The Creation of the Shawnee National Forest 1930-1938

originally titled - Birth of the Shawnee National Forest, 1933-Present

Part III: Establishment

The official establishment of the Shawnee Purchase Units as such (and comprising the Shawnee and Illini Units), may be said to have occurred on October 1, 1933, when John O. Wernham arrived to begin the acquisition of land. The same issue of the Daily Register that reported the arrival of Mr. Wernham, stated that the Regional Forester at Milwaukee, Wisconsin, would order five lookout towers and eleven pick-up trucks, so that it appeared the work of establishing the unit was actually under way.

On October 7, 1933, Donald R. Ball arrived to resume charge of the unit as Forest Supervisor. In the meantime, Eugene V. Phelps had also arrived to assit in land acquisitiion, and the October 7, 1933 issue of the Daily Register stated that a series of meetings would be held to be attended by Landowners, farm advisors, etc., and would be addressed by representatives of the Forest Service. This was the initial action taken to acquaint local landowners with the proposed establishment of the purchase units which would be accomplished by optioning and purchasing a large number of acres of land.

The same issue also stated that the temporary quarters of the Forest Service had been established on the third floor of the First Trust and Savings Bank Building in Harrisburg, and that local citizens and officials were making an effort to secure permanent location of the office in Harrisburg.

An article in the October 10, 1933 issue urged that options be hastened if owners were desirous of having their land purchased by the Government for the inclusion in the proposed national forest. In October 17, 1933, it was noted that ten people had been added to the personnel of the local Forest Service office, and on October 14, 1933 two crews of land examiners were organized, nine members of which would operate in the Illini Unit under the supervision of John O. Wernham, and eight in the Shawnee Unit under the supervision of Eugene V. Phelps.

The November 3, 1933 issue of the Daily Register mentioned that the contract had been let for construction of Herod Camp near Herod, Illinois. This camp was originally occupied as a state-supervised project, but was later turned into a national forest drought relief camp. On December 23, 1933, the Daily Register stated that Kedron Camp would be occupied December 28, 1933, and that Eddyville was already occupied, and the Hicks Camp was under construction.

Thus, by the end of 1932 (this probably is an original typo and should be 1933 ) the project of a national forest for Southern Illinois was definitely under way, and by June 2, 1934, the Daily Register was able to carry an article citing the accomplishments of the units which included establishment of six camps, surfacing of 68 miles of road by CWA, and 60 miles by CCC, construction of 7.6 miles of telephone line, experimental planting of 62 acres of pine, and construction of three bridges.

Coincident with the establishment of the Shawne Purchase Units mine labor union "war" broke out in Saline and surrounding counties. The town of Harrisburg figured largely in the events since it was an important mining town. The personnel first arriving to the forest thus found themselves in a town tense with labor troubles, and occupied by the National Guard


The area in Southern Illinois designated for national forest purposes was originally known as the Illinois Purchase Units, comprised of the Shawnee and Illini Units. In August 1933 the designation Shawnee Purchase Units was adopted. At the time of this writing (June 1938) it is expected that within a short time the area will be officially proclaimed as the Shawnee National Forest.

In November 1938, an attempt was made by the supervisor to have the designation changed to Lincoln Purchase Units, with the idea that the region would ultimately be known as the Lincoln National Forest.


When the Shawne Purchase Units were first established temporary headquarters were set up in Room 303, First Trust and Savings Bank Building, Harrisburg, Illinois. This was the only modern office building in the town of Harrisburg suitable for headquarters, and the forest has continued to occupy this building as Supervisor's offices.

Expansion of the offices has continued since 1933, until today (June, 1938), ten rooms on the third floor, and four rooms on the fourth floor, are leased by the Forest Service. Employees who were here during the early days of the forest tell of the chaos and confusion caused by the small space under lease, the incoming shipments of equipment and supplies, and the constant inflow of new personnel.

During the early days many "temp(?)-made" tables were in use by clerks since the pressure of the emergency program made furniture-buying a secondary project.

The Forest was established when the CCC program was in its greatest stage of expansion, and the NIRA and CWA programs were being instituted. The Shawnee had a considerable CWA program to administer, and two Rangers from the West - Favre L. Eaton and Eugene R. Lepley - were detailed to the forest as CWA Rangers in charge of the program. Project records and payrolls for CWA projects were prepared in the Supervisor's office in Harrisburg, and in this connection the story is told of a near-demonstration in the hallways on the third floor of the First Trust Building, opposite the Supervisor's offices, when a group of workmen who had been employed on a CWA project and had failed to receive their checks as expected, came to demand them in force and required some fast diplomacy on the part of the personnel in charge.

At the outset the Shawnee Ranger District headquarters were established in a room adjacent to the Supervisor's office, but during the summer of 1934, they were removed to a room on the second floor of the Cummins Building, at the corner of Church and Main Streets, in Harrisburg, Illinois.

Later, when the district was divided, the headquarters of the Stonefort District remained in Harrisburg, and offices for the Rosiclare District were established in the Miles Building, Rosiclare, Illinois, where they have since been maintained except for a short period during which the headquarters were reestablished in the Cummins Building in Harrisburg.

The Delta District, or Illini as it was originally known, first had quarters in the basement of the First National Bank Building in Jonesboro, Illinois. Later, the Igerly Building, a one-story brick structure previously used as a doctor's ofice, was leased, and the office continued to occupy these quarters until it was removed to the Jonesboro Ranger Station ofice completed late in 1936.

The Big Mudy Ranger District originally established headquarters in March, 1935, on the second floor of the Joplin Building in Murphysboro, Illinois, removing from there to the Murphysboro Ranger Station when it was completed in 1937. Ranger Lucas and Assistant Ranger James are the first two forest officers to occupy Government-owned Ranger Station dwellings on the Shawnee.

The Stonefort Ranger District removed its offices to Vienna, Illinois in 1936, and are located in the Pickine Building in that city. It is expected that this office will continue to occupy these quarters until the Vienna Ranger Station office building is completed during fiscal year 1939.

NEXT: Part IV: Personnel
BACK: Part II: Second Attempt Succeeds

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Created July 29, 1996 by Jon Musgrave