Named for the adjacent Southern Pacific Railroad Company station (Flint Station), Camp Flint was initially established in 1938 on the southeastern portion of 20th District Agricultural Association Fairgrounds as a joint State/Federal relief camp under the State Relief Agency (SRA) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Great Depression. It should be noted that despite the name, the 20th District Agricultural Association is a State agency under the California Department of Agriculture (after 1972, California Department of Food and Agriculture). Camp Flint served as a labor camp for unemployed men seeking work on Federal and State funded public works projects in the Auburn area. Laborers lived in a camp that consisted of wood and canvas hutments. The area northwest of the Southern Pacific Railroad was the fairgrounds of the 20th District Agricultural Association.
In November 1940, the 20th District Agricultural Association quitclaimed the southeastern portion of the fairgrounds, which was the occupied WPA/SRA labor camp, to the City of Auburn. This area is best described as that portion of the fairgrounds southeast of the then Southern Pacific Railroad right of way. The City continued to allow the WPA/SRA to operate the camp after the transfer of the property. However, on 5 July 1941, due to a lack of funding, the camp was closed and its operations were moved to Camp Placer near the town of Applegate, California. There is no information currently available concerning the termination of a permit or lease between the WPA and/or the SRA and the City of Auburn.
Immediately after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, the U.S. Armys Western Defense Command and Fourth Army sought to secure the strategically important railroad through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Elements of the 32nd Infantry Division (a Wisconsin National Guard unit called into Federal service in 1940) were rushed from Camp Livingston, Louisiana to guard tunnels and bridges against potential saboteurs along the Southern Pacific Railroads right of way. On 9 December 1941, soldiers of the 32nd Infantry Division arrived in Auburn and occupied the former WPA/SRA labor camp and used it as a base of operations for providing static defense of the railroads vulnerable infrastructure. No documentation was found that a formal lease or permit was ever executed at this time.
In February 1942, the 754th Military Police Battalion (Zone of the Interior) arrived at Camp Flint and assumed the railroad security duties from the 32nd Infantry Division who departed in March of 1942. The 754th Military Police Battalions four companies (A through D) rotated between Camp Kohler, Camp Flint, Camp Placer, the Soda Springs Hotel, and Sparks, Nevada. A fifth company, Headquarters Company, remained at Camp Flint throughout the battalions tenure at Camp Flint.
On 10 April 1942, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers leased the former WPA/SRA camp area from the City of Auburn (lease W868-ENG-4313) and the fairgrounds from the 20th District Agricultural Association (lease W868-ENG-4729). This was followed up with an agreement dated 21 September 1942 between the War Department and the Southern Pacific Company for the construction, maintenance and use of a railroad crossing between the two portions of the post.
On 29 November 1943, a fire swept through and destroyed the camps mess hall and forced the unit there to utilize a field kitchen until a new mess hall was built. Photographic documentation at the Placer County Archives supports the fact that the U.S. Army replaced many of the WPA/SRA buildings with standard U.S. Army temporary structures
As World War II progressed, the need for a static defense of the railroad lessened and as a result, the 754th Military Police Battalion was transferred to Camp Beale (now Beale Air Force Base) on 18 December 1943. With the battalions departure, the U.S. Army placed into an inactive status. It appears that the installation was placed under the control of the U.S. Armys DeWitt General Hospital soon after being placed in an inactive status and established as a Reconditioning (i.e., physical therapy) Center in August 1944. Documentation was not found detailing the extent in which Camp Flint was used for this purpose.
In June of 1945, 200 German Prisoners of War were transferred to Camp Flint from Florence, Arizona to provide support at DeWitt General Hospital. Additional security fencing and guard towers were added to the site to secure the prisoner of war camp. Although the hospital was closed in December of 1945, records at the Placer County Archives indicate that German prisoners were still at Camp Flint in February of 1946.
While an exact day of the
Sites closing could not be determined, it is known that
the leases with the 20th District Agricultural Association (lease
W868-ENG-4729) and the City of Auburn (lease W868-ENG-4313) were
terminated on 10 May 1946 and 15 May 1946, respectively. This
was followed by the termination of the Memorandum of Agreement
(W868-ENG-4999) with the Southern Pacific Company on 3 June 1946.
Guard towers, high fences and POWs aren't the images normally associated with Auburn.
But for a brief and little-documented period during World War II, Italian and German prisoners of war were housed on the outskirts of town in an area now occupied by the Gold Country Fairgrounds and the Auburn Recreation District's Overlook Park.
