13 June 2016

CCC stonework at Interstate Park, Wisconsin

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Wisconsin's Interstate Park, located along the shoreline of the St. Croix River which separates Wisconsin and Minnesota (a corresponding Interstate Park on the opposite bank of the river is part of the Minnesota state park system).

I had finished walking a wooded trail and was driving out of the park when I glanced off to the side and spotted the chimney in the photo above.  That stopped me in my tracks, and I pulled off the road to investigate.  I parked in an empty lot serving two buildings that are apparently just used for storage.  Here's the awesome front of the other building:

It was immediately apparent to me that I had stumbled upon yet another example of the Civilian Conservation Corps stonework that I have featured in fifteen previous posts in this blog.  Here is the side of this building:

Delighted by this unplanned discovery, I proceeded on to the ranger station, and was fortunate to have the opportunity to speak to Julie Fox, a Naturalist and the park's resident historian.  She affirmed that the stonework was indeed a product of the CCC (and later the WPA), which had been instrumental in the improvement of the park as a public resource.

There is other stonework in a variety of locations in the park.  Some of it, such as the wall along this road, has been subject to a lot of wear and has required updating for safety reasons, so that what currently exists may not represent original CCC craftsmanship.

The same principal applies at other locations such as stairways and ramparts at viewpoints over the Dalles of the St. Croix River.  This one that I photographed at the end of the Pothole Trail is new construction completed within the past decade; the masons were asked to emulate the style of the CCC workers.

Ms. Fox directed me to a location I would not otherwise have found - a shelter at a picnic ground well back in the woods away from the current parking area. 

Structures like this are standard features on innumerable state and national parks, designed to offer shelter to picknickers and campers during inclement weather, and providing in this case two fireplaces for cooking.

What was unusual to my eye was the squared-off faces of the structural stones.  Even the finest craftsmen couldn't achieve this degree of regularity with hand tools, so I suspect the crew working on this building had access to some type of stone or masonry saw.

It's tidy and perfectly functional, but in my view lacks the charm and raw beauty of the rough stone used in the old park headquarters buildings, so I returned there for a closer look at the stonework:

One of the mandates of the CCC projects was the preferential utilization of local resources.  Julie Fox confirmed that the stone used at Interstate Park was the same basalt that forms the striking landscape of the park, and that it was in fact quarried within the boundaries of the park, using a methodology that dates back to prehistoric times (heating the rock with fire, then dousing it with cold water to fracture it into workable sizes.)

My eye is always drawn to the mortar as a reflection of the skills and experience of the builders.  The CCC gave employment (and taught skills) to a generation of young men from a depression-ravaged nation, taking them from city slums and rural towns where they most likely had never had relevant work experiences.

The CCC hired local stonemasons to guide (and train) the young men.  In the 1920s the building of stone walls and buildings was a respected profession, and I can sense in much of the CCC work the "eyes" and pride of lifelong stoneworkers in selecting colorful and interesting stones that are beautiful rather than just functional (see the stonework at Gooseberry Falls for an excellent example).

I'll be back to this park again the next time I travel to west central Wisconsin.  There's more stonework to find there (stairways for example) and some park buildings that I missed on my quick visit this week.  I hope to repost an addendum later this summer.

More information about Interstate Park in this video.

(As a reminder to readers, fully half the posts in the CCC category of this blog contain photos (from Alaska, Florida, New Mexico, New York) credited not to me, but to readers.  If you find good examples during your summer travels, snap some images and send them along).

Addendum: Forest Army has a report on the CCC work at Interstate Park, including the excavation of a bison skull (currently on display in the park's new headquarters building).  The post incorporates this image (apparently a contemporary postcard) -

- depicting the stonework along the roadside of the park (mortared at the dropoff, drywall on the right).


  1. I went to see my daughter in Washington last fall. She went out there to chase whales, but ended up falling in love with a mountain. Mt Baker, to be exact. She took me up there, and I was delighted to find stonework at the visitors center, which had been originally built by the CCC.
    But the work looked too recent, so I asked, and sure enough it had been redone a while back, and would no longer qualify for a TYWKIWDBI offering. I was disappointed.
    But the lady told me there was a magnificent big open fireplace about 3 miles down the road. Original work. I was excited again at what I might be able to send you.
    But when we got there what I found was disappointing once again.
    There was a very homeless looking family "camping" at the fireplace, two beat up cars and canned goods, and laundry trying to dry out covering the stonework.
    It wasnt exactly a Kodak moment, if you know what I mean.

  2. I think there were a lot of very homeless looking families back in the CCC days, too.


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