Camp Michaux Historical Site

Image of the Ruins at the Camp Michaux Historic Site

Ruins at the Camp Michaux Historic Site

The Camp Michaux historical site is located in Cooke Township on the slopes of South Mountain about two miles from Pine Grove Furnace State Park. The site is located along Michaux Road, about 1 ¼ miles north of Pine Grove Road (State Route 233) in Michaux State Forest.

The history of the site dates to the late eighteenth century when settlers claimed more than 200 acres of land for a farm in 1787. The farm, known as Bunker Hill Farm, was acquired in 1794 by the growing iron industrial complex at Pine Grove Furnace. The farm was leased by local farmers from that time until the industrial complex closed in 1913 when the entire land holding of the industry was acquired by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. John Gardner continued to lease the farm from the state until the mid 1920s.

The next phase of the site’s history began in 1933 when Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corps. The sites selected for the program were ones requiring conservation work such as those on former iron industrial sites that had been abusive to the environment. The CCC was a training and employment opportunity for young men aged 18-25. The program was run through the states, and the first site selected for a CCC camp in Pennsylvania on state-owned land was the former Bunker Hill Farm. It was known as the Pine Grove Furnace CCC Camp, S-51, Company 329. The camp began as a tent camp until barracks-type buildings and a mess hall and garages for equipment were built. It continued in operation until February, 1942 with the advent of WWII and then reverted to state forest ownership.

The site did not remain empty for long. By early 1942, sites were needed to house German, Italian and Japanese prisoners of war. Many former CCC camps were chosen for this purpose and Pine Grove Furnace CCC camp was one of them. However, though reconstructed to house prisoners for the duration of the war, the camp never opened as an internment camp. The military also had need of places to interrogate prisoners who potentially possessed knowledge that would be helpful in the prosecution of the war. The original two sites selected in Virginia and California were not able to handle the demand and an additional site was needed. That site was the former Pine Grove Furnace CCC Camp. The repurposed top-secret camp, renamed Pine Grove Furnace POW Interrogation Camp went into operation in May of 1943. It operated for 30 months until November of 1945. During that time, 7,500 German prisoners were interrogated there. Near the end of the war 161 Japanese prisoners were also held there, but the plan to continue use of the site as an interrogation center ceased to exist following the use of the atomic bomb in Japan which rapidly brought the war to a conclusion.

The site reverted to state control and a new use for the camp was sought. The United Presbyterian Church and the Evangelical and Reformed Church (later the United Church of Christ) formed a coalition called Camp Michaux, Inc. with the intention of running a youth camp during the summer. Their application for use of the site was approved. The church camp began operation in the partially converted former prison camp in 1947. The camp continued in operation until 1972 when a variety of problems with deteriorating buildings led to the closing of the camp. The state, unable to find others willing to lease the site, demolished the camp in 1975.

What remains today are the ruins of the original barn and foundations of the farm house, several foundations from the CCC/POW/Church Camp era, two dams on Toms Run, the stream that runs through the site, and the CCC fountain which remains completely intact.

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References (Sources Available at CCHS in bold)

An extensive collection of additional information is available at CCHS. In addition, a project conducted by CCHS through grant funding from the South Mountain Initiative led to the opening of official trails through the site using the “Self-Guided Camp Michaux Walking Tour” book by David L Smith. An official state historical marker was also erected at the site. A complete history of the site was written in 2006 by John P. Bland entitled, “Secret War at Home, The Pine Grove Furnace Prisoner of War Interrogation Camp.” Both books are available at CCHS. In addition there are extensive collections of original source materials used in writing the two books (MG-146). Other sources include the Drop Files for Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC); Prisoners of War (POW); and MG-104, the Papers of the Leroy Reed Collection.