as trainees by the new program, will be working in the area,” Kirkconnell wrote.
Consideration of using the park for such a site began in May 1964. Federal government officials visited the park and inspected possible sites for the camp. Within a month, the government began converting the 60-acre Central Garage Unit Area in the country’s first Job Corps Center, according to Kirkconnell.
Besides building the camp, officials met with residents of Thurmont, Hagerstown, and other communities where the camp attendees might spend their off hours. They wanted to make sure that there would be a good relationship between the camp and towns.
“Thurmont merchants were wooed by an expected $200,000 in revenue from supplies, equipment and food sold to the camp for the program,” Kirkconnell wrote.
Camp officials spoke at civic meetings and invited officials and organizations out to tour the camp.
“On January 15, 1965, 85 young men between the ages of 16 and 21 arrived at Catoctin MP to inaugurate the job Corps Program at a site ‘largely unimproved’ since the CCC left in 1941,” Kirkconnell wrote.
The Jobs Corps Center was dedicated on February 27.
The center got off to a rocky start, with staffing problems and too many visiting dignitaries, not only from the federal government but also foreign governments, such as Japan, Canada, British Guinea, England, Israel, the Philippines, and the Ivory Coast.
“Continual recruitment brought a total of 157 recruits into the program but 57 left before the end of June. The bleak winter contributed to homesickness; stark conditions of the camp without indoor recreation facilities and high expectations added to the general ‘depressive atmosphere,’” Kirkconnell wrote.
Camp Director C. A. Maxey blamed the high drop-out rate on the recruits who had “temperamental and emotional problems in boys who had known little but failure,” according to a Baltimore Sun article.
The boys had been recruited from families earning less than $3,000 a year (around $23,000 today) and had an average of a ninth grade education. At the camp, they earned $32 a month plus $50, which was put in a bank account for them. “If they made a family allotment of $25 from the $50, the government matched it with another $25,” Kirkconnell wrote.
The program included a half day of work and a half day of education in the winter. The work time increased and the education time decreased as the weather warmed up. The work consisted of park projects, such as building trails, picnic tables, and needed buildings. They also did work improving the Gettysburg Battlefield.
As they mastered basic skills, they were given more-complex work.
“A sign construction program teaching printing, mechanical drawing, hand routing, measurement skills, painting, and organizational skills produced 225 signs for Catoctin, Greenbelt, Cunningham Falls State Park and Antietam Parks in Fiscal Year 1965-1966,” Kirkconnell wrote.
They also performed work in the surrounding community, such as building a ball field and picnic pavilions for Thurmont parks.
By 1966, things were running far more smoothly. By the end of eighteen months of operation, 439 men had been recruited to the camp. And 102 had transferred out, 165 had resigned, 24 graduated, 16 went back to school or jobs, leaving 111 Corpsmen in camp at the end of June 1966, according to Kirkconnell.
By that time, it became an election year issue. Congress criticized the program and cut funding. Discipline was a problem and so were community relations.
The Job Corps Center finally closed in May 1969.