THE CIVILIAN CONSERVATION CORPS AND
PUBLIC WORKS ERA
With the Great Depression of the 1930’s came
the first era of large-scale recreation planning
and development in the Forest Service. Beginning
in 1933, spurred on by the plentiful labor provided
through the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)
and other public works agencies, the Forest
Service began to employ professionally trained
landscape architects and architects to design
and implement plans on national forests across
Design guidance evolved quickly to ensure
consistent levels of quality and image
throughout the Forest Service. In 1935 and
1936, the Forest Service hired Albert D. Taylor,
president of the American Society of Landscape
Architects, to analyze problems and devise
solutions to recreation planning and design.
Taylor’s three-volume 1936 report included
drawings of many types of recreation structures
unknown to earlier Forest Service recreation
designers, such as bathhouses, shelters,
amphitheaters, and playgrounds. “Across the
country in the middle 1930’s, these types of
facilities appeared in national forests where
before there had been only privies and ranger
cabins” (Tweed, 1978, pp. 20-21).
At the same time, the National Park Service
contracted architect Albert H. Good to catalog
appropriate structures for use in the parks. In
1938, the Park Service published the definitive
work, Park & Recreation Structures, edited by
Good, which collected these and other examples
of rustic architecture.
By 1940, W. Ellis Groben, Chief Architect of the
Forest Service, had written Architectural Trends
of Future Forest Service Buildings. In it, Groben
decried the widespread use of inappropriate urban
styles on many forests. He advocated “buildings of
a more distinctive character…which both express
the purposes of the Forest Service and which are
more appropriate to their particular locales.”
All these guides emphasized the need for
harmonious design using local natural materials
such as timber and stone. They also called for
the use of trained design professionals.
The effects of this guidance, carried out by trained
professionals and labor forces, soon became visible
in the design and construction of forest roads,
trails, buildings, and public recreation sites. Stone
masonry and log structures predominated, and
the massive scale of structural elements and site
furnishings implied permanence and connection to
The style was generally referred to as “rustic
architecture.” It was based upon a canny
combination of pioneer building skills and
techniques, principles of the Arts and Crafts
movement, and the premise of harmony with
the landscape. The guides captured and codified
the prevailing design that already had been
practiced for many decades in natural settings
such as New York’s Adirondack Reserve and the
early national parks.
The work of the CCC influenced virtually every
national forest. While the architectural style
was consistently rustic, featuring stone and
massive timbers, regional variations that
reflected cultural context and the availability
of building materials did occur.
For example, in the Juan Tabo and La Cueva Picnic
Area on the Cibola National Forest in New Mexico
and in Sabino Canyon on the Coronado National
Forest in Arizona, picnic shelters, restrooms, and
bridges are made entirely of large granite boulders
and native stone. These fit well within the rocky,
arid character of the site.
“However, the highest expression of CCC-era
rustic architecture came in the Pacific Northwest
Region of the Forest Service. Both in quantity
and quality of facilities, this region surpassed
all others, including that of the National Parks
in the area. Rich in timber and volcanic rock,
the region’s architecture and recreation site
furnishings exhibited the classic elements of
rustic architecture—stone bases, massive
timbers, wood shakes, and incorporation of
handcrafted features. This expression of rustic
architecture in the Northwest became known
as Cascadian style” (Tweed, 1978, pp 21–22).
The most significant example of the Cascadian
style is the Timberline Lodge. Begun in 1936 by
the Works Progress Administration (WPA), this
massive rustic structure used native materials
and incorporated lavish use of handcrafted
regional decoration in the Arts and Crafts style.
With the onset of World War II, the public works
era came to an end. The built works and publications
of the era, however, established the
principles and tradition of rustic architecture
for parks and public lands. These principles,
• Emphasis on horizontal form and avoidance
of hard straight lines.
• Combinations of harmonious exterior textures
• Use of local natural materials sized in
proportion to the grand scale of the landscape.
• Appearance of pioneer building methods.
• Strong incorporation of handcrafted elements.
• Reflection of regional cultural influences.
The rustic style resonated strongly because it
reflected the character of the forests themselves
and stood in pleasing contrast to the increasing
“civilization” of the rest of the country. People
sensed a connection to the uniqueness of the
natural settings and to frontier traditions.
These bonds contributed strongly to the agency
image for decades. For many people, rustic
architecture represents the ideal for natural
parks and forests. Indeed, the work of the CCC
is a legacy we cherish to this day.