CAMP RIPLEY — When entering Camp Ripley’s main gate, take some time to look at the west tower. Below the parapet is a heart-shaped stone placed in the 1930s by a man who loved his wife more than all of the time he spent on this planet.

Built during the Great Depression, the stone wall at Camp Ripley was a project of the Works Progress Administration, a federal program initiated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of the New Deal to help a number of Americans who found themselves jobless.

The program’s goal was to provide one paid job for all families where the breadwinner suffered long-term unemployment. The new workers constructed highways, schools, hospitals and other public places, and some of the men employed by WPA boarded trains headed to Camp Ripley to begin construction on the now-famous wall.

Workers build the gate at Camp Ripley as part of the Works Progress Administration program during the Great Depression. Submitted photo
Workers build the gate at Camp Ripley as part of the Works Progress Administration program during the Great Depression. Submitted photo

On one of those trains, a man named Jon Mueller gazed out the window, wearing his gray WPA uniform. His leather backpack sat at his feet as he wrote a letter to his wife Mary Mueller before arriving at Camp Ripley to help build the wall.

My dearest Mary,

I am taking the first moment of the day to express my love for you. I regret not saying goodbye before I boarded the train early this morning; you were too beautiful to awaken. It has been a long and dreary trip thus far; I suspect we will arrive to work shortly.

I know this will help our family greatly, but I am already missing you terribly. Your beauty is in everything. I see your face in tree lines across the countryside. I smell your fragrance on the sack lunch you packed. And, every time I close my eyes to rest, I feel your soft skin as you used to wrap your arms around me.

Until next time, my love

J.M.

Mueller was one of several men tasked with constructing Camp Ripley’s black granite main gate between 1935 and 1942. The stones were waste stones quarried from a nearby site in Freedhem. Architect Philip Bettenburg was inspired by the U.S. Army Engineer Crest when designing the entrance. The 3-by-2-foot perimeter wall spans 3,400 feet. The main entrance includes two 40-foot towers and two 16-foot gateposts.

A historic photo shows the gate at Camp Ripley shortly after completion. Submitted photo
A historic photo shows the gate at Camp Ripley shortly after completion. Submitted photo

Sweet Jon,

My darling boy. My love for you could last for life. … I want you, darling, seriously dig into your mind, and to look for once into the future. Imagine the time when you come home, and we are together again…

With love,

Mary

In the 1930s it was very common for workers to send and receive letters, play card or dice games, or participate in sports during their free time. An exchange of letters between Jon and Mary Mueller brings to light a chivalrous act many look past every time they enter the gates of Camp Ripley.

My love,

We have been working very hard lately and I am happy to say we are close to finishing. I cannot wait to get home to you and the children. I hope one day, we will travel here so I can show you the stone in the west tower. It resembles my heart and never-ending love for you,

J.M.

So many decades later, Mueller’s love for his wife lives on through the stone he placed in her honor.