Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Pelham Boy Scout Troop 1 Celebrates Its Centennial - A History of Pelham Scouting

Nearly 150 people gathered at Juliano’s in New Rochelle on Saturday, April 2nd to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of Pelham Troop 1, Boy Scouts of America.  The dinner celebration also offered a chance to honor the troop’s scoutmaster, Ralph Mirra, who is moving into a new position after eighteen years of service as Troop 1 Scoutmaster.

Pelham Boy Scout Troop 1 Centennial Patch Design.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Pelham Town Supervisor Peter D. Dipaola presented a Town Proclamation honoring the troop and announced a decision by the Town Council to plant a tree with a commemorative tablet to honor Scoutmaster Mirra and his service to Troop 1.  State Assemblywoman Amy Paulin and County Legislator Jim Maisano also presented proclamations to honor the troop and recognize its centennial. 

In addition, Vincent Cartelli, a member of the board and past Commander of Pelham Post 50, American Legion Department of New York, presented a certificate on behalf of Post 50 to the troop in recognition of its centennial.  Representatives of the Boy Scouts of America Westchester-Putnam Council headquartered in Hawthorne, New York, along with Assistant Scout Master Bill Hopkins, presented the troop with certificates to commemorate the event.  During the celebration, the troop also displayed a commemorative centennial plaque awarded earlier this year by The Community Church of the Pelhams which supports the troop, serves as its chartering organization, and hosts the troop’s regular Thursday evening meetings. 

Reverend Noel D. Vanek of The Community Church of the Pelhams delivered the invocation as well as congratulatory remarks.  Other speakers included:  Scoutmaster Mirra who spoke of the troop’s last two decades of activities; John Heins who spoke as a scouting father and active troop photographer; Town Historian Blake Bell who spoke on the history of scouting in the Town of Pelham and the history of Troop 1; Eagle Scout Brett Bell who spoke of notable events during his time with the troop; Life Scout Michael Pachuta who spoke humorously of a memorable canoeing trip; and Scout Dad Chris Micharloff who announced that in connection with the celebration, the troop had raised a fund to donate to the Library of the Town of Pelham to celebrate the troop’s centennial. 

Current Scouts presented an entertaining skit that parodied their Scoutmaster and fellow Scouts based on recent whitewater rafting outings.  The Scouts also honored Susan Cartelli and Robyn TenEyck for their unceasing work for the troop.  They also honored Scoutmaster Mirra, who has guided 26 Scouts to the rank of Eagle Scout during his eighteen-year tenure, by presenting him with the gift of a bronze eagle sculpture.  An important video that included many images of members of the troop and their activities thrilled the gathering. 

The troop honored the many adult leaders who have supported the Scouts during the last twenty years including, among many others, Assistant Scoutmasters Bill Hopkins, Jamie Hupprich, Jack Cardwell, and Jack McGuirk; Troop 1 Committee Chair Prudy Lenhard; Troop 1 Committee members Michael Mirra, Susan Cartelli, Robin TenEyck, and Glenn Koniuk; and Chartering Organization representatives Reverend Noel D. Vanek and Barbara Scharrer. 

As high adventure Pelham Troop 1 enters its second century, it welcomes all boys between the age of 11 (or who have completed the fifth grade while ten years old) and the age of 18.  It welcomes those who want to challenge and better themselves while enjoying the scouting journey.  It welcomes those who crave adventure.  It also welcomes those who, according to the Scout Oath promise to “help other people at all times, to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight."

Founded in early 1916, Pelham Troop 1 has operated on a continuous basis ever since.  Today it is a “high adventure troop,” the members of which pursue activities including scuba diving in Key West, white water rafting and kayaking, ice climbing, rock climbing, snow-shoeing, dog sledding, horseback riding, zip-lining, orienteering, high-country survival training, hiking and camping in the mountains of Philmont National Scout Ranch, and other scouting activities including hiking and camping at places like Camp Read in the Adirondacks and Durland Scout Reservation in Putnam County.

