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Custer State Park and The Civilian Conservation Corps

The Map

South Dakota CCC in Custer State Park

The objective of the CCs in Camps Pine Creek, Doran, Lodge, and Narrows (Robber's Roost) was not to improve on nature but to make it more enjoyable and accessible to the nature loving public and to aid wildlife (1937).

According to Camp Superintendant M. A. Garland, the purpose of Camp Pine Creek was, in general, to develop the northern area of the park which had become increasingly popular due to its proximity to Mount Rushmore National Memorial and such scenic areas as Iron Mountain, Sylvan Lake, and Elkhorn Mountain. Camp Pine Creek was located in the northern hills of Custer State Park, which comprised 125,000 acres of virgin forest area, unusual in its rugged mountainous topography.

Dams that created Horsethief Lake near Mount Rushmore and Stockade Lake, Center Lake, and Bismarck Lake in Custer State Park, were constructed by CCs supervised by state park employees under the jurisdiction of national park staff. Horsethief Lake is located west of Mount Rushmore, Stockade east of Custer at the west entrance to Custer State Park, Bismarck north of Stockade, and Center Lake about 3 miles off U.S. Alternate 16, then 1/2 mile south on a side road.

South Dakota Custer State Park

CCs developed recreation areas at Horsethief Lake, Stockade Lake, Center Lake, and Grizzly Bear camp ground and along French Creek near Blue Bell. They built the state museum, 17 cabins at Sylvan Lake, most of the buildings at the resort area of Blue Bell, and the custodian's 5-room log cabin and barn; installed sewer and water systems at Sylvan Lake, Blue Bell, Game Lodge and the Custodian's house; built the lookout tower and developed the scenic viewing area on Mount Coolidge; constructed bridges at Sunday and Palmer Gulches, the double arch bridge across French creek, and a pigtail bridge on Iron Mountain Road.

In addition, the CCs cleaned and landscaped many miles of park road, built the park telephone system , developed other scenic points, foot trails, and bridle paths and did considerable work at the zoo and state farm. They erected over 50 informational signs, exterminated bark beetles on thousands of acres, built many fire trails, and extinguished numerous forest fires.

In January of 1936 a company from Camp Hazerodt was moved to Camp Doran. Hazerodt was located just outside of Custer State Park boundaries. In addition to the other work mentioned, CCC members of Camp Doran built the massive stone lookout on top of Harney Peak.1

Forest Supervisor's Home was built in 1927 and located at 16A and 87 N. In 1920, Theodore Shoemaker was named Custer State Park Superintendent. In the 1930's, Shoemaker was the superintendent of forestry personnel in the CCC's, and lived in the residence. He held that position for fourteen years.2

The State Game Lodge was rebuilt on it's original foundation in 1922 by prison labor after a fire destroyed it. The first structure was also built by prison labor. Calvin Coolidge summer home in the 1920's, in the 1930's the CCC expanded the developments in the area. President Eisenhower stayed at the lodge for two and a half days in 1953.2

The CCC Camp Narrows/Robber's Roost was established in 1934 and later called Blue Bell. Leslie Jensen (15th Governor of South Dakota 1937- 1939) had the lodge built by Hot Springs architect S P Eisentraut. The park leased the forty acre area from 1927 to 1935 when Blue Bell was purchased in 1936 by the CSP board from Jensen's estate.2

Legion Lake Cabins 1933-39
Built by CCC - The project was sponsored by the American Legion of Custer and used some Reconstruction Finance Corp Funds (RFC). 32 cabins were built in this time frame. Area was purchased by CSP in 1941.2

Legion Lake Lodge 1933-39
Built by CCC - Originally owned by The American Legion of Custer. This building was constructed to provide services to tourists including a sales shop, restaurant (opened in 1944), and water sports equipment. It provides the same services today. It is believed that the lodge, barn and other buildings in the area including 32 cabins were built in this time frame. Area was purchased by CSP in 1941.2

