August 22, 2011 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.
The “Great Depression” of the thirties brought many new things to America and even to Apache Junction. During the mid-1930s, Apache Junction was a service station at the junction of the Apache Trail (State Route 88) and U.S. Highway 60 known today as the “Old West Highway.” Some 200 people lived in the area at this time.
On March 31, 1933, the United States Congress passed the Emergency Conservation Act that created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The purpose of the bill was to take young men off the street and put them to work. Some historians claim the act served as a method for the government to start training men for a possible war in Europe. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had been in office only seventeen days when this program was sent to Congress.
Young men from urban America, primarily between the ages of 18 – 25 were enlisted and sent to CCC camps around the country. These CCC camps were run much like a military camp. Membership was strictly voluntary. These young men were trained and then sent out to build roads, reforest, excavate archaeological sites, build recreation sites, etc. Each company contained between 175 and 250 young men.
Eleven camps were operated in Arizona. One of the camps was located about four miles east of Apache Junction’s “Y,” near the present site of Thunder Mountain Middle School on 16th Avenue, east of Goldfield Road. This particular camp was known as Camp Superstition Wash, Company No. 2864, Camp No. SCS-20-A.
Early in July of 1935, several rail car loads of “knockdown” portable houses, barracks, a mess hall and storage buildings were deposited at the Mesa railhead. The materials had been hauled from Fort Bliss, Texas, by rail.
The establishment of Camp Superstition Wash was dependent on a good supply of water. The original well that supplied the camp failed, and water had to be hauled from Apache Junction at $1 per thousand gallons. Meeting the water demands of Camp Superstition Wash was always a problem as most wells in the Apache Junction were not deep enough to guarantee a continued supply. One of the main wells supplying the camp was J.R. Morse’s well on Highway 60.
The young men who worked out of the CCC camp in the Apache Junction were responsible for building many of the small erosion control dams found along the slopes of Superstition Mountain. They built many flood control dams, contoured ditches, and water spreading dikes to help prevent erosion. These young men worked hard, but still found time for religious services and educational classes. Camp Superstition Wash operated from August 11, 1935, until June 30, 1942, when it was abolished due to increased employment and the need of young men for the war effort.
It is interesting to make note that many veterans of World War II started training in a civilian conservation corps camp in Apache Junction. Not only was Camp Superstition Wash located in Apache Junction, one of the camp’s members was a long time resident of the Apache Junction area. That was Mr. Jess Brown. Mr. Brown and his wife Levis were very involved with Apache Land in the early and mid 1960s. The Browns always claimed the CCC’s helped put America back to work after the “Great Depression.”
I want to thank Superstition Mountain Historical Society and John Irish, President of the Arizona Chapter of the National Association of Conservation Corps Alumni, for their assistance with information for this article. Other sources of information included the Arizona Republic and the Mesa Journal Tribune.