Camp Macedonia Brook operated as a base for the Civilian Conservation Corps from 1933 to 1936, during the New Deal. The camp was charged with building a new road to Macedonia Brook State Park and a road to the top of Kent Falls. The road to Macedonia, which still exists, was especially difficult, requiring many cuts into the rocks and filling. The New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad ran alongside the camp, allowing for direct delivery of supplies. The men of the camp were also involved in flood relief during the 1936 floods of the Housatonic.
Prior to 1939, the six towns that currently comprise Regional School District #1 – Canaan, Cornwall, Kent, North Canaan, Salisbury, and Sharon – each had their own high school. The cost of providing secondary education in such small towns, especially in the midst of the Great Depression, was becoming increasingly problematic. In 1935, to reduce these costs and to provide a broader array of academic and extracurricular activities, William Teague (the state-appointed supervisor of rural education) proposed a consolidated high school for the six towns. In 1937, the state legislature passed a bill creating the new district and establishing the first regional high school in New England.
Later that year the Regional School Board purchased 75 acres of the Lorch farm at a central point in the region, overlooking the Housatonic River in Falls Village. Ernest Sibley was hired as the architect and he designed the school in the Georgian Revival style that was popular among New Deal buildings. In 1938 the cornerstone of the building was laid.
The land, building and equipment associated with the school cost $347,180. Of this amount, $326,946 came from the Public Works Administration, a New Deal agency designed to build governmental buildings and structures. Thus, Housatonic became one of the 7,488 schools built by the PWA.
Paul W. Stoddard, an English teacher from Hartford’s Bulkeley High School, was hired as the school’s first principal and oversaw not only the hiring of the entire staff but also the drafting of the school’s curriculum. When school opened for the first day on September 25, 1939, the school was in an unfinished state. Its 374 students trod on bare cement floors, had no lockers, and heard no bells.
A motto was selected for the school – Felix Prole Virum – “blest in offspring, wise and strong.” As the towns of northwest Connecticut celebrate their high school’s 75th anniversary, that motto remains painted above the doors to the school.
Kent Falls is one of Connecticut’s most popular state parks, with hundreds of thousands of people taking advantage of its picnic area and cooling waters every summer. There remains at least one part of it, however, that is hidden in plain sight.
Nearly all visitors who hike to the top of the falls do so via the paved path and steps. At the northern end of the parking lot, however, is the red blazed trail. Following this trail for a tenth of a mile brings the explorer to the yellow blazed trail. The reward for the additional effort is a gradual switch-backed ascent to the top of the falls, with magnificent stone retaining walls supporting the trail (which is an old road bed.)
The stone walls were built by the men of the Camp Macedonia unit of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. The camp opened in June 1935 and employed 202 men. While originally opened to build what would become Macedonia State Park, suitable land for a camp was not available near Macedonia Brook. (The site of Camp Macedonia has only within the last five years been located; its location is not being shared as means of preserving it are determined.)
In addition to the stone walls, the CCC also constructed the picnic area and the other trails to the top of the falls. In exchange for their labor, the men received $30 per month, $25 of which had to be sent home to their families. They were also provided with food, lodging, medical care and education, a desired commodity as most of the men had only an eighth-grade education. Responsible men were paid an extra fifty cents a weeks to serve as leaders, helping the two army officers stationed at the camp with its administration.
Most go to Kent Falls to admire its natural beauty. It is appropriate, however, to also spend a moment reflecting on the men who made this natural beauty accessible to us.