Camp Price – The CCC Camp at Droop Mountain Battlefield Park
Before Mike Smith retired as Superintendent of Droop mountain State Park, he talked with Allegheny Mountain Radio about Camp Price, the Civilian Conservation Camp which operated at the Park in the 1930’s. Mike spent some of his almost 32 years as Superintendent at the Park researching Camp Price and talking with former CCC workers who had served at Camp Price. Mike talks about the camp.
“The Park really didn’t get much developed until 1935 when the CCC setup a camp here –Camp Price” said Mile. “They had a total of about 300 men who worked here about 2 ½ years. Started in early summer of 1935 and the Camp ended in the Fall of 1937. Had about 300 men all together, about 150, 160n at any given time, some left out, new ones came in. and of course, over the years I talked with many of those guys. When I came in 1984 those guys were 80 and 90 years old and would occasionally drop in here and would have pictures sometimes and they would have stories of things that happened, and I just had a wonderful experience gathering up material on the time they were here.”
Mike talked about one of those Camp Price veterans who recently stopped in.
“The last of those interviews was a couple of years ago when a man, Oscar Kempler showed up here one day with his three sons –of course they were probably in their 60’s or 70’s –he was 93 or 94 and had not been back at the Park since he left the CCC Camp in 1936” Mike said. “So I had a photo up there on the wall of all the men who were in the camp in March of 1936. They are all standing up in front of one of the barracks, and over the years I had tried to identify all of the men in the picture. There’ a hundred and fifty-nine men in the picture and I’ve gotten names over the years for about a hundred and forty some of em. So I’ve got most of em over the years, just talking with other veterans and that sort of thing. Anytime somebody came by, I’d show them the picture, and I went to CCC reunions and that kind of stuff. But anyhow when Mr. Kempler walks in the office with his sons. I get the picture down and say ‘take a look at this and see if you can find yourself in this picture, or anybody else that you know.’ And so he looks and ‘oh yea, right there that’s me.’ So I get out my chart cause I got em all numbered so I can tell which is which, and sure enough, I forget what the number was but there it was, Oscar Kempler. I had it right. Somebody had told me that’s who that was. And then I had written after it a single word ‘gambler’ –because they would ofter tell me stories about those people that they would remember. Well that’s what they remembered about Oscar Kempler –that he was a gambler. And he got the biggest kick out of that. He laughed and laughed. And then he started telling me stories. He said that if any one word would describe him during that time, that was it, because they sat out on the big log fence on 219 and bet on which direction the next car was going to come from or or what color it was going to be or which side of the road a dog was going to go off of. He didn’t care, they would bet on just anything, so he got a real big kick out of that.”
Mike went on to say he had obtained a complete set of the camp news letter, “the Cannonball” over the years and when Oscar couldn’t remember the exact details about when he first arrived at Camp Price, he got out his copies of the newsletters and well, I’ll let Mike tell you the rest.
“One of the first ones I turned to was the April issue in 1936” said Mike. And right there on the front page was a little paragraph. (It said) something like twenty-nine new enrollees today, they arrived from Fairmont – or somewhere –in a truck at 2 a.m.., then it went off and listed their names and there it was, Oscar Kempler. He arrived at 2 a.m. on such and such a date. Of course he got a big kick out of that. Yea, he remembered it then – yeah it was in the middle of the night, he had forgotten that.. Putting those kind of stories together just made my work here interesting. Just been very enjoyable meeting those kind of people and talking with them about their past experiences.”
Well, I hope mike is enjoying his well earned retirement because many of the people here miss his work and his stories.