Pelham Town Supervisor Peter D. DiPaola Presents Town
Proclamation To Pelham Boy Scout Troop 1 Scoutmaster
Ralph Mirra at Centennial Celebration Dinner.  Image Used
with Permission, Courtesy of Maureen Mirra Katos.  NOTE:
Click on Image to Enlarge.

New York State Assemblywoman Amy Paulin Presents State Assembly
Proclamation To Pelham Boy Scout Troop 1 Scoutmaster Ralph Mirra
at Centennial Celebration Dinner.  Image Used with Permission, Courtesy
of Maureen Mirra Katos.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Pelham Boy Scout Troop 1 Scouts and Adult Scout Leaders
in Attendance at Centennial Celebration Dinner.  Image by the
Author.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Pelham Boy Scout Troop 1 Color Guard During
Centennial Celebration Dinner.  Image by the
Author.  NOTE:  Click Image to Enlarge.

I had the honor and pleasure to deliver the keynote address on the history of the Boy Scout program in Pelham and the 100-year history of Troop 1.  I delivered that address from an outline, but have converted that outline to the brief history of the troop that appears immediately below.  

The Founding of the Boy Scout Association and the Boy Scouts of America

Lord Robert Baden-Powell founded the Boy Scout Association in England in 1908.  The Association became immediately popular and grew quickly.  Less than two years later, an American newspaper man named W. D. Boyce had an experience that prompted him to bring the Boy Scout program to America.

The story of W. D. Boyce and his first experience with an English Boy Scout is considered by many to be apocryphal.  Yet, it has grown to become the "Legend of the Unknown Scout."  According to that legend, Boyce was visiting London and was lost on a foggy London street.  He saw a boy in the fog and called out, asking for directions.  The boy stepped forward and gave assistance, but refused an offer by Boyce to pay him a small reward for his help saying he only was doing his duty as a Boy Scout.

Boyce reportedly was so affected by the experience that he gathered information about the new organization.  He was so impressed that, when he returned to the United States, he joined with two other men (Edward Stewart and Stanley Willis) and incorporated the Boy Scouts of America on February 8, 1910.

While the Legend of the Unknown Scout may be mostly apocryphal, it serves as a robust lesson that emphasizes the character, conviction, and selfless nature of dedicated Boy Scouts.

The Founding of the Boy Scout Program in the Town of Pelham

Barely eight months after the incorporation of the Boy Scouts of America, on about October 15, 1910, Pelhamites met at the home of Mrs. Eugene G. Kremer at 305 Pelhamdale Avenue (a home that still stands) to organize a Boy Scout program for Pelham.  I have written extensively of this early effort to establish Pelham's Boy Scout program.  See Tue., Apr. 03, 2007:  The Birthplace of Scouting in Pelham: 305 Pelhamdale Avenue Where Pelham Scouting Began in 1910.  See also Wed., Mar. 12, 2014:  The Beginning of the Boy Scout Program in Pelham in 1910, Still Going Strong 104 Years Later.

Residents of the Town in 1910 created one of the first if not the first Boy Scout Council in Westchester County called, appropriately, "Pelham Council."  The Pelham Council was created and in place by November 11, 1910, with Captain Daniel Delehanty, a retired U.S. Navy officer, as President.  Immediately the Pelham School Board and local Pelham churches became significantly involved in nurturing the young organization.

Soon, other Boy Scout Councils sprang up in the region, following the example of the Pelham Council.  Such councils were established in Rye (1913), Mamaroneck (1917), White Plains (1918), Peekskill (1918), Bronxville (1919), and in other Westchester County communities.  

