Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission

Oregon's C.O. Camps: Waldport & Wyeth (Cascade Locks)

By William Eshelman & Charlie Davis 2000

     Before Pearl Harbor, the historic peace churchesChurch of the Brethren, Mennonites, and the Society of Friends (Quakers)were hoping to get their young men treated as the conscientious objectors were in Britain. President Roosevelt, however, thought they should go to boot camp just like all the others, and then be assigned to the medical corps. A compromise was reached that produced an uneasy alliance between church and state. The churches would administer the after-work hours in the camps and various government agencies would supervise the work projects. Selective Service, under Major General Lewis B. Hershey, would micro-manage everything. The men would receive no pay and no dependency benefits.

    The nearly 12,000 C.O.s in 151 camps gave more than 8,000,000 man-days of work in the six and one-half years from 1940 until the last man was belatedly demobilized in 1946. The Forest Service, the Soil Conservation Service, and state mental hospitals benefited from more than 1,000,000 man-days each; 600,000 were contributed to 34 dairy and herd testing projects; 400,000 to the National Park Service; and 150,000 to guinea pig scientific research projects in 32 major universities.

    Civilian Public Service Camp #21 was established in November 1941 at Cascade Locks and #56 in October 1942 at Waldport; both were run jointly by the Church of the Brethren and the U.S. Forest Service. Waldport had been chosen as the site of a Civilian Conservation Corps installation, but it was never completed because the war had reduced the pool of young men interested in joining. The Forest Service had been counting on the Waldport camp to provide manpower to fight fires and proceed with replanting the Blodgett Tract, denuded during World War I to build training planes for the Army.

    The mailing address for C.P.S. #21 was Cascade Locks, but the camp was several miles east at Wyeth. The work program was forest maintenancefire suppression, road building, tree planting, lookout observation, and building repair. It also served as a gathering place for men who staffed units later opened at mental hospitals in Washington State.

    After the eight and one-half hour work day, six days a week, the Brethren Service Committee provided educational programs, a library, and specialized schools. At Cascade Locks was a School of Pacifist Living. A Brethren minister, Dan West, spent several months in late 1943 leading the study groups. He had directed relief programs in the U.S. and Europe. Such papers as Pacifist Living in Groups and Economic Implications of Pacifist Living were discussed vigorously and at length.

    At the request of the Forest Service staff in Waldport, a crew of C.O.s was sent from Cascade Locks to open a camp there since both had similar work projects. As it happened, two of the crew had been producing a little magazine called The Illiterati.

    When the editors from the Locks arrived at Waldport, they found a lively core of campers interested in the arts. There were two poets at WaldportWilliam Everson and Glen Coffieldas well as two pianists, two writers, a painter, a vocalist, a college-trained craftsman, and an audience of literate, well-educated men. Everson had an idea that if other artists would transfer to Waldport they could energize each other and produce work of lasting value. The Director of the Brethren Service Committee approved, finally, and persuaded Selective Service to allow men to transfer. It was called The Fine Arts at Waldport. A call was sent out to the camps and the number of artists at Waldport doubled. The synergy idea worked.

    The group produced numerous play-readings, musical performances, four major plays, paintings, sculptures, printed nine booklets of poetry, and created fine craft workslooms, woven articles, wood-turned objects, and ceramics. In an interesting turn of events, when Waldport was closed in 1945, the men were sent to Cascade Locks. There they produced the fourth of the plays, finished printing the last of the poetry booklets, and the concert duo of Hildegarde and Broadus Erle performed both at camp and in Portland. The large printing press used for the magazines and booklets was shipped from Waldport to the Locks, and thence to Pasadena, California.

    Glen Coffield stayed in Oregon, wrote poems, published several literary magazines, and founded the Grundtvig Folk School in Eagle Creek. The listing of his archive at the University of Oregon is 67 pages long.