A Brief History of Troop 111
(From 50th Anniversary Dinner, September 1990)
The History of Troop 111 is tied into the history of the Boy Scouts in Arlington County, Cherrydale and Waverly Hills, and – of course – St. Agnes. St. Agnes was founded in 1919 as a “Mission Parish;” i.e., a branch of St. Charles (the Catholic Church located over on Washington Boulevard). In late 1936, because of the recent, rapid development in the Cherrydale and Waverly Hills neighborhoods, Bishop Ireton (the namesake of the Catholic High School in Alexandria) declared St. Agnes to be an autonomous Parish under Pastor Father Edward Johnston.
Up to this point, all Scouts whose families were registered at St. Agnes were members of St. Charles’ Troop 102. With St. Agnes becoming a separate and full-time operation naturally came the first thoughts of organizing a new Scout Troop of our own. Initial organization of the first Troop Committee began in early 1938 and on March 23rd, 1939, the new Troop (tentatively numbered 111) was founded with eight Scouts, and an application for a Charter was forwarded to the National Capital Area Council. The Charter was approved by Council on July 31st, 1939, and the (now officially numbered) Troop 111 became the 14th Scout Troop in Arlington County.
At the time the Charter was approved, 111 had already grown to about twenty Scouts. The Troop met every other Friday in the Church (the Old Church!) Basement. The first Scoutmaster, Frank McGrail, emphasized personal discipline and told me: “You never saw such well behaved Scouts in your life!” Of course, the fact that he used to walk around with a ping-pong paddle in his back pocket may have had something to do with this! [Note: Several Scouts from the early 40’s have indicated to me that Frank was an extremely popular Scoutmaster, so one suspects the paddle was for show.]
Early Troop activities included astronomy and – believe it or not – boxing!; seems an appropriate combination, since some of the Scouts were doubtless seeing stars anyway! Major outdoor events included Camp Denges in Benedict, MD and the Arlington District Projectorees and Camporees, which were especially popular with the Scouts. These were usually held twice a year up on 16th St. near Westover.
Projectorees were the precursor to the modern Scout Camporee, and actually originated right here in Arlington. They were oriented around Troop camping with numerous Patrol competitions and a major “project” display/competition; e.g., all the different types of fire lays, or building of signal towers with message sending contests by semaphore flags. Camporees, on the other hand, were oriented around Patrol organization; each Patrol set up completely independently of the other patrols in their Troop – and also independently of any Adult Leaders. The competition emphasis was on how well the Patrol set up camp and followed basic camping rules of safety, cooking, cleaning, food storage and sanitation, etc.
With the advent of WWII came an explosion in the number of Scout Troops in the Washington area, with strong encouragement from President Roosevelt and the U.S. Government. It was just expected that all boys would join Scouting. During the war, Arlington District Scouts completed numerous community service projects, e.g., resource recovery programs for aluminum, used oil and tires (sound familiar?) and also organized emergency response teams, e.g., First Aid Squads, manpower mobilizations (at any time of the day or night) and – a somewhat more sinister activity – tracking and capturing enemy spies and parachutists in the wooded areas around the County. Fortunately for all concerned, no “spies” or German paratroopers were ever cornered by Arlington Scouts.
As the war ended, Scouting in Arlington entered a period of severe turmoil; Troops were forming, dying and consolidating almost monthly. The biggest problem was the military transfers and discharges of “in-the- service” Scoutmasters – Troops would go great guns for two or three years, then be dead and buried six months later. And alas, 111 did not escape this turmoil. The late 40’s started off well with the opening of St. Agnes Elementary in September of 1946 – giving us a continuous source for in-house recruiting. Unfortunately, in late 1948, Scoutmaster Frank Harrington moved away from Arlington, and simultaneously – for reasons which are no longer clear – the Troop departed St. Agnes and began meeting irregularly at the Cherrydale Volunteer Fire Department with the part-time help of Troop 101’s Scoutmaster Ralph McPhail. 111 did not formally re-charter in either 48-49 or 49-50; by late 1949, attrition and transfers had reduced the Troop to a bare half-dozen Scouts, and we were just fading away.
