Friday, June 19, 2009

History of Troop 1 Katonah - 1919-2009

American businessman W.D. Boyce brought the concept of Boy Scouting to our shores in 1910. Boyce was convinced that the ideals of Scouting would be a perfect fit for the youth of America. At that time, our village was still settling down into its new location. Only thirteen years prior, the village was picked up and moved to avoid being wiped off the map by the new Muscoot Reservoir. Life in “New Katonah” also included new technology, with electric and telephone service introduced around 1916. The last horse was sold at the local livery stable in 1917, and automobiles were becoming more common.

As America was looking forward to the promise of the next decade, the world was becoming a very different place. America was recovering from its first global conflict, then known as the “War to End All Wars.” The Armistice treaty was signed in November 1918, officially ending the hostilities of World War I. The newly formed League of Nations was formed to promote peace and broker resolutions to avoid conflicts.

In this renewed sense of optimism, our Boy Scout troop was chartered in 1919. According to early accounts, Rev. James P. Gillespie of the Katonah Presbyterian Church was our Troop’s first Scoutmaster. Under the guidance of the Fenimore Cooper Council headquartered in White Plains, Troop 1 began recruiting the youth of our small village of Katonah. At the time, only 4,363 people lived in the town of Bedford. According to early accounts, our early troop rostered about 20 boys in those early days. A fire at the Fennimore Cooper Council headquarters destroyed all records in 1923, making exact counts impossible.

Not much is known about our activities during the 1920s, when only 4,020 people called Bedford home. Katonah Troop 1 was lead by Scoutmast Paul Noe through the 1920s. During this time, the troop was sponsored by a citizen's committe. Scouts met in an old blacksmith shop which stood behind the Gulf Oil station on Katonah Avenue. During this time, the troop made several camping trips to Lake Hammersley in Pawling. In 1927, half of the troop attended summer camp at the original Curtis S. Read Memorial Camp, which was then located on Long Pond in Lake Mahopac. This early camp had had a capacity of 50 boys, and was overseen by Scout Executive S.P. Hines. Named for a young Army captain who died in World War I, the camp would soon outgrow this location and move north to better serve the youth of our council.

At a 1921 annual Scout dinner in White Plains, local philanthropist John D. Rockefeller was asked to become Scout Commissioner for Westchester County. More and more automobiles began to appear on the streets of Katonah. Following Bedford Road, Valley Road was finally paved in 1923.

The end of the decade was marked by the Stock Market crash of 1929, plunging America into the Great Depression. Two young boys aged 8 and 10 from Bedford Village went missing that June. Knowing that Boy Scouts could be called upon to act in an emergency, authorities called upon Troop 1 Katonah and other Scouts from Bedford Village and Mount Kisco to help in the search. The story came to a sad end, when the Scouts drained the lake near their home and made a grim discovery.

Whatever the effects the Great Depression had on America, the enthusiasm of our youth could not be dampened. In 1930 6,715 people lived in the town of Bedford. With the Katonah Rotary Club now as our sponsor, Troop 1 Katonah continued to grow and attract more boys and form more patrols. Of note, our Troop is featured in a short movie about our village called “Katonah Merry-Go-Round.” You can clearly see at least thirty or forty boys gathered in the athletic fields behind the old high school practicing first aid and other Scout skills.

In 1930, Paul Noe passed the baton to Scoutmaster Peter Bals, along with several Assistant Scoutmasters. During this time, a Scout basketball team was organized which played several neighboring teams. Mr. Bals only served for one year, followed by Rev. George B. Smith, minister of the Katonah Methodist Church. In those days, the troop met in Doc Adams’ garage, an old stable attached to the house at the bottom of the hill on the corner of Edgemont and Greenville Roads. The troop did not do much camping in those days, but they did go on regular Sunday hikes.

According to a story in the February 8, 1931 edition of the New York Times, Boy Scouts from the Fenimore Cooper Council put on a pageant at the Westchester County Center, to commemorate the founding of the Boy Scout movement in America in 1910. In those days, the Fenimore Cooper Council served the youth in communities “up and down the Harlem Division, from Scarsdale to Patterson.”

