building on a layered hill running down to a retaining wall infront of lake

What do State Parks Have to do with Memorial Day?

With Memorial Day just around the corner, It’s a good time to talk about your local state park. “What does my local State park have to do with Memorial Day?”, you may ask yourself.

To answer that, we have to look back to the 1930’s and early 1940’s. Although some State Parks date back to the 19th Century, the 1930’s saw an explosion of State Park Development thanks to the Civilian Conservation Corps or CCC.

Founded in 1933, the CCC grew to become the most popular part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Faced with staggering unemployment, the CCC offered a life line to struggling families.

Unemployed young unmarried men were given jobs working in the nation’s forests and rural lands. They were provided with food, shelter, and clothing as well as a wage of $30 a month that they were expected to share with their families back home.

tip of a peninsula grass growing with few trees and picnic tables water is visible on 3 sides
Near Picnic Shelter #1 offers great views of the lake and individual picnic tables.

While much of their work took place in the Western United States, the CCC built more than 800 state parks throughout the United States including 16 in South Carolina alone. One of these is Lake Greenwood State Park, and unlike other CCC parks, the story of Lake Greenwood shines the light on a little thought of aspect of the men of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

A Walk Around Lake Greenwood State Park

As you walk around the state park at Greenwood, South Carolina, you might notice some differences in the architecture and building construction. For example the water fountains around Picnic Shelter #1 are built of stone in typical CCC style, but throughout the rest of the park, water fountains are made of brick.

Wooden picnic shelter with two chimneys open area around front with columns and picnic tables
Picnic shelter #1 at Lake Greenwood State Park completed by the CCC

Looking at the construction of the picnic shelters, you might notice a difference. Shelter #1 looks very much like CCC shelters you could see other parks like Paris Mountain State Park in Greenville, SC. The other shelters, while built as in similar fashion, lack that distinctive CCC look.

water fountain made of large stones
Stone Water Fountain near Shelter #1 built by the CCC

So what’s going on? Was the park just built over so many years that construction modes changes? Did it start out much smaller and expand? Or maybe there’s something else going on.

The answer lies at the very entrance to the park, and is one most people overlook. As visitors flock to the lakeside this Memorial Day, they’ll drive past an small reminder of what this day is all about in the form of an unfinished wall. While it may only be a couple feet tall at its highest, it tells a story better than any book

The Civilian Conservation Corps goes to war

In 1941 as war raged across not only Europe but China as well, the men of the CCC were hard at work along the shores of newly formed Lake Greenwood. They had finished the recreation area around Picnic Shelter #1, cleared an area for the park lodge, and installed terraced landscaping from where the lodge was to be built down to the lake.

By the Fall of 1941, the CCC were working on a stone boat basin and the stone entrance way to the park. Local stones had been sourced and scattered around where the entrance was to be built and the first few stones of the wall had been placed when news arrived that shook the world.

On December 7, 1941 at just before 8:00 AM local time, 353 Japanese aircraft attacked the US Naval base at Pearl Harbor in the Hawaii Territory killing over 2400 Americans. The next day, the United States entered World War II and the young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps traded in their shovels for rifles.

unfinished wall curving to the left. only the right side is completed as it follows the curve it gets lower and lower until it is only a single stone high
A wall started by the CCC just days before the attack at Pearl Harbor.

Work on Lake Greenwood State Park abruptly stopped. Years later much of the work would be completed by other people. The boat basin would be finished, additional picnic shelters built, and finally in the early 2000’s the Drummond Center was built where the lodge was initially planned.

Large rough cut stones laying randomly in the woods.
When word arrived of Pearl Harbor, workers rushed to enlist leaving these stones.

But standing almost forgotten at the entrance to the park, the unfinished park entrance wall looks just as did on Pearl Harbor Day. The woods behind are littered with stones still waiting to be cut down and placed in the wall. Most people drive right by and never notice.

So this Memorial Day, wherever you are, take a look around. Whether you’re at the beach, the lake, the park, or just catching up with friends in your hometown, there’s a good chance that you’ll find some small often overlooked reminder of the men and women this day is meant to honor.