Sunday, June 30, 2013

Civilian Conservation Corps stonework at Gooseberry Falls State Park - Part III


On my recent blogcation I slipped away for a day to Gooseberry Falls State Park, on the North Shore of Lake Superior, to continue documenting the outstanding stonework created by the CCC in the 1930s.  Today we'll take a tour of the "campground area" away from the falls.

The state of Minnesota does not charge a fee for viewing the Falls and hiking the trails, but the campground area requires purchase of a day pass.  The first building one encounters is the unobtrusive Ice House.


For modern campers an ice house is no longer relevant; it presumably now serves in some storage capacity.  My interest of course was in the stonework...


...which like that in the rest of the park makes use of the variety of stone available in the region, and shows evidence of the remarkable skill these young men acquired while working with their Italian stonemason supervisors.  The stones are huge, and given that size the amount of cement is modest, attesting to lots of work pre-shaping the stones to nestle into one another and to square the corners of the structure. 


A skilled stonemason will tell you that his wall should remain standing even if all the cement magically disappeared.

Just down the road is the Campground Shelter (see the top photo of this post):


I suspect the knowledge that the shelter would be visited way more often than the Ice House resulted in this building displaying some of the most colorful and visually attractive stonework of the campground.  


Again, these are huge blocks.  Someone with more experience than me may be able to estimate the weights, but it was a monumental task way more challenging than building with bricks. 


The inside walls of this shelter (and the other buildings) have stone walls that exhibit a magnificence not often encountered in public toilets.  This large structure required almost 7,000 man-days of labor and over $4,000 for materials.


Finally, a hat tip to Flickr user Monica for discovering from a conversation with a park ranger that the pattern of the stones above the arch of the shelter is intentionally arranged as a set of "mushrooms."  Some other stones in park building walls are also whimsically arranged or decorated, as for example a "Martian" face crudely carved with drill bits.

A latrine further down the road shows the same careful work:



As does the handsome Ladyslipper Lodge:


This was the first shelter built (in 1935), intially open to the weather and not enclosed until four years later.  It was originally outfitted with seven cast iron cook stoves for the use of campers and visitors.  Its completion used 3,200 man-days of work and cost about $2,000 for materials.


At the end of the campground there is one final shelter, appropriately named the Lakeview Shelter because it sits on a bluff with a view to the northeast across 250 miles (!) of water.*


Built using about 3,900 man-days of work, and again about $2,000 for materials, this shelter has been in continuous use for 75 years, hosting reunions, graduation parties, and weddings.



The final building, closest to the waterline, is the little "pumphouse"



I like the way this humble little building got lots of attention from the young CCC men, with a nice variety of stone and tight joints.  The view of the window in the photo below emphasizes the thickness of the walls in all of these structures.


And this last one, being the closest to the water and most frequently wetted with spray, has the most abundant growth of lichen.


I realize this part of the tour has been a little repetitive.  The next (final) installment - after I get the photos curated - will be more interesting, featuring the non-building structures of the campground (benches, fences, water fountains, stairs, and picnic tables).

*This is an amazing lake.  If you go three miles offshore from the campground, the lake is as deep as a 70-story skyscraper, and the 3,000,000,000,000,000 gallons of water in it would cover all of North and South America a foot deep. 

Previously:

Part I - the Falls and the massive stone concourse (the "Castle") near the viewing area.
Part II - the Visitor Center and water tower.
Five posts about CCC stonework in other locations (scroll down past the Gooseberry Park entries).

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Civilian Conservation Corps stonework at Gooseberry Falls State Park - Part II


The last time I blogged about CCC stonework at Gooseberry Falls was in midsummer, when the falls themselves were spectacular and I only had time to document the massive stonework known as the "Castle."  During my October "blogcation" visit, the falls had dried to a trickle, so I was able to spend my time hiking to other locations.

Gooseberry Falls State Park is located on the North Shore of Lake Superior and because of the rugged scenery and spectacular falls became a major tourist attraction as early as the 1920s when automobile travel became increasingly available to the public. 


When the public works projects of the Civilian Conservation Corps were created, one major focus was creation and improvement of infrastructure at state and national parks.


