Pinnacles was never meant to last.
The green tattered cabin nestled in the Shenandoah National Park in western Virginia was one of hundreds of buildings constructed during the Depression to house young men given jobs under the Civilian Conservation Corps, a public work-relief program that was part of the New Deal.
But it was supposed to be temporary. The program ended in 1942, as did the need for housing when the young men began to leave the park.
Over the years many of the buildings were knocked down, but Pinnacles remained. It is now the only building from that era that is still in use at the park.
Yet it “has fallen into disrepair,” said Susan Sherman, president of the Shenandoah National Park Trust.
Last year, the trust used $30,000 in emergency funds to repair the building’s rotting foundation. But that wasn’t enough, and now the park is hoping to raise money to restore the whole building.
The Shenandoah National Park Trust is more than halfway through a fundraising effort to raise $150,000 to replace rotting lumber, fix doors, redo flooring and bring in new appliances that Sherman said haven’t been changed in 30 years.
“If you were to walk in, it’s like you’ve stepped back in time,” said Jim Northup, Shenandoah’s superintendent. “Looking at the flooring, looking at the curtains, at the furnishings — it feels old and stale.”
The building houses environmental researchers and volunteers who work on and maintain the park. But much about the cabin is as it was when it was built in 1935.
There is a common area with open ceilings and a bunk area to the right that sleeps seven. Park officials have added lab space with faucets, refrigerators and basins for researchers and a separate kitchen and bathroom.
Even though it is designed to sleep seven, Northup said 12 to 15 people could inhabit the space.
He said renovations wouldn’t change the aesthetic or structure of the facility, but “restore the building to its original appearance.” That includes 35 historic windows that will be maintained through a partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
“We have a strong responsibility to preserve that history and tell that story,” he said.
When President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited the area, he thought it would be a good fit to house the program that at its peak put 1,000 young men to work. They built the park’s infrastructure, planted trees and constructed cabins they would use as lodging. The cabin and an overlook at the park, also built by CCC youths, was named after the Pinnacle, a nearby summit.
As one of the only housing facilities available, Sherman said, its preservation is key to making sure groups such as the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club can continue their work.
The club spends weekends on the park’s trails, clearing paths, making drainage structures if the trails are eroded, or cutting and replanting trees that are down or in the path’s way. The club puts in thousands of volunteer hours.
Dan Dueweke, a district manager for the club, works most weekends when the park’s season opens in April, training different groups to properly use equipment before heading out to the grounds. He has been with the club for almost 20 years, and said he stays at Pinnacles nearly every time he’s in the national park.
Two years ago, he met two men who had stayed within the same walls decades before. He said he was with a training group when a van pulled up. One man got out, leaning on a cane. The other, the older of the two at age 97, bounded out “like he was going to cut wood,” Dueweke said.
They were former CCC youths who used to bunk at the camp and wanted to see if it was still standing.
They had been looking for work during the Depression when they came there so many years ago. They had to lie about their age to get a job with the CCC — they were only 15 and 16 when they started — and most of the $5 they made each week was sent home, they told him.
“The spry guy, he said it was the best time of his life,” Dueweke remembered. “He looked back on his year or two, his summers at Pinnacles camp and it was a formative time for him.”
After the restoration of the structure, which Sherman said will hopefully start by the fall, the park will keep Pinnacles operational. Dueweke said it would be an important way to “keep the tradition alive.”
“People can read about the CCC, but with all the buildings gone, you lose track of it,” Dueweke said. “But to know what it’s like to hold the history in your hand, and walk into the building itself. It really takes you back.”