The Civilian Conservation Corp, started during the Great Depression to employ young men ages 18 – 25, worked on environmental conservation projects including building shelters and other buildings in over 800 parks nationwide. Nine of those parks are state parks in Florida, including O’Leno State Park. We camped at eight of the nine parks and definitely need to schedule a trip to see the ninth.
Prior to becoming part of the Florida parks system, O’Leno had a varied history. Once a thriving town called Keno on the banks of the Santa Fe River, the name changed to Leno as it grew because Keno indicated gambling. The reason for the demise of the town is a familiar one in Florida: the railroad bypassed the town and went to Fort White. The wooded location on the river remained popular for picnics, called Old Leno then, and the current name is believed to be a contraction of that name.
The small museum building at O’Leno holds a treasure trove of information on the CCC and their work. Most visits we arrived and left too early to visit it, but on this one we discovered it open. Though small, the amount of interesting exhibits and information makes it well worth a visit. For us, we plan a second visit.
I knew the basics of the CCC from various sources through the years and knew it contributed a great deal to our parks and natural places. I never realized how much it helped the men (no women allowed in those days) who worked for the six months or more. They received room and board and $30 per month. Of that $30, $22 – 25 was required to be sent home to help support their family. During the Great Depression that $25 likely made a big difference. It also offered vocational, and even classes for those who couldn’t read or write.
In addition to the buildings, the traditional statue of the CCC stands proudly in the park. One exhibit in the museum showed a few videos and several old books written about the CCC, which I added to my ‘to be read/watched’ list. The CCC disbanded in 1942 as the funding for it diverted to war-time needs. Eighty plus years later the buildings still stand.