The first Scout meeting for parents and boys was held on November 14, 1910d, at Highbrook Avenue School -- a predecessor school to today's Colonial Elementary School.  The very first patrol of Boy Scouts was organized at the Highbrook Avenue School House on George Washington's birthday, February 22, 1911.  The first members of the first patrol were seven boys named Otis Trowbridge, Alfred Walker, Robert Zucker, Stephen Loghman, William Sey, Jack Bass, and Howard Stead.  An announcement published on February 25, 1911 published in The Pelham Sun said:

"Any seven boys, aged 12 to 18, residing in the Town of Pelham, who desire to form a patrol may qualify by passing the examination as 'Tenderfoot' and receive the 'Tenderfoot' badge.  No boy not admitted to this degree can become entitled to the use of the gymnasium nor may he participate in the camping or Woodcraft soon to begin.  Applications may be made to Captain Delehanty, Cliff Avenue, or, in his absence, to Mr. Kremer, Pelhamdale avenue, Pelham."

Source:  PELHAM BOY SCOUTS, The Pelham Sun, Feb. 25, 1911, Vol. 1, No. 47, p. 1, col. 5.  

The Founding of Pelham Boy Scout Troop 1

We do not know a lot about the founding of Troop 1 in 1916.  Though official Boy Scout records confirm that the troop was founded early that year, there are no know extant records that specifically detail the troops founding.  Moreover, most Pelham newspapers published in 1916 no longer exist.  

There are some indications that local boys and parents gathered in March, 1916 to assist with forming Troop 1, but that cannot be established with certainty.  There was, however, a giant lawn party on the grounds of the Robert C. Black estate next to Huguenot Memorial Presbyterian Church on Pelhamdale Avenue on the first day of summer, June 21, 1916.  Pelham "Boy Scouts" performed "drills" during that lawn party.  Pelham Troop 1 likely participated in that grand event hosted by the Black family for the benefit of a local charity.  See In Nearby Towns -- North Pelham, The Daily Argus, June 21, 1916, p. 9, col. 2.  

What were things like when Troop 1 was founded?  Woodrow Wilson was President, running for re-election.  There were rumblings of war as the United States watched World War I unfold in Europe while trying to walk a fine line of pursuing a policy of non-intervention.  But, United States entry in the war was only about one year away.

The population of the Town of Pelham was only about 4,000 people.  The town was roughly one-third the size it is today, measured by population.

Where did the Troop 1 Boy Scouts (and other Scouts) camp?  There was not yet any Camp Siwanoy, Camp Read, or Camp Durland.  The boys, it turns out, camped on Hunter's Island which really was an island at the time -- not yet attached to the mainland by today's Orchard Beach parking lot.  What was the camp called?  "The Boy Scout Camp" of course!  (There are pictures of the camp and Scouts camping there in the collections of the Library of Congress.)

"Boy Scouts at Hunter's Island.  Writing to the folks at home"
Photograph by Underwood & Underwood, ca. 1912.  Library
of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Digital ID:
cph 3c07478.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

"Boy Scouts [of the New York City area] at Hunter's Island:
Washing dishes [in tub outdoors]"  Photograph Circa 1912.
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Digital
ID:  cph.3b33512.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

"Boy Scouts [of the New York City area] at Hunter's Island:
The cook's tent"  Photograph Circa 1912.  Library of Congress
Prints and Photographs Division, Digital ID:  cph.3b33513.  NOTE:
Click on Image to Enlarge.

What were the Boy Scouts like at the time?  The standard uniform included a campaign hat like someone you all know wears today as part of his official Scout uniform:  Eagle Scout Brett Bell!  You would recognize the uniform today:  olive drab color and a neckerchief with a neckerchief slide.  However, the Knickerbocker style breeches, knee-high socks with garters, and calf-covering high lace-up boots have fallen out of style.  

The Boy Scout program in general, and certainly in Pelham in particular, was never intended as a paramilitary program.  In 1916, however, war was on the horizon.  Accounts of the day demonstrate that local Scouts performed a lot of drilling and marching.  There also were many more inter-troop competitions and local Scout rallies than are common today.  There were competitions in signaling, fire building, rope work, knot tying, and human pyramid building, among many others.

