30 June 2013

Civilian Conservation Corps stonework at Gooseberry Falls State Park - Part III

On my recent blogcation I slipped away for a day to Gooseberry Falls State Park, on the North Shore of Lake Superior, to continue documenting the outstanding stonework created by the CCC in the 1930s.  Today we'll take a tour of the "campground area" away from the falls.

The state of Minnesota does not charge a fee for viewing the Falls and hiking the trails, but the campground area requires purchase of a day pass.  The first building one encounters is the unobtrusive Ice House.

For modern campers an ice house is no longer relevant; it presumably now serves in some storage capacity.  My interest of course was in the stonework...

...which like that in the rest of the park makes use of the variety of stone available in the region, and shows evidence of the remarkable skill these young men acquired while working with their Italian stonemason supervisors.  The stones are huge, and given that size the amount of cement is modest, attesting to lots of work pre-shaping the stones to nestle into one another and to square the corners of the structure. 

A skilled stonemason will tell you that his wall should remain standing even if all the cement magically disappeared.

Just down the road is the Campground Shelter (see the top photo of this post):

I suspect the knowledge that the shelter would be visited way more often than the Ice House resulted in this building displaying some of the most colorful and visually attractive stonework of the campground.  

Again, these are huge blocks.  Someone with more experience than me may be able to estimate the weights, but it was a monumental task way more challenging than building with bricks. 

The inside walls of this shelter (and the other buildings) have stone walls that exhibit a magnificence not often encountered in public toilets.  This large structure required almost 7,000 man-days of labor and over $4,000 for materials.

Finally, a hat tip to Flickr user Monica for discovering from a conversation with a park ranger that the pattern of the stones above the arch of the shelter is intentionally arranged as a set of "mushrooms."  Some other stones in park building walls are also whimsically arranged or decorated, as for example a "Martian" face crudely carved with drill bits.

A latrine further down the road shows the same careful work:

As does the handsome Ladyslipper Lodge:

This was the first shelter built (in 1935), intially open to the weather and not enclosed until four years later.  It was originally outfitted with seven cast iron cook stoves for the use of campers and visitors.  Its completion used 3,200 man-days of work and cost about $2,000 for materials.

At the end of the campground there is one final shelter, appropriately named the Lakeview Shelter because it sits on a bluff with a view to the northeast across 250 miles (!) of water.*

Built using about 3,900 man-days of work, and again about $2,000 for materials, this shelter has been in continuous use for 75 years, hosting reunions, graduation parties, and weddings.

The final building, closest to the waterline, is the little "pumphouse"

I like the way this humble little building got lots of attention from the young CCC men, with a nice variety of stone and tight joints.  The view of the window in the photo below emphasizes the thickness of the walls in all of these structures.

And this last one, being the closest to the water and most frequently wetted with spray, has the most abundant growth of lichen.

I realize this part of the tour has been a little repetitive.  The next (final) installment - after I get the photos curated - will be more interesting, featuring the non-building structures of the campground (benches, fences, water fountains, stairs, and picnic tables).

*This is an amazing lake.  If you go three miles offshore from the campground, the lake is as deep as a 70-story skyscraper, and the 3,000,000,000,000,000 gallons of water in it would cover all of North and South America a foot deep. 


Part I - the Falls and the massive stone concourse (the "Castle") near the viewing area.
Part II - the Visitor Center and water tower.
Five posts about CCC stonework in other locations (scroll down past the Gooseberry Park entries).


  1. Absolutely beautiful! I wish our present administration would enact something similar to the CCC. Lots ot people put to work building things that will transcend the years!

  2. Notice the arrangement of the rocks. It never looks like the rocks were laid in rows.

  3. You've touched on an important function of this CCC project -- the transfer of knowledge. The skills of the supervising masons were handed to a new generation. A current-day program could provide jobs, as well as teaching. Crafts -- like masonry or woodworking -- can be a blend of art and function, and it's exciting to see a new adherent add his vision...

    The Ladyslipper Lodge certainly is beautiful!

  4. I wonder if these buildings are difficult to heat? Stones tend to absorb heat, right? It would be nice to be able to build a house like this, but 3,000 working days would probably be a little pricey. :)

    1. But remember these were inexperienced teenagers working with hand tools. Modern workers with power tools, forklifts, etc could do the job quickly. (If you can find an experienced stonemason in an era when everyone wants to work indoors with computers...)

    2. There are actually some rock quarries not far from where I live. They actually chisel the rock out of the mountain ready to be put up as decor or for building. Really, rock houses are almost always just 'facades' I believe.

      It is an impressive feat, and I think it is beautiful. I was just pondering the practicality of it in housing. We hope to build a house in a year or two, and I'd feel like I lived in a castle if I had something like this.

    3. Solid stone has "thermal mass", meaning it will absorb heat, but radiate it when the air around is cooler. Ex. a south-facing wall will absorb the heat of the sun, and release it at night (thus warming the enclosure). As you mentioned, most modern construction only uses stone veneer plates around 2" thick. However, a good architect should be able to both give you the beauty you are looking for AND make use of these kinds of material properties to reduce energy consumption.

  5. This is the kind of stuff we should be doing as well as putting people to work and educating people in renewable energy projects.

    1. They just built a (relatively) new beach house (comfort station) here on the lake and it makes use of solar, natural light, rain water harvesting etc. In addition to being efficient and environmentally friendly it serves as a good way to promote and familiarize citizens with environmentally friendly policy.

    2. Absolutely, we need a LOT more care and skill put into new construction of all types. Planned obsolescence only goes so far until it becomes planned depletion of every resource we have. Fortunately, green(er) architecture is gaining traction in schools, and many companies are starting to seek LEED certification in their buildings.

  6. I love the mushrooms--that they were put there intentionally and that the story hasn't been lost, now. :)

  7. Thanks for the great photos. If it was possible, I would definitely spend a summer volunteering to learn and use these kinds of skills.

  8. Love the multicolored stone. Beautiful work, I love old CCC constructions!

  9. Thanks so much for this great Blog. I have always chosen Gooseberry as my favorite picnic and campground. We have been going there since the 1940s. Question, do you know where the quarry is that the stone came from?

    1. I don't know, but I have always found the Rangers on the staff at the park to be very knowledgeable about CCC information. Someone there may have the answer.


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