William J. Daniels was promoted from Assistant Scoutmaster to take over the troop in 1933. He was in turn succeeded by his Assistant Scoutmaster, Clinton Benedict. One of the highlights of the troop activities under Mr. Benedict was a troop vegetable garden, the proceeds from which helped supplement the troop treasury.

In May 1934, Troop 1 Katonah joined other Scouts from Bedford, Pleasantville and Pound Ridge to help the County Parks Commission combat an influx of tent caterpillars that threatened to destroy trees and shrubs throughout the reservations.

The next troop leader was Asahel White, who took over from Clinton Benedict in 1936, and also served under him as an Assistant Scoutmaster. One of the highlights of this period was a troop camping trip to Weston, Vermont immediately after the hurricane of 1938 damaged a good portion of New England. The troop also formed a drum and bugle corps, which played for the Katonah Fire Department one year and helped them win several trophies. One of White's Assistant Scoutmasters was Donald Kellogg, who remained active in Scouting well into the 1950s.

Through the 1930s, the political powers of Europe and Asia were edging closer and closer to war. Our British cousins were drawn into conflict with Germany in 1939, and America joined after the Japanese attack on Pearly Harbor on December 7, 1941. We rolled up our sleeves and joined the global conflict, and many of our young men went off to war. At this time, 6,807 people lived in Bedford. By the end of the 1930s, Katonah would have a new High School on Huntville Road. Long time resident of Katonah and former troop member Neal Pronay recalls that Pompeii Bernardo was our first Eagle Scout from our troop, earning his award in 1940. Mr. Pronay is great-uncle to two of our current Scouts, Travis and Kyle Winthers.

Our Scout troop kept up a brave front, actively collecting scrap paper and metal for the war effort. The Troop also had a drum and bugle corps that played at area events and parades. Between 1942-43, an Explorer Patrol formed as Katonah Troop 2, with Paul Jones as Scoutmaster. At the time, it was only the second Explorer Post in Westchester County. It was made up of older Scouts, and organized activities separately from Troop 1. There were anywhere from 10 to 14 boys, and members included Neal Pronay, Jeff Davis, Fred Ray, Ben Almond, Dave Brown (the great uncle of two of our current Scouts from the Brown family, Gunner and Jake), Bobby Greene, Len Wilson, John Bernardo, Phil Raneri, Bud Noe. For a while they met in the basement of Paul Jones' house, later they moved an old tool house from the Aqueduct project and made that their home.

In 1942, John Pugh succeeded Asahel White as Scoutmaster. Pugh served for less than a year before he was succeeded by Thomas McVicar who led the troop for a little more than six months. During the next few years, the toop was held together by the efforts of George Williams, who would later become Chairman of the Muscoot District Advancement Committee in the late 1950s. Because of the war situation, Scouting activities fell off in Katonah, but "Gus" Williams made sure it did not collapse entirely. In 1944, Robert Noe became our troop's second Eagle Scout.

We welcomed home our soldiers in 1945 and our country looked forward to extended postwar prosperity. For a short time in 1945, David S. Rothenberg took over as Scoutmaster, but was not there long and Gus Williams resumed his position. In 1947 C. Paul Meyer took over as Scoutmaster, and would later serve on the Troop Committee well into the 1950s. For a time, the troop met in the Community House (the "Memorial House" on Bedford Road), then moved to the gymnasium of the Katonah High School on Huntville Road. The troop has met in this location ever since.

After years of first moving first to Camp Siwanoy in Wingdale and later Camp Waubeeka in Copake, the Curtis S. Read Scout Reservation found its current home at Brant Lake in the Adirondacks in 1949. By the end of the decade, Bedford would list 8,471 within its borders.

The troop continued to grow, led by Scoutmaster Dr. Paul Meyers. To better server the Scouts in northern Westchester County, the Fenimore Cooper Council merged with Ossining’s Hendrick Hudson Council to form the new Washington Irving Council at the end of 1950. The offices for the new council remained in White Plains. Five years later, the Yonkers Council was merged into Washington Irving.

