Friends of Highlands Hammock State Park
Of all of President Franklin Roosevelt’s efforts to pull America out of the Great Depression of the 1930s, “[f]ew programs...would shine brighter than the conservation-based Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)...” The program was intended to safeguard two of America’s most valuable assets - its youth and its natural resources. Eventually over three million young men would participate. Their wages were “a dollar a day,” $30 a month of which $25 was sent home to help support and feed parents and younger siblings. The $25 was a serious inducement for parents, specifically mothers, to get their unemployed and idle sons into the CCC. This money literally staved off malnutrition and possibly starvation for millions of Americans. The money had a huge multiplying effect, as it went directly back into circulation helping local businesses as parents bought food and clothing for their families.
Florida eventually had 73 camps working on almost 700,000 acres of national forest and private lands. Initially, most of the work was forestry-based, hence the iconic sobriquet for the CCC, “Roosevelt’s Tree Army.” Projects included growing and planting trees (ultimately over 19,000,000) building roads and fire protection breaks, and fighting forest fires. Eventually, the CCC was also responsible for constructing the first eight state parks, including many of the structures at Highlands Hammock.
Highlands Hammock State Park was Florida’s first state park, and as such the park is now host to the state’s Civilian Conservation Corps Museum. The museum, established in 1994, is located in a restored CCC building and contains exhibits highlighting the efforts of the 50,000 young men who served in the state between 1933 - 1941. Helping to maintain the memory of the CCC’s efforts in Florida and the on-going support for the museum is one of the Friends of Highlands Hammock’s projects.
Highlands Hammock State Park is honored to be the home of the State of Florida Civilian Conservation Corps Museum. The museum celebrates the work of the CCC “boys” in constructing the first eight state parks in Florida during the Great Depression.
In May of 1976, as part of the United States’ bicentennial celebration, the park’s original CCC Recreation Building was renovated to become a museum with historic displays and artifacts from the period.
On August 2, 1997, the fourth casting of the “CCC Worker Statue” was installed in front of the museum. The work was donated by Henry Billitz in honor of his brother, Emil, who was injured during his time in the CCC. It is dedicated to the some 2875 CCC men who lost their lives between 1933-1942.
The museum experienced a major restoration and was staged with professional displays in the early 2000s. Since that time a major effort has been made to improve the collection with the addition of items from all of the CCC parks, and stage a series of continuing small exhibits that highlight some of the many items in the museum’s large collection.
Thanks to the continuing support of the Friends of Highlands Hammock, the State of Florida Civilian Conservation Corps Museum stands out as one of the premier CCC museums in the country. In 2017 it was deemed by Tim Montgomery, former treasurer of the national Civilian Conservation Corps Legacy group, as the best CCC museum in the country. The museum was instrumental in helping the entire park become listed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 2018.