Development of a Broader Council Structure and Explosion in Popularity of Boy Scout Programs

On July 18, 1919, the Pelham Council was consolidated with all the other Scout Councils in Westchester County (except councils in Mount Vernon and Yonkers) to form the "Westchester County Council."  As Scouting exploded in Westchester in the early 1920s, the Westchester County Council split into an eastern half along Long Island Sound that included Pelham named the "Siwanoy Council" and a western half named the "Hendrick Hudson Council."  A couple of other so-called "Class 1 Councils" remained within Westchester County as well; they merged to form the Bronx Valley Council.

In 1958, the Bronx Valley Council merged with the Siwanoy Council to form the Siwanoy-Bronx Valley Council including Pelham.  In 1962, its name was changed to the Hutchinson River Council.

Similar mergers involving the western "Hendrick Hudson Council" were occurring at the time, resulting in a large Council known as the 'Washington Irving Council."  In 1973, the Hutchinson River Council, of which the Pelham Scout program formed a part, merged with the Washington Irving Council to form today's Westchester-Putnam Council.

Notable Events in the Life of Pelham Boy Scouts and Pelham Boy Scout Troop 1

Returning back to the Roaring Twenties, the Boy Scout program in Pelham grew ever more popular and expanded exponentially.  By the early 1920s, there were at least three large Boy Scout Troops in a Town with only about 5,200 residents.

Pelham Boy Scout Troop Believed to Be Troop 1 Outside the
"Boys Entrance" to Pelham Memorial High School During the
1920s.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

As Scouting expanded in Pelham, the number of competitions and competitive rallies among the various Pelham troops grew as well.  The troops constantly had competitions against each other with write-ups of the results in the local newspapers.  The boys were having a lot of fun.

The Penfield Stage Coach

In 1925, a famous artist named Edward Penfield who painted many works of art used to illustrate the covers of many well-known magazines died.  One of the things that Edward Penfield owned was an actual stage coach -- a really old Wild West sort stage coach.  One of the parents of a Pelham Boy Scout bought the stage coach from the estate of Edward Penfield and donated it to the Pelham Boy Scout program.  I have written before about the Penfield stage coach and its donation to the Boy Scouts.  See Wed., Aug. 13, 2014:  The Nineteenth Century Stage Coach Presented to Local Boy Scouts by Famed Illustrator Edward Penfield During the 1920s.  

The boys loved the stage coach!  They used it for everything.  They used it in parades.  They exhibited it.  They played in it and on it.  They loaned it for use in big productions like a play attended by thousands in 1926 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Pelham -- why a Wild West style stage coach would be relevant to a production commemorating a Revolutionary War battle is anyone's guess, but who cared?  It was fun.

The stage coach became an important part of Scouting life for Troop 1 and other Pelham Troops.  It also became famous.  It was exhibited for quite some time by the New Rochelle Public Library.

The stage coach was stored during these years in a studio that had been used by the artist Edward Penfield before his death.  In 1930, a mysterious fire burned the studio and the stage coach inside to the ground.  The members of Troop 1 and all other Pelham Boy Scouts were devastated.  A part of their history was gone.

The Pelham Boy Scout Cabin

Probably the biggest thing that ever happened to Pelham Boy Scout Troop 1 -- and to all Pelham Boy Scouts -- was the construction of a Boy Scout Cabin for Pelham Scouts in 1925.  I have written extensively about the Pelham Boy Scout Cabin.  See, e.g.:  Tue., Jul. 19, 2005:  Pelham's Boy Scout Cabin Near The Hutchinson River Parkway; ;Mon., Oct. 31, 2005:  Remnants of Pelham's Boy Scout Cabin Near The Hutchinson River Parkway Fri., Nov. 25, 2005:  The End of Pelham's Boy Scout Cabin Near The Hutchinson River Parkway; and Fri., Feb. 19, 2016:  The 600-Year Old "Lord Howe Chestnut" Tree that Once Stood in Pelham.  

