Reality includes ugly, hard truths. Mistakes, evil and hardship touch every aspect of every life. But contrast creates beauty…and against the backdrop of darkness, glory shines! I am always looking for stories that illustrate such Truths of God. Recently, I saw such a story at a local state park.
Every story, whether that of a business, a country or a person, has a mix of good and bad in its history–and its present. A walk around Chester State Park reveals some incredible good that came in the midst of both sin and stupidity. I take great encouragement in stories like this because darkness can sometimes deceive us into thinking nothing good is happening. As a Christian, the Park story reminds me that ‘stuff happens’ but my good and powerful God has a way of bringing good in the midst of bad. Take a stroll with me through the history of Chester State Park and be encouraged!
According to history documents, in the 1920s, the land of Chester County was severely over-farmed. Some say South Carolina had the dubious distinction of having the most depleted, eroded land east of the Mississippi. Undoubtedly, a lack of knowledge and a surplus of greed joined forces to mine the land for every cotton dollar available. The result paralleled the mid-west experience and the great Dust Bowl horror. The present day park land was a prime example of the dark reality of those years. An old cotton field with a history of crop failures, it was worth little.
Into the darkness came the flickering light of a dreamer. Carlisle White looked at the
dried up property with two trickling streams converging into one and envisioned a lake-side housing development. He set about sharing his vision, purchased the land and formed Lakeview Corporation. The corporation built a dam, created a lake and sub-divided the property into building lots. However, no homes were ever built there; no lots were ever sold. The Great Depression crashed down and the developers’ dreams never materialized. Instead, necessity forced them to turn the property over to the federal government. The light of the dreamer wavered precariously.
But darkness can never overcome light. A new federal government program, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was about to fuel the flame that would redeem that plot of land. Part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, the CCC put people to work re-building the infrastructure of America. The State Park system across the US owes its beginnings to the CCC. Chester State Park is one of the treasures that shines out of the dark years of the 20s and 30s because of the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Darkness, though, does not surrender easily. The first CCC crew sent to Chester actually abandoned the project because of the severity of the erosion. Their inability to see beyond the difficulties joined forces with the darkness of another community to deliver the right team to Chester. The work crew which did most of the work at the park was originally assigned to another county. The ignorant racism of that community led them to reject the crew based on the African-American heritage of its members. The fortitude of that CCC Crew, Unit 4475, conquered the darkness and became the primary tool of restoration for the land we now enjoy as Chester State Park.
Unit 4475 built an impressive array of structures–some of which remain today: the roads, a larger dam, shelters, a boat house and a residence for the rangers. All of that construction was on top of the ‘camp’ the members built for themselves to live in while they created the Park! Sadly, per federal law, every camp structure had to be removed when the CCC crew left. Their camp included a chapel, store, barber shop, barracks, mess hall and administrative buildings. This same crew also initiated several other projects to combat further erosion, including planting 400,000 trees and building additional dams. Almost a century later, their labor continues to bless the County and countless visitors.
Debbie Blakley, Photographer
Today, the Park is a picture of abundance and beauty. It serves as a place of recreation and respite for many. But its history includes a mixture of good and bad: vision, discouragement, greed, racism, fortitude, foolishness and hope. Goodness and light won out because that is how God designed this world. The law of sowing and reaping means there are consequences from every action. In the goodness of God, He deemed that curses are limited to four or five generations while blessings pass on for thousands. May this picture of sowing, reaping and redeeming encourage you to rejoice in the goodness of God.
I said, ‘Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of love. Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and shower righteousness upon you.’ Hosea 10:12