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Camp Toccoa, the former paratrooper training camp, under renovation and reconstruction
Project aims to educate and preserve history in Stephens County
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A single building stands at the site of the former Camp Toccoa Army paratrooper training camp during World War II. The building is currently under renovations with plans for a pavilion to be constructed nearby.

More than 70 years ago, soldiers arrived at Camp Toccoa in the Northeast Georgia mountains near the South Carolina border to train to become paratroopers for World War II.

Paratroopers were considered a new kind of soldier at the time. They were trained to jump out of airplanes using a parachute and usually behind enemy lines.

At Camp Toccoa, the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment was activated on Nov. 15, 1942. Later, they dropped into Normandy on D-Day.

Today, the Camp Toccoa at Currahee Project seeks to restore elements of the camp and preserve its history at its location at 2129 Ayersville Road in Toccoa.

“There’s a lot of history going on here,” said Gary Bellamy, president of the Camp Toccoa at Currahee Project.

IN THE BEGINNING

Camp Toccoa was originally opened as a state guard camp in 1939, said Patrick Hall, construction coordinator for the project.

“In June of 1942, the federal government took it over and made it Camp Toccoa and brought in 500 officers and 5,000 men to train to be a new type of soldier — the paratrooper,” he said. “So this was the birth place of the airborne.”

In the beginning, training jumps were done at Toccoa, but were later moved as the runway wasn’t long enough.

On arrival at the camp, the soldiers stayed in rows of barracks and dined in mess halls. They trained on a rifle range, ran the obstacle course and marched in the parade area.

Soldiers also ran up and down a 3-mile road to Currahee Mountain during training.

“Soldiers every day would run up and down the mountain and would follow this road,” Hall said.

In all, about 17,000 men trained at Camp Toccoa. Training lasted five to six months, Bellamy said.

After training, soldiers were stationed at Fort Benning for enhanced training in parachute jumping. They then made stops at bases in North Carolina and New York before going to England to prepare for D-Day.

When World War II ended, Camp Toccoa closed in 1948, Bellamy said. It was vacant for a few years before being reopened as a state prison camp in the mid-1950s, which lasted a few years before being abandoned and dismantled.

Milliken and Co. operated a textile factory on the site of Camp Toccoa, beginning in the 1970s. When the company closed the plant and tore down the building, the company donated five acres to the Camp Toccoa at Currahee Project.

From there, the members of the restoration project decided to revive the abandoned camp, which once bustled with life and trained thousands of soldiers.

Now changes are underway and future construction is planned.

UNDER RENOVATION

Only a few years ago, the road to Currahee Mountain wasn’t visible. Now some of the original curb is noticeable after the group restoring the property unearthed it.

The road’s previous condition is a prime example of the camp’s state of disrepair. In fact, only one original building stands on the property. Bellamy said it once served as a type of supplies or convenience store. Now, it serves as headquarters for the project.

As the only edifice left standing, the group’s members added walls and doors and replaced windows. Next, they installed restrooms.

“We started on this about three years ago,” Bellamy said.

The group is being careful to make the renovations as historically accurate as possible by using materials from Camp Toccoa in the 1940s if possible. One of the doors on the building that houses the headquarters is made of wood from one of the original barracks.

Finding, gathering and transporting the materials has been no easy task. About 10 people serve on the board for the Camp Toccoa at Currahee project, but about 100 people — from the board, to the historical society, to people who have donated their time, energy and money — have helped make the restoration process a reality.

“It’s been a lot of hours, but it’s been a lot of fun,” Bellamy said.

Early last week, four paintings of Regimental Crests were hung in the building. The crests, painted by local artist Joe Collins, represent the four regiments that trained at Camp Toccoa between 1942 and 1948 — the 506th, 501st, 511th and the 517th.

Collins had previously volunteered his services to the group should they ever need artwork. Bellamy eagerly took him up on the offer and got together photos, which Collins worked from to create his paintings.

“It was really an honor and thrilling to get to do it,” Collins said. “This is going to be hanging here long after I’m gone, or I’m hoping it is.”

The 75-year-old grew up in Toccoa and knew about the camp as a kid. He doesn’t have any military experience himself, but several of his family members served in Korea and Vietnam.

Collins hopes to do a pencil drawing of several military leaders for the project as well.

IN THE MIDDLE OF RECONSTRUCTION

While renovations are part of the project, Camp Toccoa will have new construction as well.

The first new building to be erected on the property is an open-air pavilion — which is underway. Sixty loads of dirt were brought in to level the area.

Funds to finance the new buildings and supplies have come from donations. Hall said June and July were “awesome” months for donations. In fact, the group acquired most of the building materials for the pavilion from area businesses.

“The response when we explain to a company what the project is and what we’re trying to do, they’re all in,” Bellamy said. “And that makes you feel you good, because that means they understand the importance of it.”

The foundation and concrete will be the next step for the pavilion, which Hall said hopefully will take place in the three weeks.

The Camp Toccoa at Currahee Projects also plans to reconstruct four barracks on site, using some original materials, construct a bathhouse and develop an activity field. In the future, the group hopes to offer overnight camping trips, allowing visitors to get the whole Camp Toccoa experience.

The group also hopes to purchase a C-47 airplane in Alabama. C-47s were military transport aircraft used by the Allies during WWII.

Camp Toccoa is not the only venue in the Northeast Georgia to showcase its paratrooper ties. The Currahee Military Museum, 160 Alexander St., in Toccoa focuses on the Paratrooper Infantry Regiment trained at Camp Toccoa.

“The main thing is to make people aware that we have what is one of the best museums,” Bellamy said, highlighting the importance of protecting the camp’s legacy and memories as well as educating the younger generations. “It’s pretty amazing, and we have the history of this location and the things we’re doing here.”

Fundraising efforts to restore Camp Toccoa are still going on. To donate visit the groups website at www.camptoccoaatcurrahee.com/donate-2/.

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