Then, a minor miracle of four parts occurred: First, Frank McGrail – the original Scoutmaster – returned to the area; Second, Bill Carr – a real people and program manager who would be associated with the Troop for nearly twenty years – came in as Committee Chairman; Third, Father Speight – a very enthusiastic, pro-youth and pro- Scouting Priest – was assigned to St. Agnes; and Fourth and finally, the Boy Scouts lowered their entrance age from 12 to 11. After some hard work in late 49 and early 50, 111 was Chartered anew on July 31st, 1950, eleven years to the day after the original Charter. Simultaneously, a new Cub Pack, also numbered 111, began operations at St. Agnes School.
The “jump-start” of 111 in 1950 marked the transition to the Troop’s modern age – with the rapid development of outer Arlington, 111 spent more and more time on more distant activities vs. “in-County” affairs. The Troop began attending Camp Roosevelt down on the lower Bay – the oldest continuously operating Scout camp in America – and also Camp Hoover up near Skyline Drive. We received permission to use several “private” campsites; Vint Hill was very popular with the Scouts and was used for years by the Troop. The first “Senior Scout” activities were started under Joe Donegan – notably the week-long 80+ mile backpacking treks on the Appalachian Trail that were affectionately referred to by the Scouts as “the Troop 111 Death Marches.”
In late 1955, two very important additions were made to 111: First, Explorer Post 111 was founded. The Post took most of the Scouts aged 14 and over on more mature and challenging activities (for example, it took our first Scouts to Philmont) – it established many “Firsts” of its own for the National Capital Area Council and the Country:
First Integrated Explorer Post (remember, we’re talking the 1950’s here!)
First Coed Explorer Post
Nationally recognized as one of the First “4-Star” Posts in America
The Post helped keep the older Scouts interested and involved – and I don’t believe it’s any coincidence that very soon after its formation, 111 awarded its first Eagle Awards – to Curt Cramer and Robert Renaud in 1958. Consider:
- 1st Tenderfoot: 1939 (many all together)
- 1st Second Class: 1940 Bernard Arndt (?)
- 1st First Class: 1945 Nathan “Shreve” Spitler
- 1st Star Scout: 1946 Nathan “Shreve” Spitler
- 1st Life Scout: 1956 Curt Cramer
- 1st Eagle Scouts: 1958 Curt Cramer and Robert Renaud
It took 111 nearly twenty years to get its first Eagles – and then we got 27 in ten years time! This was the “Golden Age” of 111 – and it came about in major part due to the efforts and sacrifices of those men and women who ran an integrated Cub, Boy and Explorer Scout program at St. Agnes.
The late sixties were marked by three more events: First, the new Church opened in 1966, giving the Troop much more room in the old Church (now named Hannon Hall) for meetings, activities and storage; Second, Goshen Scout Camps were founded in 1967 – and the Troop helped in some of the original set-up and (minor) construction work; and Third and most unfortunately, the Explorer Post faded away, with an immediate decline in the number of Eagle Scouts being awarded.
In 1972, a completely revised Scouting program was instituted – with Skill Awards (pre-Merit Badges), 24 (vs. 21) Merit Badges needed for Eagle, a much higher emphasis on non-outdoor activities and numerous other minor changes. Not surprisingly, a lot of stress was put on Scout Troops to make radical adjustments – and again, many Troops suffered severe membership losses and died. Fortunately, 111 weathered this storm.
Since then, the Troop has proceeded pretty much normally; registration has fluctuated from a high of 36 to a low of 8 Scouts, we’ve been gerrymandered from Arlington to Patawomeck District (1981) and there have been three more changes in the Scouting Program -including a major change this past January back to pre-72 standards.
We presently have 25 Scouts – 3 Eagles, 2 Lifes, 2 Stars, 2 First Class, 4 Second Class, 4 Tenderfoot, 7 Scouts and 1 New Scout. Members of 111 have attended a different High Adventure program each of the last 5 years, and we’ve earned the National Quality Unit Award every year since 1985.
We’ve had 17 Scoutmasters, 5 Explorer Advisors and about 600 Scouts. Members of Troop 111 have been awarded 42 Eagles, 1 Distinguished Eagle, 8 Silver Beavers, 8 St. George’s Awards and 2 District Awards of Merit. With 51 years of history, we’re now the fourth oldest Scout Troop in Arlington and – as I think you’ll all agree – we’ve much to be most proud of…. Thank you.