The image above, from a page in the Gooseberry Falls CCC Legacy self-guided tour guide, documents how many CCC projects are incorporated within the state park.  Today's post features the "Falls View Shelter" located on the north side of the bridge crossing the river.

When the park was first created, visitors pulled off to the side of Highway 61 at the "Castle" retaining wall/lookout site that I blogged last time, and here at the Visitor Center.


It was constructed in 1938-39 as the last stone construction in the park, and served as the "Bridgehead Refectory" where visitors could purchase a chocolate malt, sandwiches and refreshments, shop in a "Nature Store," and view exhibits in the Interpretive Center.  It served as the primary visitor center until the mid-1990s, when a large new center was built capable of handing the increasing throngs of tourists.  When I visited this building, I was the only human being in sight.  It's well-preserved as a historical landmark (there may be some administrative or storage function inside).

My interest, of course, was in the stonework -


- which is magnificent in scale and craftsmanship, and to my eye beautiful in design.
Two Italian stone masons, John Berini and Joe Cattaneo, supervised the intricate stone work executed throughout the park using combinations of red, blue, brown and black granite. The red granite was quarried in Duluth near the College of St. Scholastica, while the darker variety was taken from an outcrop near East Beaver Bay, just north of the park. The sand for the mortar was brought from Flood Bay, south of the park, and logs were obtained at Cascade River State Park.
The professional stonemasons supervised a crew of about 20 boys and men brought from the soup kitchens of the Depression-era cities.  Some of them did the drilling and blasting of the rock at the quarries, others transported and hand-winched the rocks at the working sites, and the mason trainees cut the rocks to fit the needed spaces.

As with other CCC projects, local material was used, but the stones were transported a significant distance in order to take advantage of the varying colors and textures of the material.  A perfectly adequate building could have been constructed using just the black or blue stones, but the pride of a stonemason lies in creating beauty as well as functionality.

The masons liked to brag that the building would still stand even if all the mortar were gone.  I have no reason to doubt that - look at the thinness of the mortar separating the stones, which is even more evident in the next building.


The "Water Tower" is located about halfway between the park entrance and the shore of Lake Superior, near the campgrounds.  It's a considerable hike from the upper falls, and I couldn't spend any time there because black storm clouds were rolling in and I was on foot.

But look at this stonework:


Again, the mix of colors - the yellow added as a whimsical accent - and the tightness of fit.  These blocks were hand-hewn on six or eight or ten faces to fit into a particular site, and on the outside face you can see the the chipping and hacking marks.  This is seriously impressive skilled work.

I hope to get back next summer to document the remaining buildings at the park.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

"The Castle" at Gooseberry Falls State Park


As part of my ongoing project to blog the variety of stonework created by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression,  I recently made a quick daytrip to the North Shore of Lake Superior to visit Gooseberry Falls State Park.  About halfway between the towns of Two Harbors and Silver Bay, the park is located where the Gooseberry River tumbles down to Lake Superior via a series of cascades.

The photo above shows the "Upper Falls" just north and west of the highway.  I have visited the park many times, but most often in the dryness of midsummer; recent rains before this visit had swollen the river to an impressive degree.

When the Roosevelt administration set up the CCC, its prime directive was (as the name implies) conservation of farmland, water, and wildlife.  A secondary goal was to create recreational facilities nationwide (in part so that the non-farming citizenry could see a practical and enjoyable return for the government's expenditures).  Gooseberry Falls State Park provides a good example of recreational development.

In the 1930s, the very scenic North Shore of Lake Superior was just becoming accessible to the general public.  It had previously been used by industry (fur trade, iron ore, timber), but the completion of Highway 61 from Duluth to the Canadian border now gave the public access and kick-started the tourist industry in this region.