It's all part of the rich history of an area of Auburn bordering the fairgrounds that was named Camp Flint and served a variety of uses over 40 years before vanishing into history after World War II.
Named Camp Flint after El Dorado County settlers who sold some of their land to the Mountain Quarry Railroad, the area served as a boxcar transfer station in the early 1910s for shipments from the limestone mine on the middle fork of the American River. During the Depression the site was known as Camp 6 and housed forest workers from the growing population of unemployed men. The camp was a base for work that included building sidewalks and bridges in later years around Auburn that still bear the Works Progress Administration inscription. Buildings constructed by the WPA include the Gold Country Museum, located on the fairgrounds.
The Depression-era incarnation of Camp Flint closed in the summer of 1941, but found a new existence Dec. 9, 1941, after the Pearl Harbor attack. An infantry division established a base there to guard the tunnels, trestles and snow sheds of the Central Pacific Railroad through the Sierra against sabotage. In early 1942, the 754th Military Police Battalion replaced the Red Arrow Army Division on the Sierra railroad patrol route for a stay that would last through the end of 1943.
With DeWitt Army Hospital constructed in 1943, Camp Flint took on yet another role - as a convalescent care facility for the healthier patients. With hikes in the canyon and other activities that included a "Flinters" baseball team, the object was to get the men back into fighting shape for a return to action.
Then, before reverting to fairgrounds and city property, it had a final role before fading into history as a POW camp for as many as 500 prisoners of war.
Reports of the time from the Journal show 200 prisoners of war arriving in June 1945 from Florence, Ariz. Former Military Police Sgt. Ray Jackson estimated in a 1980s account that there were more than 500 POWs when the camp was at its peak.
With the end of World War II, the prisoners would gradually be shipped out of Camp Flint for the voyage home. There was some interaction with the prisoners, but long-time Auburn-area resident Bill Scott, who served as Placer County's sheriff in the 1950s through the 1970s, said it was limited. Prisoners worked at the DeWitt hospital and even found a role preparing the Placer High School football field for the fall season.
Scott said that with the language barrier, most of the visitors interacting with prisoners came from the local Italian community. City of Auburn historian Loreley Hodkin said visitors would bring treats like cookies and cakes to the prisoners. With the war long over and DeWitt Hospital decommissioned Dec. 31, 1945, the remaining POWs were one of the final vestiges of World War II still in Auburn in the early part of 1946. By May, records at the city - gathered as part of a historic structures inventory in the 1980s - indicated the fairgrounds had regained the property from the military.
Jean Gilbert, a former Auburn resident who did much of the research on Camp Flint for the inventory, said that the Gold Country Fair was cancelled in 1946 because of the late presence of the prisoners of war. But a Gold Show event did take place, with "Wolfman" movie star Lon Chaney Jr. creating a splash by riding in the parade. Chaney was a Cool property owner at the time.
Over the ensuing years, the city used part of the property as an animal pound, works yard and garbage dump. A radio shack from that era still sits at the top of what soldiers called Headquarters Hill. Plans are to locate a dog run and park on part of the hill - a fitting segue from the war years. Gilbert recounted in a talk to the Placer County Historical Society after the inventory came out that Camp Flint had "gone to the dogs" early, with canines fed well from the leftovers and scraps behind the mess hall.
The site is currently owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Gold Country Fairgrounds. On the fairgrounds side, the old WPA building is the only barracks structure remaining. Daniel Sebby, a contract historian for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is investigating Camp Flint and other similar sites. He said the south side's only remaining World War II structure is the radio shack, although other accounts have that building being constructed shortly after the war.
As for the barracks, they were sold off, first to the Farm Labor Cooperative, and then to local orchards at 25 cents a square foot.
Hodkin said that while little research has been done on the POW presence in Auburn, that could change if someone decides to move ahead on a book. As city historian, she said that she would welcome any accounts of the days when German and Italian prisoners were a fact of wartime for the residents of Auburn.
The Journal's Gus Thomson can be reached at email@example.com.
Source: The Auburn Journal, 12 June 2005. Used with permission of the author.
|W868-ENG-4999||0.20 acre||Southern Pacific Company||21 September 1942|
|W868-ENG-4313||38.00 acres||City of Auburn||21 September 1942|
|W868-ENG-4279||18.60 acres||20th District Agricultural Association||21 September 1942|
Updated 22 October 2009
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