Of greater importance to Troop 1 Katonah, a young physician from Cold Spring answered an ad in the local paper looking for adult leaders to help advise a growing troop. Fortunately for us, Dr. William H. Smith answered the call and embarked on a long career of leadership and friendship with Troop 1 Katonah. In 1956, "Doc" was promoted to Scoutmaster, and thus begun the career of our longest-serving leadership at Katonah Troop 1.

In August 1955, hurricanes Connie and Diane swept through Connecticut and unleashed a devastating flood on the state of Connecticut. The Scouts of Katonah Troop 1 made a collection of toys and refurbished them. These collected toys were presented to the grateful childen of Winsted, Connecticut, one of the towns innundated with floodwaters.

The original Nature Trail at Katonah Memorial Park was constructed by the Scouts of Troop 1, under the leadership of Assistant Scoutmaster Bill Wheeler. Our troop also helped with massive tree planting campaigns throughout the park, as well as helping to stock local streams and ponds with fish.

Several Scouts from our troop attended the 1957 National Jamboree with Scoutmaster Doc Smith at Valley Forge. By the end of the decade, the troop rostered about ninety members. A number of our Scouts earned the rank of Eagle since 1951, including Paul Meyer, Jr.; John A. Miller, Jr., brothers Bill and Glenn Perry, David Ryan; Wally Scofield; and Richard Mueller. In 1956, two Hilliard brothers earned the rank of Eagle, followed by the third brother Reed in 1958. Hank Niles was the last recorded Eagle Scout of 1959, and was selected to represent the Washington Irving Council at the Governor's Mansion in Albany, where he met and talked with Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller.

During the early 1950's, Katonah Troop 1 took home red and yellow ribbons from the two Council-Wide Camporees held at Croton Point Park. For eight years straight, our Scouts earned blue ribbons at every Muscoot District Camporee. The Fox Patrol led by Reed Hilliard in 1958, and the Raccoon Patrol led by Lee Hulet in 1959 were the highest-ranking patrols at the Camporee. At the Council Exposition at Children's Village in 1955 the troop was awarded a red ribbon for its entry. In 1957, they won a blue ribbon for their entry "Campsites" (see photos), and a red ribbon in 1959 with a repeat performance. Later that year, the troop was awarded a plaque for the best advancement record in Muscoot District, meaning that 60% or more of our membership was First Class or above!

At the time, Doc wrote, "No resume of history is complete without a glance into the future. The big problem now is the size of the troop. Ninety boys - more or less - is too large a number to handle to the best advantage of the individual boy. The time has definitely arrived when a second or even a third Scout troop is needed in Katonah. It is to be hoped that in the very near future, one will be able to write not only more good facts about Troop 1, but also about Troop 2 and possibly even Troop 3." Part of Doc's prophecy would come true in the 1960s with the formation of Troop 166.

More than 12,000 people called the town of Bedford home in 1960. The troop was at its peak, consisting of a dozen patrols, with nearly 120 boys in the troop. Among the patrol names were colorful names like Apollo, Zulu, Wambezi, Ubangi, Head Hunter, and many others. Assistant Scoutmasters included Mr. Zechiel, Mr. Leather, Mr. Swartz, and Mr. Peterson. Along with a Junior Staff of 10 to 20 boys, there were always more than 100 kids at nearly every troop meeting.

Former troop member Craig Warner remembers the “seniority” system in place for assigning offices to such a large troop. If you were in sixth or seventh grade you were a “ganoobie” or a “grunt.” By eighth grade you had a pretty good chance of becoming an assistant patrol leader, and by ninth graduate to patrol leader. You could be named Assistant Senior Patrol Leader by tenth grade, and be considered for Senior Patrol Leader by eleventh. By the time you were ready to graduate as a senior, you’d most likely be a Junior Assistant Scoutmaster.

In the early 1960s, the troop began its tradition of taking an annual end-of-the-year trip north to Mount Washington and to Doc Smith’s cabin in Fryeburg, Maine. Early trips involved climbing Mount Washington one day, and then spending a couple of days paddling down the Saco River. Since the troop rostered more than 100 boys in those days, the patrol with the most rank advancement points would selected for the trip. Patrols engaged in friendly competition throughout the year in order to secure a spot on that coveted trip to Maine.

