Today’s guest post is brought to us by Kyle Wrather, a native of Columbus, Miss. Kyle holds degrees in English and Communication from Mississippi State University and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in mass communication from Georgia State University in Atlanta, Ga.
Tucked in thick forests and rolling hills, Legion State Park in Louisville, Miss. is a demonstration of the successes of historical preservation in the past and present. Consisting of over 420 acres of forest, two small lakes and a handful of well-preserved depression-era structures including a beautiful rustic lodge – the park has offered an outdoor escape for Mississippians for nearly 80 years.
With the country in the throes of the great depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was founded in March 1933 to develop and conserve natural resources while providing temporary work for thousands of unemployed American men. Mississippi became the site of a wide range of CCC projects including the preservation of forests, soil conservation projects, the construction of the Vicksburg Military Park and the building of multiple new state parks. Before then, Mississippi remained one of seven states in the U.S. with no established state parks.
Ground broke near Louisville in Winston County during October 1934 for what would be the fourth CCC-built state park in Mississippi. Living in CCC Camp 480 about two miles northeast of the park, workers cleared forest underbrush, laid roads and built two lakes. They also constructed nine cabins with stone chimneys, a storage barn, a bunkhouse, a large manager’s residence, pavilions, along with many stone steps and paths. The centerpiece of the park remains the large, rustic-style lodge near the park’s larger Lake Toppasha. The one-story lodge features a front porch of cut-stone pillars and hand-hewn logs; the interior of the main room holds a large stone fireplace and crossed large timbers above wood flooring. The structure also features a second fireplace and a screened-in back patio.
Legion State Park was completed and opened in 1937. Describing on the occasion of the park’s dedication, Hugh R. Awtrey, Associate Recreational Planner for the National Park Service said:
The dedication of Legion State Park, near Louisville, marked another significant step in the formation of a new but well-balanced system of public recreational areas in Mississippi… […] A 12-acre lake, with completed pier and beach, awaits recreationists this week at the Legion dedicatory exercises. A second lake, of five acres, also has been impounded and is being stocked with fish. Nine vacation cabins were built on the hills overlooking the larger lake and a handsome guest lodge will be available for public use.
In 1954, the Mississippi legislature leased the area of Legion State Park to the Pushmataha Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America for 25 years. Known as Camp Palila during that time, the park gained a place in the memories among many young scouts including Jack Slay Jr. who recalled in a Feb. 2000 Scouting magazine essay: “…it contained a lake, boy-sized; a handful of spider-webbed and log-hewn cabins; and trails that bred dust by the mouthful during dog days and that became, instantly, mudslides with the slightest of showers. Mostly, though, the camp was woods and time and autonomy.” The park returned to the hands of the State of Mississippi in 1980 and reclaimed its original name.
Legion State Park was added to the National Register of Historic Places in November 1998 – nearly 65 years after workers first broke ground at the site. The park’s NRHP submission documents highlighted the park’s many remaining CCC-built structures as outstanding examples of the rustic-style architecture. The style is known for its use of natural wood and stone design elements and can be seen seen in many other state and national park structures.
The park has continued to be nurtured by the non-profit organization Friends of Legion State Park, a group which actively schedules activities and fundraisers to support the park’s continued preservation. Hosting a range of events including nature walks, fishing outings, picnics and more the group has continued to support and cultivate the area and its facilities. Despite looming threats of state budget cuts, members of the organization have continued to support the area’s preservation and demonstrate the park’s popularity and usefulness to state officials.
Managed by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, Legion State Park is located at 635 Legion State Park Road Louisville, MS 39339-8803. There is a $3 charge for visiting vehicles and a $5 charge for fishing. For more information about the park, its facilities and availability call 662-773-8323 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
All photos by Kyle Wrather.
Historic Image: Pre-1954 postcard featuring the main lodge at Legion State Park via the University of Mississippi digital collections.