Lake Brownwood State Park
North-central Texas park is home to some of CCC’s finest work.
By Melissa Gaskill
Franklin D. Roosevelt never slept in a cabin at Lake Brownwood State Park, but thanks to his Civilian Conservation Corps, you can. Part of FDR’s New Deal recovery program for a Depression-wracked nation, CCC work camps established across the country in the 1930s offered work to unemployed young men and improvements to state lands. Workers arrived at the Brownwood camp, one of 15 in Texas, in 1935 to improve 500 lakeshore acres that had been purchased by the Izaak Walton League and then donated to the state. By 1941, using rock trucked from a quarry 16 miles away and shaped with hand picks, they had completed 17 cabins and nearly 100 other structures.
Those included a spacious bath house, which the National Park Service initially insisted be placed atop a hill for sanitary engineering reasons. The state parks department asserted that it would be deemed a “laughingstock” for building a facility 300 yards from the sandy beach and swimming area it was to serve, and eventually prevailed. Today, the beach is gone but the building remains as Beach Lodge, which sleeps 26 in two dormitory-style rooms, with two baths, a kitchen and dining area, and a large outdoor grill.
Fisherman’s Barracks, built to serve anglers coming to the lake in growing numbers in the 1930s, is now the five-bedroom Fisherman’s Lodge, and a cook’s shack became the two-bedroom Oak Lodge. Firepits, curved benches, culverts and picnic tables, NPS-designed and CCC-built, are scattered throughout the park.
One of the CCC’s finest pieces of work here was the Clubhouse, which included concessions, a hardwood dance floor and park headquarters. The food and dances attracted many visitors, and a park ranger provided rides from the dam in his personal boat for 50 cents each way. He dropped guests off at a long set of wide rock stairs leading from the water up to a lookout pavilion. The boat dock there was eventually destroyed by floods, so today people arrive at the Clubhouse by car for events like family reunions and weddings.
Brownwood’s CCC camp closed in 1942, and during WWII, the park served as a rest-and-recreation site for soldiers stationed at Camp Bowie. After the war, Texans returned to the park in force to swim, boat, camp, hike and picnic — activities that visitors still enjoy today. In the early 1970s, numbered sites brought order to camping in the park, and new hiking trails were added to the ones created by the CCC in the 1930s. In 1978, cabin renovations upgraded the heating and cooling systems, appliances and windows. Sleeping porches were enclosed. Otherwise the structures remain much as they were in the 1930s, sturdy pieces of history scattered among oak, hawthorn and cedar elm trees along a ridge above the lake. Night brings the call of owls and the gentle lapping of waves against the rocks. In the morning, sunlight reflects off the lake to create mysterious but beautiful images on the ceiling. FDR would have been pleased.
For more information, contact Lake Brownwood State Park at (325) 784-5223 or visit <www.tpwd.state.tx.us/lakebrownwood>.