The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised

Notes on Camp White

    Just now it appears that there is a strong probability that an army cantonment is going to be built in our immediate neighborhood in the very near future. It seems that the site has been definitely selected--at least roughly. The men who are doing that selecting seem to have a hard time making up their minds just where to draw the line as to the boundary of the big camp. But one thing is sure--if things in Europe do not get better right soon, this country is going to enlarge the army, and when that happens, the cantonment in this country will be among the first to be built.
    So far as the writer can learn, here is a rough outline of the  site as of today (Tuesday p.m.): The GHQ will be located just east of the Crater Lake Highway at the point where the highway comes closest to the railroad. The main camp will lie both east and west of headquarters. The cantonment will take in practically all of Antelope Valley as far south as Grizzly Peak. From there it is proposed to run the line eastward beyond the Lost Lake country, crossing the south fork of Little Butte Creek above Dead Indian Soda Springs down the divide between the south fork and north fork of Little Butte to the vicinity of the Lake Creek store and thence back into the Antelope Valley. That, roughly, is the proposed eastern part of the big camp.
    The northern part will include a strip at the mouth of Little Butte Creek, where a bridge will be built. From there the camp will take in most of the Beagle district as far as Evans Creek. And if you don't think that means a lot of country, just try hiking over it someday. It is bigger than most countries in Europe. But don't put too much faith in this statement of the outlines of the proposed camp. It may have been changed since we left town--those folks beat the Dutch for changing their minds.
    Last Sunday the state highway commission met with the army men in Medford and went over part of the proposed site. They will have a big job on their hands putting the Crater Lake Highway into shape to carry the enormous traffic to and from camp. Also the county is faced with a bit of trouble in putting several of the county roads in like shape. Just which ones will be considered "access roads" we don't know yet. And it is thought that Congress will have passed the national defense road program before the time comes we need the money, and federal funds will be available for all these roads.
    But the most stupendous problems facing the people of this county is the matter of providing housing for the hordes of workmen who will be brought here to build the camp. Army officials estimate the number of these at about 8000. And they prophesy that we will have to take care of at least 1000 trailer houses brought by these men. This means proper sanitary provisions, lighting, water, etc. And on top of that, when the army moves in our cities will face a dwelling house shortage of some 5000 houses. Just try that on your jew's harp.
    And we wonder if the people of Central Point realize that if the cantonment does come--and President Roosevelt's fireside chat makes one even more certain that it WILL come and that right soon--a lot of things will have to be done right here at home. According to the chief architect who is drawing the plans for the cantonment (and who, by the way, has built a number of other such camps in other parts of the United States) there will come with the 30,000 men and 1000 officers somewhere in the neighborhood of 12,000 to 15,000 civilians who must be housed in surrounding towns. That means some four or five thousand new houses in the Rogue River Valley. Which also means that the population of this city will be doubled. Which again means plenty of headaches for the council in their job of providing water, sewers, street maintenance, police, and the like.
Arthur Edward Powell, "Musings by the Editor," Central Point American, May 29, 1941, page 1

    How short is human memory! It is hard to believe that it is only seven short years ago that Captain Bean and his crew of engineers came to this valley for the purpose of planning an army cantonment to be located somewhere in the vicinity of the old Agate Desert. We can well remember how they spent the summer moving the boundaries of that camp all over the landscape--they seemed to have the darned thing on wheels and moved the boundary almost daily.
    Then in November they packed up their dolls and toys and departed--and the dream of an army camp in this valley seemed all washed up. But we failed to reckon with the treacherous Jap, for just a month later came Pearl Harbor. And in January, 1941, here came Bean (by then a major) and his men again, and the contract was soon let for the building of what was ever after to be known as Camp White. And what a hectic summer that was. More than eighteen hundred buildings were constructed on the old desert between the fifteenth of February and the fifteenth of August when the camp was activated and the 91st Division took over.
    All that fall and winter you stumbled over soldiers everywhere you went. We couldn't go back into the hills anywhere without running into army convoys or groups of men slogging along the various roads, or camped beside some stream or spring. And the winter of 1942-43 was a particularly wet one, and the camp became known far and wide in army circles as "Lake White." It sure was a mess. That was the time the county road department lost some $1200 worth of crushed rock we had piled up behind a certain school house a mile or more outside the camp boundary and which was swiped by the soldiers to make paths from their barracks to the mess halls, etc. (We never were able to prove just who took the stuff, so never could collect the cost from the army officials.)
    From the time of the activation of the big camp in August, 1942, until after the end of the shooting part of the war the whole county boomed like a beehive. Hundreds of our people found jobs at the camp. All sorts of new businesses opened up, and the older ones were almost swamped with work. Wages rose to an almost unbelievable extent, and everyone was plenty busy. But when the army finally moved on things began to go down, at least for a while. Then the men and women who had gone away to work in various war activities began to come home, and later the GIs themselves returned. Since then the big problem in this county has been to try to get new industries going to take up as much of the slack as possible.
    Finally the army decided that they no longer wanted the camp, and it was declared "surplus" and ordered wrecked. That made a lot of work for several months, but the job is finally completed and most of the resultant mess cleaned up. Just the other day we drove through the heart of the old camp and were especially struck at the desolateness of the landscape. Even where General Gearhart had his headquarters the only sign left was part of a brick fireplace and the ruins of a concrete vault sticking up out of the weeds. Grass and weeds now hide even the foundations of the hundreds of barracks and other buildings which once covered a space two miles wide by four miles long. It gives a feller a lonesome feeling to look at it.
Arthur E. Powell, "Musings," Central Point American, June 17, 1948, page 1

Last revised April 20, 2024