Michaux Home Page
The History of Camp Michaux - M. S. Reifnsyder
“A History of Camp Michaux” - buy Helen Louise McAdoo
A Short History of the Camp (below) - From Pine Grove Furnace State Park Office
The Military History of Camp Michaux
THE HISTORY OF CAMP
Nestled in the ridges of South Mountain, two miles northwest of Pine Grove Furnace along Michaux Road, lies the site of Camp Michaux. This church camp, formerly shared by the United Presbyterian Church and The United Church of Christ, has an unusual history that is linked to the iron industry in the late 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. The history continues with a Civilian Conservation Corps Camp during the Great Depression and a secret Prisoner of War Interrogation Camp during World War II before the advent of the church camp.
The history of the site begins in 1785 with the establishment of a farm that came to be known as Bunker Hill Farm. The farm consisted of approximately 250 acres and was acquired early in its history by the growing iron industrial complex at Pine Grove Furnace and Laurel Forge. It was one of several farms owned by the iron industry and was used to supply food for men and their families who worked for the company as well as food for animals that were part of the mining operation. The extensive farm operation led the owners of the South Mountain Mining Company to hire a farm expert in 1878 to assist with management of the farms. J.D. North was an expert planter and fruit culturist from North Carolina. Later in 1887, three of the farms including Bunker Hill Farm were leased to William F. Swigert. The iron industry failed in the late 19th century but for a time a brick works at Pine Grove kept the company town alive until 1912 when the State of Pennsylvania acquired the entire iron industry estate’s sixty square miles for $29,827.00.
The last lease holder of the farm was John Gardner who leased it from the State. Because of this some locals refer to the farm as the Gardner Farm. The only surviving features of the farm are the large stone barn wall and the foundations of the farm house nearby. Gardner gave up his lease in 1919 even though a year before it was reported that 1,000 bushels of wheat had been produced there.
The land remained idle for the next 13 years. In 1933, with the Great Depression gripping the country, Franklin Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) as part of his New Deal. The Corp’s purpose was to provide employment and training for young men ages 18 – 25. Sites across the country were selected for this program and it was not uncommon for former iron plantations to be selected because the iron industry had not been environmentally kind to the land that it occupied and the land was in need of reclamation. The former Bunker Hill farm was one of two sites selected for the first two CCC camps in Pennsylvania.
The first CCC men arrived to construct the camp on the old farm in early 1933. They arrived from Philadelphia using the railroad that still operated between Hunter’s Run and Pine Grove. The men stayed adjacent to the railroad station and set up their dining tent in front of the furnace stack. They walked the four miles round trip each day to the farm site to begin construction of the camp. Once they had a dining hall constructed, a tent camp was set up at the farm and from that time on the CCC camp operated at the new site. By late December of 1933, the 200 men and their leaders could move into barracks that had been constructed. During the course of the nine years Pine Grove Furnace Civilian Conservation Corp S-51-PA was open, the men built roads (including Michaux Road, the road that leads to the camp today) installed telephone lines, reforested land throughout the region, built infrastructure in the state park, and continually made improvements to the CCC camp. By the time the camp closed there were more than 40 buildings at the site. With the advent of World War II in late 1941, the men were now needed for national defense and the CCC program came to an end.
In 1942, the War Department was faced with the need to house prisoners of war. There was also need to learn strategic information from the prisoners regarding weaponry, and the operation of the Nazi war machine. Similar needs would emerge regarding the Japanese as the war progressed. Interrogation sites were set up at Ft. Hunt, Virginia and Byron Hot Springs, California in addition to internment facilities across the country to house the prisoners for the duration of the war. It was evident early on that Ft. Hunt could not handle the interrogation demands and a second site was selected from among three that were considered. That site was the former CCC camp at Pine Grove Furnace.
The Pine Grove Furnace CCC Camp was remodeled and two prison compounds erected, one for officers and one for the other prisoners. Prison Compound One was the larger of the compounds and was located near the CCC Fountain. Compound Two was located by the old barn wall. Compound One had four guard towers (the bases of two of them survive today), and Compound Two had two guard towers (both bases can be seen today.) Prisoners were interrogated in the former renovated Forestry Office building located along Michaux Road (at that time called High Mountain Road) near the former entrance to the CCC camp. Fencing around the entire 100+ acre site plus guard gates on High Mountain road prevented local people from gaining access to the camp. There were more than 3,000 prisoners interrogated there during the course of the war including Japanese prisoners toward the end of the war. A separate area for the Japanese was created by erecting a fence in the middle of Compound One.