Blue Star Memorial 1933-41
Built by CCC - This monument was built as a monument to the Armed Forces, The Civilian Conservation Corps, Forest Service, State Highway Department, State School Lands Department, and State Garden Clubs. This road side structure incorporated a spring fed drinking fountain, and benches. As a structure used to "Welcome" visitors and pay tribute, it associates with the recreation and tourism context.2
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Blue Star Memorial

Located near the north entrance of Custer State Park and near Sylvan Lake, the marker has been repainted and some minor repair work was done.3

Blue Star Memorial

CCC Camp Lodge
Built by CCC - Black Hills Playhouse ticket office.
Built by CCC - Black Hills Playhouse snack bar, 1934.
Built by CCC - Black Hills Playhouse dining hall.
Built by CCC - Center Lake Dam, Mid 1930's 2

Peter Norbeck Visitor Center 1934-38
Built by CCC - was constructed as Custer State Park Museum and opened to the public in June 1938, over 22,000 people registered that season. Dedicated as the Peter Norbeck Welcome Center in Sept 29, 1979.2

Custodian's House and Barn 1935-37
Built by CCC near the Buffalo Corrals - Was used by the herdsman who's job was to watch out for the game, prevent poaching, watch for forest fires, and giving information to tourists. Was converted to the Wildlife Visitor Center (known as the "stone house") in 1987.2

French Creek Bridge 1936-39
Built by CCC - stone double arched bridge replaced a timber bridge south of Blue Bell Lodge on Hwy 87. Known as the largest stone arch bridge in Custer State Park.2

Blue Bell Cabins 1937-39
Built by CCC -Six cabins were completed in 1938 and four cabins were completed in 1939. Area purchased by CSP in 1935. 1991 cabins were reduced from twelve to ten due to the high cost of bids. Six new cabins to be built by 1993.2

Game Lodge Cabins 1937-41
Built by CCC -Purpose of cabins was for seasonal use to be used by tourists2

Gordon Stockade
First named Fort Defiance. Rebuilt in 1925 by Custer citizens. Again in 1941 by CCC. Early 1980's National Guard attempted to replace the west wall. RSC rebuilt the perimeter walls and four interior cabins, including the Tallent and Gordon cabins in 2005.
Stockade S Picnic Shelter 1938 Built by CCC - Originally lake was named Doran Lake for the original homestead family.2

Sylvan Lake Store 1939-41
Built by CCC -This structure was originally built as a store, display, and restaurant building. A filling station was also included in the development. This was all part of the CCC development of Sylvan Lake area.2

Sylvan Lake Cabins 1940
Built by CCC -seventeen new cabins built close to the Sylvan Lake Store.2

Mount Coolidge 1940
Built by CCC - Original mountain was called Sheep Mountain. Log tower and caretaker's quarters were built in 1923 and mountain was renamed Lookout Mountain. In 1927, President Calvin Coolidge changed the name yet again and called it Mount Coolidge. In 1940 a stone lookout tower and caretaker's quarters replaced the log tower and log caretaker's quarters. The fire lookout is the third floor, with living quarters in the first and second story. Outside of the second floor is an observation deck for visitors to view the Black Hills, Mt Rushmore and some of the Badlands.2

Public Community Building 1941
Built by CCC -Located by Sylvan Lake, this building consists of a large open meeting space and stage area. It is still used in its original function.2

Spanning 71,000 acres, the park is one of the largest state parks in the country and is the best nature has to offer. Its incredible scenery, outdoor adventures and history make it a favorite destination of both visitors and locals. During the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps made many park improvements. The west park entrance a couple of minutes from downtown Custer, South Dakota.

1 Derschied, Lyle A. "The Civilian Conservation Corps in South Dakota, 1933-1942." Brookings, SD, South Dakota State University Foundation Press, 1986. No longer in print. Available at some libraries but may not be checked-out.
2 From Structures History - Custer State Park

3 Informaion in Collection and/or volunteer photos and research