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CCC Transforms Tropical Jungle into State Park

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: George I. (Pete) Esthus
Source: Sarasota County Historical Resources
Credit: Sarasota County Historical Resources

Sarasota History - CCC Transforms Tropical Jungle into State Park photo

That is the headline on page 2 of the Sarasota Tribune on March 3, 1935. Articles written by Charlotte Townsend and William A. Cook detail a life of hard, back-breaking work balanced by feelings of satisfaction for a job well done.

The Civilian Conservation Corps was part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program of 1933. At a maximum strength of about 600,000 men, it was the largest peace-time army in America’s history. During its nine-year lifetime more than 2,000,000 men, ages 18 to 25 served in the CCC.

After walking and canoeing into a 25,000 acre wilderness in October of 1934, the CCC boys began to clear dense hummocks, fell trees, plow fire lanes, dig ditches and make shell pathways. All the lumber needed to build five one-room cabins and the open-air pavilion was harvested by hand on-site. Palm tree trunks with hand-hewn notches became walls, while pine timbers supported roofs of hand-rived cypress shingles. Huge slabs of limestone came from Manatee County to build cozy fireplaces and chimneys. Hand-made bridges carried a 10 ton load limit.

Feeding approximately 160 to 200 men three meals a day kept the kitchen crew busy with fixing daily rations of meat, vegetables, potatoes, fruit, dessert, coffee, tea, milk and cocoa. Special treats consisted of mud turtle, alligator tail, fish, rattlesnake steaks, and swamp cabbage.

Athletic teams from the CCC camp competed with local teams in baseball, softball and basketball while some of the boys engaged in boxing or wrestling at the American Legion Coliseum.

Hard work, plenty of good food, and regular outdoor exercise generally resulted in little boys turning into strong, healthy young men. Any of their health or medical problems were handled in their infirmary by Lieutenant Arthur Lamar Matthews, M.D., who later established his own private practice here in Sarasota. 

The roles of Bertha Palmer, her sons Potter and Honore, her brother Adrian C. Honore, Judge Paul C. Albritton, A.B. Edwards, and the heirs of J.F. and S.E. Curry have been well documented in various books written about the history of Sarasota.

While the Myakka River State Park is comprised of approximately 28,000 acres, only about 8,000 acres are open to the public for recreational purposes. If acres are hard to comprehend, realize that there are about 640 acres to the square mile. Twenty-eight thousand acres equals about 44 square miles, a parcel perhaps 4 miles wide and 11 miles long.

So the next time you visit Myakka River State Park, pause to say thanks to the boys and men who helped make a little bit of paradise in the middle of a lot of wilderness.