The Pine Grove Furnace Prisoner of War Interrogation Camp operated until the November of 1945. The land reverted back to the State at that time. The land on which it was located was part of Michaux State Forest. Andre Michaux was a French naturalist sent to North American by Louis XIV. He was commissioned to study the plant life of the Appalachian region and gather plants for the Royal Gardens. Pennsylvania chose to recognize his contributions to the understanding of the plants of the region by naming the forest for him.
In 1947 representatives of the United Presbyterian Church and the United Church of Christ formed an alliance and arranged with the State to use the former POW camp. In 1948 a formal lease arrangement was worked out. Camp Michaux Incorporated (this is the first time the name Michaux is given to the property) ran summer church camps here until 1972 in addition to other activities throughout the year. The Appalachian Trail held its annual fall meeting at the site for 16 years. The churches were responsible for maintaining the buildings and grounds. Leases ran for 10 years with a $600.00 annual payment. The lease was renewed in 1958 and again in 1968. In 1969 one of the few winterized buildings on the site burned due to a malfunctioning furnace. That building, called Michaux Lodge, had been the CCC Forestry Office and the POW Interrogation Building. The churches did not want to replace the building since they did not own the property. The State was not interested in replacing it either. Without the revenue that could be accrued from the use of the camp year round the churches finally decided to abandon the lease in 1972. The camp closed at that time.
The State was unable to find other uses for the site and the buildings rapidly deteriorated. In 1975, an auction of the buildings was held. Purchasers of the buildings removed what ever they could take away. What remained of the camp was removed. Today foundations of several of the buildings remain as well as the CCC fountain, the dams on Tom’s Run and the deck and control room for the swimming pool that had been built by the churches.
Extensive research has been done about the history of the site and can be found in a book published by the Cumberland County Historical Society (CCHS) entitled Secret War at Home, The Pine Grove Furnace Prisoner of War Interrogation Camp by John Paul Bland. The book is available for sale at CCHS and at Pine Grove Furnace State Park. Information can also be learned by going to the following web site posted by a former church camp at: www.scheaffersite.com/michaux.
Guided tours of the site sponsored by CCHS are given by David Smith and John Bland each spring and fall Contact the Society for information about registering for the tours.
CCC Camp S-51
In 1933, during the midst of the Great Depression, the newly established Civilian Conservation Corps spotted the old Gardner farm as a site for one of their camps. This camp, simply known as S-51, became the first CCC camp in Pennsylvania.
May of 1933 saw the first group of boys arrive by train from Philadelphia at Pine Grove station, seeking a re-prieve from the economic woes of the day. Initially, they lived out of the railroad coaches and trekked a four-mile round trip to fulfill their duties at Gardner farm. However, after sufficiently clearing the fields, they were able to estab-lish a camp of tents. These tents served only as temporary housing until barracks could be built. Living in tents proved to be unpleasant with the onslaught of the summer heat and soon became dangerous, as the young men witnessed two deaths from lightning strikes. They would not move into the completed barracks until Christmas of that year.
About 200 boys occupied the CCC camp at any given time. Boys from eighteen to twenty-five years of age were eligible to enlist for a six-month period and could re-enlist up to two years. The first work crew set out on June 1, 1933 to improve the road to nearby Baker sawmill. Other work assignments that first year were primarily devoted to the construction of the camp. Fields no longer needed were utilized as tree plantations and permanent structures began to be established. Later years were spent improving old logging roads, constructing new roads and making general
The War at HomeAfter nine years of operation, the CCC camp was closed for purposes of national security. In February 1942, the Intelligence Department of the Army took over S-51 and established the Michaux Prisoner of War Camp. The loca-tion was convenient to the Carlisle Barracks, which for secu-rity reasons was listed as the post for anyone working at the camp, and was also only a two-hour drive from the Washing-ton, D.C. Most importantly, the camp was well isolated and could be kept a secret from the public.
Initially the camp was intended for German naval officers and extracting any strategic information they possibly held, but soon it became the destination for officers from Rommel's African Corps and eventually even Japanese officers. These prisoners would typically be dispersed to variousPOW camps upon the satisfaction of American interrogators. The inventor of the German Buzz bomb was also inturned there.
A staff of 150 American personnel was stationed there to guard and oversee nearly 1,500 prisoners at any given time.
Because the camp was a military secret, little information is available about its actual operation. Prisoners were assigned various construction and agricultural tasks in the area, including labor at local factories and industrial plants. Some leisure activity was permitted as many prisoners pursued painting and music in their free time.
For those seeking tangible evidence of its existence, remains of the camp may still be found. The concrete base of the watchtowers can still be observed, along with German words and names embedded in concrete steps and bridges constructed by prisoners. The CCC fountain, adorned with slag (iron by-product) is very much intact, along with a marker commemorating the services of our military personnel there.