One of the inspirations for the architectural character for the Chickasaw Visitor Center is the historic architecture located in the national park land now known as the Chickasaw National Recreational Center in Sulphur, Oklahoma. These historic structures were built by the Civilian Conversation Corps (CCC) between 1933 and 1940. Amazingly in 1914, Platt’s visitation exceeded both Yellowstone and Yosemite and was second only to the Hot Springs Reservation in Arkansas. The objective of the CCC Company #808 at then Platt National Park was to protect and conserve the park’s resources which was receiving an enormous amount of wear for a park its size.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” program reduced unemployment during the great depression by providing work for the more than 3 million young men who enrolled in the program. The CCC initially focused on reforestation, but that soon grew to include soil conservation and the creation of recreational park facilities which included aiding the establishment of some 800 state parks across the country. The overall effort was a collaboration of other “New Deal” programs that included the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the National Park Service. One of those new parks was located in southern Oklahoma in Chickasaw Country and is one of the many area attractions that visitors can learn about at the Chickasaw Visitor Center.
While the CCC was focused on preservation at Platt National Park, their focus at Lake Murray was to create a park from scratch; from the ground up. The work was done primarily by CCC companies’ #1813 and #834. Lake Murray is Oklahoma’s first and largest state park and began with a purchase of 16,500 acres. Today the park is some 21,000 acres that includes some 6,000 acres of water. The historic structures at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area and Lake Murray closely resemble each other to the point of being clones. The structures were designed by Herbert Maier and his team of architects, engineers and landscape designers. Maier whose design work can be seen in national parks like Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and Yosemite is acclaimed for his “rustic” park structures that blend into the landscape.
Platt National Park CCC Structures
The structures are made from native stone and large timbers and were built to last the test of time. Many of the structures are still standing and are in use today. The lake was named after one of Oklahoma’s most colorful governors, Alfalfa Bill Murray and the most iconic structure at Lake Murray is Tucker Tower which originally served as a geological museum and later became the park’s nature center. The Lake Murray dam and spillway and Tucker Tower were built by the WPA. My favorites are the more rustic structures of the original park visitor center, water tower, picnic shelter and cabins.
The most amazing structure for me is the Johnson Memorial Bridge. To think of what the men building these rustic park structures accomplished with the tools and horsepower that were available can blow your mind. Many of the rocks are beyond huge. The engineering and construction of this bridge alone was a real feat. The final product is a master work. Lake Murray was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001 recognizing it as a key component of America’s architectural and cultural history.
The CCC has “left its monuments in the preservation and purification of the land, the water, the forests and the young men of America” wrote Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. following that period of history.