The highway crosses the river between the Upper Falls and the Middle Falls, shown here (modern bridge visible top left).  In 1933 the CCC was tasked with enhancing the tourist experience.
With the rise of North Shore tourism in the 1920s, there was a concern that the highly scenic North Shore would be accessible only to the rich. As a result the Legislature authorized preservation of the area around Gooseberry Falls in 1933. The following year, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) began to develop the park. CCC crews built the park's stone and log buildings and the 300-foot long "Castle in the Park" stone retaining wall. They also laid out the original campground, picnic grounds and trails.
The largest project (and the one I'm focusing on today) is a feature variously referred to as "the wall" or "the castle."  Adjacent to the highway where it crosses the river, a "scenic overlook" was constructed, with a parking concourse for tourists' cars, including a stone retaining wall with a walking promenade.  Vehicle parking was later moved away from the highway into the park itself, but the wall remains.  Here's the southern end:


From this vantage point it's not any more remarkable than the thousands of other walls created by CCC stonemasons around the country.  At intervals the continuity of the wall is interrupted; I don't know why the holes are blocked with iron bars - presumably to keep rugrats from traversing the gap (?).


As you walk along the parapet, signage explains local geology and some details of the construction.  The wall was built between 1936 and 1940 and is 300 feet long, 15-25 feet high, and 12 feet wide at the base.  Stone was quarried locally, and the CCC enrollees were supervised by two Italian stonemasons.


I think the professionalism of the work is best exemplified by how tightly fitted the stones are.  After they were cut at the quarry and transported to the site, they were hand-cut to shape, and are not boringly-repetitive rectangular blocs; they are cut into a variety of polygons and sealed with comparatively modest amounts of cement:


After the 1930s-1950s visitor parked the car on the concourse, access to the Middle Falls was via this immense staircase:


After you reach the bottom of the stairs, the immense size of the wall can be better appreciated.  Again, what impresses me is the paucity of "small" blocks to fill the spaces between the large ones.  I suspect the stonemasons who supervised the city kids in the CCC had decades of experience building dry stone walls that would remain stable even without mortar.


Some of the blocks weigh over 7 tons apiece, and had to be lowered from the road above by a derrick (which had to be constructed by the camp blacksmith).

One final view, as I backed away from the wall, shows more of the fitted blocks, and why the wall is often likened to a "castle."


As one continues down the park trails toward the Middle and Lower Falls (and eventually down to Agate Beach), there is a modern statue honoring the young men who did the work:


These kids and young men (and some old men) were harvested from the unemployment lines of the cities, transported to barracks in farm and wilderness areas, fed and clothed, and spent every day building the infrastructure that we still enjoy.  I have immense respect for this program; in my view it was public relief ("welfare") done correctly.

Some final observations not related to the CCC.  A park employee snapped this photo of the Lower Falls on June 12, five days before I arrived.  By the time I arrived on the 18th, the river was considerably higher.  I spent a day at the park (and rockhounding on some nearby beaches) and would have spent another day, but the weather turned worse, with predictions of rain, so I headed back to Wisconsin. 


The day I left was the start of a historic deluge that many of you may have seen on the national news.  Duluth received 8" of rain (two months' worth) in that one storm, and the Two Harbors area by the park received about 10".  Here's how that rainfall affected the river.


Many roads and hiking trails in the area were obliterated by the floodwaters.  More photos of the North Shore flooding here.

I'll be back - hopefully later this summer, because there's lots more CCC stonework at the park to blog, including some spectacular buildings.  Further information is available in the Gooseberry Falls CCC Legacy self-guided tour.

 (Cross-posted from TYWKIWDBI)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

How to build a camp stove or fireplace


An email from a reader alerted me to the existence of a book entitled "Camp Stove and Fireplaces," by A.D. Taylor (1937), which my local library was able to obtain for me.  This publication by the Forest Service of the United States Department of Agriculture served as a reference manual for participants in the CCC undertaking stonework.

It's a surprisingly comprehensive and sensible instructional book, illustrated by clear line drawings such as those above.  It does not discuss stuctures such as buildings, bridges, and walls - just the fire-related structures along trails and at campsites.  In an era when huge numbers of Americans were for the first time beginning to discover and explore the national and state parks, the book was written with a goal of producing campfire sites that would minimize the risk of forest fires, while blending the design of the structures into the natural landscape as attractively as possible.

I didn't realize the CCC provided this degree of formal training; I thought most of the skilled work was simply guided by "local experienced men."  This book may help explain some of the uniformity of structures that can be seen in parks across the country.

[Cross-posted from TYWKIWDBI].

