CPS Unit Number 012-01
Unit ID: 1
Operating agency: AFSC
Opened: 6 1941
Closed: 5 1945
CPS Camp No. 12, a Forest Service base camp located in Cooperstown, New York and operated by the American Friends Service Committee, opened in June 1941 and closed in October 1945. The men worked in timber stand improvement.
CPS Camp No. 12, a Forest Service base camp located in Cooperstown, New York opened in June 1941 in a stately “three-story, white columned house on an estate on Lake Street” which the American Friends Service Committee rented for $65 per month.
The Northeastern Forest Service Experiment Station of the U. S. Forest Service and the New York State Conservation Department supervised the work of the men as timber cruisers and surveyors.
The camp closed in October 1945.
Directors: Roger Drury, Carl Jellinghams, Paul Johnson, Win Osborne, Lou Schneider, Mervin Palmer
Thirty-five men made up the unit, the first six from upstate New York, the next eleven from New York City and Long Island, and one man from Cincinnati.
The men at American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) camps tended to constitute the most religiously diverse group of men, including those who reported no religious affiliation when entering CPS.
They came from a variety of occupations, and numbers from cities were greater than from rural areas. On average, men in Friends camps had completed 14.27 years of education. (Sibley and Jacob p. 171-172)
One of the CPS men at Cooperstown, a leading cartoonist introduced “Joe the Beaver”, whose antics on posters across the country taught farmers and others to care for trees.
Another Cooperstown man invented a gadget which could quickly calculate the yield of a stand of timber in one-fifth of the time. He was assigned to the regional office of the Forest Service to develop and explain his instrument to foresters in the eastern part of the United States.
Yet another, a sociologist, applied the latest opinion gathering methods to analyze public attitudes on forest conservation. This led to the development of a public education plan for the forest service.
The work of the camp was focused in timber stand improvement. Men would cruise through woodlots, survey timber, estimate yields and mark trees for cutting. Others would follow, fell trees, split and pile the wood.
Campers worked on the U.S. Forest Survey, chartered by Congress in 1929 to measure the nation’s timber supply. The men at Cooperstown surveyed 1,700,000 acres of forest land between July 1941 and June 1942. James W. Girard, Assistant Director of the Forest Survey described the unit work “as good or better than any crews that I have checked in the entire company”. (Robinson p. 174)
The COs “treated more than 2,600 acres to control insects, tree and plant diseases, marked ten miles of boundaries, constructed three large water holes, cleaned and repaired forty-five reservoirs, and cleared flammable debris from roadsides and forests”. In addition, they planted 545,000 seedlings in the spring of 1942. (Robinson p. 174)
Later on, several of the men from the camp assisted the Forest Service with statistical analysis and surveys in other Eastern areas.
The local community, however, took offense that Selective Service and the American Friends Service Committee would allow pacifists to live in such comfort in town while their peers engaged in the rigors of military training. The editor of the Utica Daily Press offered that the men should instead be working in one of the vacant Civilian Conservation Corps Camps in the Adirondacks rather than “on a wooded hillside overlooking Ostego Lake”. Even the New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer offered their particular outrage, the latter suggesting that these men were not entitled “to vacations in dude ranches at no cost to themselves”. One of the reporters had noted that six young women volunteers also lived in the building. With Selective Service and the church agencies always sensitive to public criticism, AFSC officials immediately traveled to Cooperstown and transferred the female volunteers to other work camps. (Robinson p. 180)
Eventually many of the townspeople learned to know the men through their community activities. They taught Sunday school classes in local churches, spoke on pacifism, volunteered at the hospital, helped create a children’s museum, and a twelve voice choir sang for appreciative audiences in the area. When Selective Service and AFSC considered moving the camp in the summer of 1942, the Forest Service did not support the recommendation on the grounds that such a move would result in a decided loss and that furthermore, the public sentiment had changed.
While the camp remained, many of the men grew increasingly frustrated with the need to perform menial work. They held high hopes for using their training and experience in teaching, rural rehabilitation, community organization, religious work more directly in areas of high need. Selective Service did not want pacifists spreading their propaganda and defined “work of national importance” primarily as meeting the nation’s manpower shortage.
The men published a camp paper Cooperstown which began in November 1941 and continued to publish through February 1943.
For more information on women COs see Rachel Waltner Goossen, Women Against the Good War: Conscientious Objection and Gender on the American Home Front, 1941-47. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1997.
For stories from men who, as COs, walked to a different drummer during World War II, see Mary R. Hopkins, Editor, Men of Peace: World War II Conscientious Objectors. Caye Caulker, Belize: Producciones de le Hamaca, 2010, Chris Ahrens, pp. 220-224.
For general information on CPS camps see Albert N. Keim, The CPS Story: An Illustrated History of Civilian Public Service. Intercourse, PA: Good Books 1990.
For more information on CPS Camp No. 12 at Cooperstown, New York, see Mitchell L. Robinson, “Men of Peace in a World at War: Civilian Public Service in New York State, 1941-1946”, New York History (April 1997): 173-210.
See also Mulford Q. Sibley and Philip E. Jacob, Conscription of Conscience: The American State and the Conscientious Objector, 1940-1947. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1952, forest service camps pp. 127-130.
Swarthmore College Peace Collection, Camp periodicals database.