One of the Only Known Photographs of the Pelham Boy Scout
Cabin with Unidentified Group of Boy Scouts Standing at the
Back Door of the Cabin.  The Massive Stone Chimney is Visible,
As Are the Remnants of the Once Massive "Lord Howe Chestnut"
(See Below).  Photograph Courtesy of The Office of The Historian
of the Town of Pelham.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

The cabin was built on a hill overlooking today's Friendship Field, the Pelham Little League baseball diamond adjacent to the tennis courts at the rear of today's Glover Field Complex.  The stairs leading up the hill from the left field foul line of the field take visitors to a parking lot where the cabin once stood.  

The cabin was placed at that location for a very important reason.  When it was built, there stood at that location the remnants of the Lord Howe Chestnut -- a giant and ancient chestnut tree that, according to legend, was the location where Lord Howe and his British and German officers rested and dined beneath the shade of the tree after the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776.  See Fri., Feb. 19, 2016:  The 600-Year Old "Lord Howe Chestnut" Tree that Once Stood in Pelham.

Lord Howe Chestnut With Unidentified Visitor Standing
at its Base in 1900.  Photograph Courtesy of the Office
of the Historian of The Town of Pelham.  NOTE:  Click
on Image to Enlarge.

This was a special place for Pelham Boy Scouts.  The Boy Scout Cabin was so special that a very special item was included as a centerpiece of the structure.  During the 1920s, amateur historians discovered the site of an ancient home in Pelham Bay Park not far from Split Rock.  At the time it was believed -- erroneously -- that Anne Hutchinson and her family built their home near Split Rock before most of the family was murdered by local Native Americans in 1643.  Amateur historians declared that the site must have been the home of Anne Hutchinson and excavated its foundation and the surrounding location, documenting their work and publishing papers and newspaper articles claiming that the long-lost home of Anne Hutchinson had been found.  (It never has been.)  They removed the main hearthstone from the excavated site, inscribed it with the date "1643" and had it installed as the main hearthstone of the Pelham Boy Scout Cabin.

Extensive searches of the area where the cabin once stood have been to no avail.  No one knows where the hearthstone is today.

The Pelham Boy Scout cabin was used for meetings, for camping, and for special ceremonies.  It was, in short, a special clubhouse for all Pelham Scouts that looked over the newly-constructed Hutchinson River Parkway when that roadway was truly a beautiful park enjoyed by Sunday afternoon drivers rather than the major thoroughfare it has become.

By 1948, however, the Hutchinson River Parkway had become a major roadway clogged with traffic.  The cabin no longer stood on a quiet, idyllic hill.  The cabin was subjected to periodic vandalism and, that year, it burned to the ground.  It was not replaced and simply became another part of the history of Pelham Boy Scouts and the Town of Pelham.  The giant stone chimney is all that remains on the site today.

Pelham Scouting In the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s

The 1950s were the "Golden Age" of Scouting in America.  Between 1950 and 1960, the number of Boy Scouts in the United States nearly doubled from about 2.8 million to 5.2 million.  In Pelham, according to local reports, nearly every boy in town was a Boy Scout.  There were up to seven Boy Scout Troops in town.  Troop 1 was one of the more successfull troops of the day.

For many, many years, Pelham Boy Scout Troop 1 met in the Huguenot Memorial Presbyterian Church.  Today, the troop meets in the Community Church of the Pelhams, its chartering organization.

Throughout the decades of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, another important element in the life of Pelham Boy Scout Troop 1, and the lives of Pelham Boy Scouts in general, was Camp Siwanoy, the 740-acre Boy Scourt camp that Troop 1 attended that once was located inu Wingdale, New York.  Founded in 1926, Camp Siwanoy became one of the principal camps that Pelham Boy Scouts attended for the next 60 years.