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Civilian Conservation Corps stonework at Devil's Lake State Park

This is the second installment in what I plan as a long-term survey of stonework created by the Civilian Conservation Corps.  In October my wife and I drove up to Devil's Lake State Park (the one in Wisconsin) to enjoy the foliage and to hike some of the trails.  After getting back, I eventually obtained from the library an excellent book entitled Devil's Lake Wisconsin and the Civilian Conservation Corps, by Robert J. Moore.  The embedded quotes below are from this book.

My first photos are of the administrative building (where a plaque embedded in bicolored stone notes the park's 100-year anniversary).  The stonework is typical of what I have seen at other state and national park buildings in that the stones are not squared off into regular rectangles, but rather kept near their original shape, chiseled just enough to allow them to be fitted together.  The color of the stone reflects the local geology.
"In accordance with National Park Service master plans, the new building... was designed to fit with the natural surroundings as closely as possible.  Crucial to fulfilling that idea was the search for construction materials that were native to the Baraboo Hills.  At the top of the construction list was attractive building stone... The stone would come mostly from the previously abandoned quartzite works...

The most practical challenge for the young men was to safely remove the stone from the quarry.  Next, they used chisels to shape and bring out the brilliance and color hues of the stone.  Quartzite is beautiful but also a hard type of tightly compacted sandstone, so considerable work was necessary to shape the pieces after they were taken from the quarry pit... [stone of other colors was obtained from other quarries]... Winter made the use of sleds to move stone blocks from the quarry a very practical option...
Stone masonry, even using the rustic standards of the NPS, was a challenging job... At the quarry, enrollees would use picks, chains and winches (but no explosives) to break off and select just the right size boulders... Once the rocks made their way to the job site, they would be individually placed on benches at single workstations.  Dozens of CCC boys spent many hours standing at the benches and shaping quartzite blocks using a hammer and chisel.  Their work required long hours of standing, sweating and sculpting flat surfaces so the stone could be dropped into a prearranged yet natural-looking slot in the building wall...

While long rectangular blocks were meticulously measured and shaped for use in windowsills and door thresholds, the rustic style allowed for deliberate imperfections elsewhere.  The color nuances of the rock used in construction at the park were both a pleasant coincidence and an opportunity for creative expression... Shades of medium brown, gray and especially the distinctive pink and deep lavender of the quartzite at Devil's Lake are all present in the building walls... 
Here's another administrative building which I passed on our way out of the park.  Couldn't get over for close-up photos, but it is impressive just re the size of the building and the amount of stonework required for its completion.
As attractive as the building exteriors are, you can see some evidence from the masonry that these were amateurs and trainees, not experienced stonemasons.  The CCC did hire "local experienced men" (LEMs) to supervise masonry and construction work and to train the boys in the skills.  (Their hiring also helped quell fear in local communities that crews of CCC boys would steal jobs from local people during these recession years).  On arrival at the CCC camps, the boys typically had no relevant job skills.  By the time they left the CCC they could get work in the private sector doing stonework, or carpentry, or auto mechanics or cooks or whatever.

But re the stonework itself, compare the width of the mortar in the second photo above (perhaps an inch thick in many places) with that of this column which I found along a hiking trail:
It's an attractive piece of work which presumably held some sort of light or lantern when it was built.  It now sits unused and ignored along a back trail, but to my eyes it gives testament to the craftsmanship of some of the workers.  Note the very tight fit of the stones, plus the fact that about half of them are corner stones requiring shaping on multiple sides.  These were meticulously fitted together, either by experienced stonemasons, or boys at the end of their training, or just a crew with a lot of time to devote to this feature.

I want to move on now to the trail work, which at most parks just involves landscaping, but at Devil's Lake required some truly impressive stonework.

The park is characterized by some geologic features somewhat unusual for Wisconsin, including steep cliffs with a slope of talus (French etymology) (or "scree" if you prefer a word derived from Old Norse) beneath. 
It was hard for me to get a proper photo because I couldn't back off enough, but any reader who has visited mountains will understand the setting.  It's basically an enormous jumble of immense irregular boulders.  We looked at it and thought about these crews of young boys being told their task and probably wondering "They want up to put a trail through THAT?"
They did exactly that.  When you get to the edge where the woods meets the talus slope, a series of stepping stones leads you upward.  This is the beginning of the Balanced Rock Trail.
In keeping with NPS guidelines and approval by the State of Wisconsin, trail work in the park using heavy machinery or motorized equipment was prohibited... The way it usually worked was that a crew of about six would be assigned a section of trail.  A LEM went along at first to make sure proper safety procedures were followed.  Enrollees were allowed to use winches, steel leverage rods and chains to get the job done...

