William A. Reynolds would be happy with how this all turned out.
The first scoutmaster at Troop 1 in Charlotte, headquartered at Holy Comforter Episcopal Church in Dilworth, couldnt have foreseen in March 1913 how strong and vital Scouting would become in Mecklenburg County.
That proof lives with Troop 1s 100th anniversary this month.
Launched three years after the official founding of the Boy Scouts of America and just five years after Scouting was formally organized in England, Scouting in Mecklenburg has survived two World Wars, 17 presidents and sweeping cultural, political and economic transformations in our country.
That doesnt even include internal challenges.
Twenty years ago, the average life expectancy of a Scout troop was something like 13 months, said Richard E. Shields, author of A Good Turn for Generations: The Illustrated History of Boy Scouting in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina (2005). Too often you organize it, youve got lousy leaders or whatever, and the boys drift away and the thing folds up. If you organize it by the book like the Boy Scouts say, the troop will last for quite awhile; but if you just go in and throw it together, forget it in most cases.
A little over 100 years ago, the effort to get organized had an inauspicious start. According to Shields book, a Feb. 16, 1910, article in The Charlotte Observer reported a meeting to gauge interest in starting a company of Boy Scouts in Charlotte.
Nothing came of it.
But there had been scattered, informal local efforts. The book compiled largely through old Scouting documents and scrapbooks, and overseen by a committee that included John Belk says there were troops in Hickory and Salisbury at the time that had not gone through a formal registration process.
In fact, some troops were informally organized as early as 1908, two years before what is generally recognized as the beginning of organized Scouting in the U.S.
On Feb. 8, 1910, Chicago newspaper publisher William D. Boyce signed incorporation papers for the Boy Scouts of America, less than two months after receiving permission from Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts in England.
History and mystery
As with many long histories, the story of Scouting in Mecklenburg has its inconsistencies. Shields book says two Mecklenburg troops were formed in 1913: the troop sponsored by Holy Comforter, and a Charlotte YMCA troop. The Mecklenburg County Council Boy Scouts of America website dates the YMCA troop to 1914.
The Holy Comforter troop was known as Troop 1 or Troop A; the YMCA troop was referred to as Troop 2 or Troop B. Shields account says the YMCA troop later became Troop 1, because either the Holy Comforter troop disbanded for awhile or hadnt been registered with the national office.
If the YMCA troop became Troop 1, it didnt last very long. It was gone by the late teens as the Y, one of the founding organizations of the Boy Scouts, began drifting away from sponsoring Scouts as individual churches began assuming a greater role.
Though Holy Comforters Troop 1 is the oldest in Mecklenburg County, it has had at least one interruption in service. Troop 1 committee chairman Allen Amos says its continuous service dates to 1952; its not known which periods it wasnt in service before then. He and others interviewed agree that World War II could have been a cause for at least one interruption.
One theory for the lack of information on Troop 1 records is that some records were lost in a Scout office fire. Shields disputes this.
A lot of rumors we put to rest when we wrote the book or traditional tales, whatever you want to call them, said Shields, who now sells Boy Scout memorabilia in Monroe. One of them was there was a fire at the council office on Third Street. It turns out that was a minor thing. Those records were thrown out, not ever burned.
There was a fire at Holy Comforter (previously located on South Boulevard but now on Park Road in Dilworth). That was a different thing. But I dont know anything about that and no one reached at the church had any knowledge of it.
Amos said Troop 1 remains very active today: We have some type of outing every month. We recently attended the anniversary of the Battle of Cowpens. In the past, special outings included canoeing in the Boundary Waters Wilderness, cycling on the C&O Canal Trail National Park, sailing in the Caribbean and kayaking in the Pamlico Sound.
According to the Mecklenburg council office, its oldest county troop in terms of continuous service is Troop 58 in Davidson nearly 85 years. It was originally chartered to First Presbyterian Church in May 1928, later moved to St. Paul Baptist, then the Davidson College YMCA before its current sponsorship with the Davidson Lions Club began in 1947.
The council said Troop 55, sponsored by Myers Park Presbyterian, is a close second. Its continuous service dates to 1929.
The longevity at Troops 1, 55 and 58 is impressive on a number of fronts, Shields said: Most troops will run for awhile, then the leader will leave and somebody else will run it and it doesnt work, or the boys lose interest; 1918 is when it really became tough to get leaders because of the war effort. World War II was worse.
Also, most leaders today, they were Scouts and Cubs as kids. They can relate to it. In the teens, no adult could relate to what Scouting was.
A Scout lifer
Thats not a problem for Al Selby. The Mint Hill resident, 76, has 68 years Scouting experience, including twice as a scoutmaster. He spent 32 years with Troop 158 at Third Presbyterian Church in Charlotte and has served the Scouts in numerous capacities.
I got my Eagle Award when I was 16, he said. I stayed with the program and its troop until I graduated at Central in 1954. Then I went to college at Chapel Hill and joined the troop over there, became assistant scoutmaster. Thats pretty unusual. Most people go to college and forget about Scouting.
Selby said the only person he knows of with more Scouting experience locally is Bill Nichols (70 years), who is on the executive committee of the Mecklenburg County Council Boy Scouts of America.
Its a very close fraternity that gets passed down through generations. I cant think of anything that would substitute for it, said Selby.
A longtime member of the Eagle Scout committee, Selby said 277 Eagles were honored last year and they spent more than 27,000 hours on projects.
He said this level of service will be a focus when the council celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2015. More than 12,000 youths ages 7-18 are served each year through the council.
It goes back to the core values established in 1910, Selby said. Citizenship, service to the community, the Scout oath, the Scout Law these things havent changed. We stress a duty to the community, a duty to yourself, to your family, to your religion, whatever it is.
Reid Creager is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Reid? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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