POW camp in Cooke Township to get historic marker
Able-bodied volunteers are needed the next five Saturdays to help the Cumberland County Historical Society and Michaux State Forest clear a trail network around the Camp Michaux site. The workday runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., but volunteers can help for any length of time.
Volunteers should dress for rugged conditions and wear sturdy footwear. They should also bring equipment necessary to clear a trail including chainsaws, trimmers and shovels.
To register as a volunteer, call CCHS at 249-7610 or David Smith at either 776-9675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
An effort almost 70 years ago to keep it a guarded secret was precisely what Camp Michaux needed to get noticed.
The Cumberland County Historical Society recently received word its application had been approved to erect a state historical marker near the camp in Cooke Township.
What made it eligible was its uniqueness as one of only three prisoner-of-war interrogation camps to operate in the country during World War II, said David Smith of nearby Penn Township.
A retired CCHS librarian, Smith is director of a project to recognize the camp with historical markers and to develop a trail network connecting 27 points of interest in a self-guided walking tour of the site.
CCHS, together with Michaux State Forest, received a $3,100 grant from the South Mountain Partnership, a tri-county organization administered by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to sustain the region’s natural, cultural and economic assets.
This grant will be matched dollar-for-dollar with private donations and in-kind services to support the estimated $6,200 project, Smith said. The donations include $500 from the Zion United Church of Christ in Arndtsville, which was heavily involved when the site was a church camp.
Another $400 will be donated from sales CCHS made on the “Secret War at Home,” a 2006 book by John Bland on the history of Camp Michaux with a focus on its role as a top secret interrogation center from May 1943 until the end of the war, Smith said.
CCHS had to document the history of the site for it to be eligible for a state marker. The site was a farm until 1933 when it was selected to be one of the first two Civilian Conservation Corps camps in Pennsylvania. It then became the interrogation center prior to it being converted into a youth church camp with the name Camp Michaux. The camp closed in 1972 and was dismantled in 1975.
Project organizers plan to use $1,800 in grant money to purchase and install by July a state marker at the more visible location of Pine Grove and Michaux roads about a mile south of the camp, Smith said. He added organizers need to finalize a design for a sign to be posted at the site.
Work is almost complete on an application to place the camp on the National Register of Historic Places based on its history as an interrogation center for German and Japanese POWs.
Smith recently wrote a booklet based on his experiences as a guide on walking tours of the camp. Much of the in-kind match will involve volunteer work to install numbered posts and clear a trail network connecting the 27 stops on the self-guided tour. Starting in June, copies of the guidebook will be available online at websites for CCHS, the Michaux State Forest and the Pine Grove Furnace Park.
“This is a really important project to us,” said Kim Williams, an environmental planner for the Mid-Atlantic region of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. “We’ve seen so many people protecting and telling the story of the camp. It is one of the coolest stories.” She explained how the South Mountain Partnership is an alliance formed of the conservancy and the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. DCNR provides the grant money, which a committee distributes to help local communities preserve regional assets.
“Camp Michaux is a public resource for everyone,” Williams said. “The more we can do to promote it and tell its story the better.” She added it is one of the “coolest” stories she has come across on South Mountain. However, there is nothing but a barn wall and some building remnants to tell of its multi-layered history, which also includes ties to the local iron ore industry. Her hope is the combination of the historical markers and trail network would promote greater interest in South Mountain and its history.