The Balanced Rock Trail is a good place to see remnants of CCC work.  Beginning near the southeast shore, it switch-backed up the south face of the bluff, first through a small stand of timber and then sharply up through the pink quartzite talus field with its enormous boulders... Chipping was sometimes necessary to create a flat surface before a stone could be placed.  They wielded huge boulders of quartzite, requiring lifting by two or more men, and carefully placed them on the trail, making sure they were aligned with the previous stones so hikers could more easily step up... 
There are places during the switchbacks where the trail levels off:
Some type of fill has been added here; I thought the CCC did it, but it may be a later addition:
The steps themselves are universally, and by necessity uneven in width and height from one to the next and in places are often only wide enough for one person at a time to pass.  The NPS master plan suggested stone placement without mortar, although some segments were cemented in later years by state park workers as a safety measure.  
On behalf of thousand of older folks still trying to navigate rustic trails, I'd like to express my appreciation to the National Park Service for the later improvements.  But after a while the path switches back and climbs again:
The CCC boys built no handrails, nor did they install ropes lines or put in trailside benches... The primitive trail construction features were deliberate in an effort to create a minimal impact on the land... A person standing on the southeast shore of the lake looking directly at the south talus rock field a few hundred feet away will not see a trail - only a tumbled mass of boulders frozen in place on the cliff side. 
On the day we visited, fallen leaves and pine needles combined with a light rain (and the absence of railings) made the rocks a little too slippery for us, so I don't have photos continuing on to the top.  But I think the quality of the stonework is apparent.
We turned back to enjoy the woodland trails and the autumn foliage.  Perhaps next summer I can return to photograph some of the culverts, bridges, and other stonework produced by the CCC,

[Cross-posted from TYWKIWDBI]

Saturday, November 12, 2011

This blog is moving

I've been unable to give this blog the attention it deserves in order for it to continue as a free-standing entity. 

So, I'm going to incorporate my future posts about CCC stonework into my main blog - TYWKIWDBI.  I'll gradually move all the content from this blog over to that one.  And all new material will be posted there, not here.

I just posted some new material today - on the CCC stonework at Devil's Lake State Park in Wisconsin.  It's a good post that you (few) CCC fans will appreciate.


Saturday, March 6, 2010

Minnehaha Falls

Minnehaha Falls is arguably the most widely-known scenic location in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metroplex.  In the 1930s the park surrounding the falls was extensively improved by crews from the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Project Administration.

The stonework that greets the visitor to the park at the upper levels of the falls is masterfully crafted, and judging by the similarity of the blocks to one another, I would assume this is quarry-harvested stone.


The walls are handsome and seem quite formal for what amounts to a rural setting.  This rounded wall terminating in a wrought-iron fence would not be out of place at a castle.

I believe CCC crews tried to use local material whenever possible.  This formal wall  terminates near the creek, where the native limstone is apparent.  The native stone is more irregular in shape and slightly darker in color.

This is one of the stairways leading from the upper park down to the areas below the falls (along the creek).  For this stairway, the sidewalls and columns appear to be of native material.
Better seen in this closeup view of the wall of the stairway.  It takes more skill to create a wall out of differently sized pieces like this than the wall at the top of this post.
Our trip now brings us down to the lower reaches of the park, where the slopes along the creek are held up by retaining walls, also crafted from local limestone.  This section is rather nicely done:
This wall was probably assigned to new trainees, because the limestone slabs are at irregular angles, and the mortar is much thicker, but it has served its purpose for 80 years..
In a number of places in the park the walls have started to deteriorate - an inevitable consequence in a climate where fall and spring bring freeze/thaw cycles.





A quick websearch yielded thousands of photos of Minnehaha Falls itself, but few of the stonework (which is one reason I've created this blog).  Some of the better pix of stonework are these of another staircase, the bridge over the falls, the WPA retaining wall and hiking path along the creek, another staircase, and the bridge over the creek below the falls.