Pelham Scouting From the 1980s Until Today

Pelham Boy Scout Troop 1 and other Pelham Scouts were shocked in 1987 when the Westchester-Putnam Council announced the 740-acre Camp Siwanoy would close and would not open for its 61st season.  There was a vast outcry in Pelham and elsewhere in the region, but Camp Siwanoy only opened on a limited basis in 1988 and 1989.  For all intents and purposes, however, it was closed and was lost to Pelham Scouts.

Scouting was consolidating somewhat.  Even the number of Boy Scout Troops in Pelham had declined.  Thus, the Westchester-Putnam Council decided to combine staff and send Westchester-Putnam campers to Camp Curtis S. Read, a 1,000 acre Boy Scout wilderness preserve in the Adirondacks.

Always a Silver Lining in the Dark Cloud

The members of Pelham Troop 1 were saddened by the loss of Camp Siwanoy but, I suggest, the loss of Camp Siwanoy played some role in the way Pelham Boy Scout Troop 1 thought of itself and, indeed, positioned itself to become the Town's most successful -- and only surviving -- Boy Scout Troop.

At the time Camp Siwanoy closed, Camp Read was touted as a "high adventure" camp.  Even in the 1980s, Pelham Troop 1 thought of itself as a "high adventure troop."  As Troop 1 became involved with the "high adventure camp" known as Camp Read and, more importantly, as Ralph Mirra later became involved with the Troop and became Scoutmaster in 1 transformed itself into a true "high adventure troop."

As a high adventure troop, Pelham Boy Scout Troop 1 gives its members incredible opportunities:  scuba diving in Key West, whitewater rafting, kayaking, ice climbing, rock climbing, dog sledding, snow shoeing, horseback riding, spelunking, orienteering, high-country survival training, hiking and camping at Philmont National Scout Ranch, and even the more mundane hiking and camping at places like Camp Read, Durland, and elsewhere.


As Troop 1 celebrates its centennial year, we celebrate Ralph Mirra as well as the current and former members of the troop, the current and former adult leaders of the troop, and the parents of current and former members of the troop who have supported its members and its activities for the past century.  

Today, young men must choose among many, many more activities than were available in 1916 when Troop 1 was founded.  Those who choose to become Boy Scouts are a special breed and form a particularly special group that is known for success, self-reliance, dependability, and all the positive attributes associated with Boy Scouts.  

As Pelham Troop 1 moves optimistically into its second century, I extend my congratulations to the members of Troop 1 -- those who have chosen to be part of this special group.  I extend my congratulations to those who have helped shape the lives of these young men and have worked to make them Eagle Scouts -- twenty-six Eagle Scouts under the tutelage of Scoutmaster Ralph Mirra alone!  I extend my congratulations to Troop 1.

I further extend my grandest and most heart-felt wishes that one hundred years from now, our successors will be toasting our Pelham Boy Scout Troop 1 as it moves optimistically into its THIRD CENTURY.


-- Remarks of Blake A. Bell, Pelham Boy Scout Troop 1 Centennial Celebration, Juliano's in New Rochelle, April 2, 2016.

*          *          *          *          *

Crowd Begins to Gather to Celebrate the Centennial of
Pelham Boy Scout Troop 1 at Juliano's in New Rochelle
on the Evening of April 2, 2016.  Photograph by the Author.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

One of the Pelham Boy Scout Troop 1 Memorabilia Display
Tables Scattered About the Room During the Centennial 
Celebration.  Image Used with Permission, Courtesy of
Maureen Mirra Katos.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Members of Pelham Boy Scout Troop 1 Present Scoutmaster
Ralph Mirra with Bronze Eagle Sculpture to Represent the 26
Members of the Troop Who Have Reached the Rank of Eagle
Scout Under His Guidance.  Image Used with Permission, 
Courtesy of Maureen Mirra Katos.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Group of Recent Adult Leaders of Pelham Boy Scout Troop 1.
Image Used With Permission, Courtesy of Maureen Mirra Katos.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Archive of the Historic Pelham Web Site.
Order a Copy of "Thomas Pell and the Legend of the Pell Treaty Oak."    

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