Thursday, July 30, 2009

Norway Beach Visitor Center, Chippewa NF, Minnesota

The Chippewa National Forest in north-central Minnesota has several dozen campgrounds. There is a visitor center at the Norway Beach site at Cass Lake which has an impressive fireplace from the CCC era.

The young men who enrolled in the CCC entered as unskilled workers. The CCC then hired "local experienced men" to train CCC participants in forestry skills, stonework, ironwork, carpentry, cooking and the other activities necessary for completion of the projects.

The design and creation of the Norway Beach fireplace was credited to a Mr. Larry Johnson, a master mason from the Cass Lake area. He selected and split granite boulders obtained from a local quarry at Benedict, Minnesota. With the aid of the CCC workers, the fireplace was constructed between 1936 and 1938.

The upper photo shows how the split stones were arranged symmetrically to create design elements (in this case a stone "flower"). The lower photo shows the stack of the fireplace with an indenture containing stones arranged in a cross. Above that are other arrangement intended to represent an Indian headdress and the Great Spirit.

(These photos are of suboptimal quality and will need to be reshot.)

Rabideau CCC camp, Minnesota

The Rabideau CCC camp was one of thousands established across the United States, but one of few that still survive. All were built with the intention of serving as temporary quarters for the young men assigned to forestry or land reclamation projects, and most either were dismantled as WWII arrived, or were allowed to deteriorate.

In recent years the Forestry Service has been restoring Rabideaux, much of that work undertaken by volunteers participating in the PIT (Passport in Time) program. Details re the camp and its restoration have been recorded by Andrea LeVasseur, Chippewa National Forest archaeologist.

I visited Rabideau several weeks ago. The caretakers who normally provide guided tours have retired, but the camp can be explored via self-guided tours. There is little stonework in a camp that was designed as a pure working camp rather than as a tourist site. Near the entrance, the PIT volunteers undertaking the restoration found piles of the original fieldstone that had been used to make a greeting sign. That sign is still under restoration; I'll try to return next summer to get a photo of the final result.

Chippewa National Forest HQ, Cass Lake, Minnesota

The headquarters for the Forestry Service in the Chippewa National Forest is located in a CCC building at Cass Lake, Minnesota. It was built in 1935 using huge red pine logs, slotted together in the Finnish style using notches and grooves.

Stonework is evident in the foundation, which utilizes native fieldstone embedded in concrete. But the most impressive feature is the massive fireplace near the building's entrance (top photo). Glacial boulders were split, and the two halves situated opposite one another on each side of the fireplace to yield an impressive and pleasing symmetry (most evident near the keystone at the top of the arch in the second photo). The stones are glacially-deposited local material, probably largely granite; more than 265 tons of them were used to create the massive 50-foot-high stucture. Where the chimney rises through the second floor of the building (third photo), I believe the figure of an angel was intentionally created by the stonemasons.

Cass Lake is situated between Leech Lake and Lake Winnibigoshish in north-central Minnesota. This building is a working office, but it is open to the public during the workday, and a variety of educational materials and displays are available for viewing.

Technical note: Photography was difficult on the day I visited, because the mix of natural light from the windows and the artificial light from incandescent bulbs made the selection of exposure and light balance particularly complex. The colors displayed above are therefore not quite true; I probably should retake the pix on a cloudy day.