Our troop would also attend Camp Read in the Adirondacks for two weeks at a time, often joining a “provisional” troop made up of boys from all over the council. Our troop would often stay in Cimmarron, Pathfinder, or Blackfoot sites.

In the mid-1960s, there were so many Scouts in Katonah that a second troop was formed. Troop 166 Katonah met in the rectory at St. Mary’s Church. Among the leaders of Troop 166 were Mr. Wallace and Mr. Buckhout, both athletic coaches at John Jay High School. Most of the kids in Troop 166 were from Lake Katonah, Golden’s Bridge, and other outlying areas around Katonah.

It was always tradition for the leaders to eat well when camping a district events. At one particular Fall Camporee, the senior staff dined on a lobster bake while the junior staff enjoyed a slow-smoked 30-lb. turkey. Not to be outdone, several patrol leaders got together and created what would become a long-standing troop tradition called “Group Soup.” Combining whatever they had on hand, sometimes Group Soup would turn out very well… other times, not so much. Either way, the tradition has stuck, and we continue to make Group Soup at every winter Klondike Derby. The tradition has also been picked up and practiced by troops in Colorado and Florida.

Probably the most ambitious adventure our troop ever embarked upon was in 1967, when we traveled overseas to attend the World Scouting Jamboree in Switzerland. Doc Smith led 20 boys on a whirlwind three-week tour of Europe. Flying into Geveva, our troop traveled by train into Italy, Germany, and Austria. Arriving in the village of Zermatt, our troop bravely climbed the Matterhorn. The total cost for this grand adventure was $526.

As an environmentalist and director of exploration for American Geographic Society, William O. Field was looking for a buyer for 1,400 acres of wilderness he owned in Putnam County. After some negotiation, the land was sold to the Boy Scouts, and it became Clear Lake Scout Reservation in 1968. Three members of our troop attended the 1969 National Scout Jamboree at Farragut State Park in Idaho. In 1969, a young Eagle Scout named Henry Tschorn graduated and became an Assistant Scoutmaster of Troop 1, and continues to serve as Scoutmaster more than forty years later.

As Westchester became home to more corporate headquarters, the population of the suburbs grew. Bedford was home to more than 15,000 people in the 1970s. In 1973, the Washington Irving Council and Hutchinson River Council in New Rochelle merged to form the new Westchester-Putnam Council, headquartered in White Plains. Troop 1 Katonah became part of the Muscoot District.

In 1978, the council was seeking a buyer for the old Purdy Scout Reservation in White Plains. The old 48-acre camp was considered rural a generation previous, but the construction of I-287 on one side and a new IBM complex on the other was taking away any wilderness charm the tract of land once had. It was later sold to an office park developer for $3 million, and the council used the proceeds to improve its other camps.

Through the 1980s, Bedford’s population appeared to level out at 15,000, and participation in Scouting appeared to decline. With fewer members, the troop continued to participate in regular district Camporees and Klondike Derbies, and the patrols would compete for the best advancement record so that they could go on the coveted Maine Canoe Trip. In 1987, the council closed Siwanoy for summer camp due to declining reservations, but decided to reopen it for the 1988 season. A week at Siwanoy cost $155.

Our Troop participated in the National Jamborees held at Fort A.P. Hill. Scoutmaster Doc Smith would regularly attend the Jamborees with the council as a physician through the 1980s.

At the beginning of the 1990s, the number of Boy Scouts in Westchester County fell to 9,500, down from 13,000 in the 1980s. The population of Bedford was nearly 17,000, and our troop maintained two patrols of six boys each.

In 1993, the council considered selling Clear Lake Scout Reservation to developers who would build a golf course and convention center in its place. It was hoped that sale of one camp would help maintain the other two council-owned camps, Siwanoy and Read. After heated protest from Scout leaders and community residents, the council changed their mind about the sale and looked for other ways to raise funds. After a long and protracted debate, it was decided to finally close Camp Siwanoy.

In 1996, Westchester-Putnam Council headquarters in White Plains suffered a devastating fire. Almost all historical records were lost in the blaze. The council moved to new headquarters building in Hawthorne, where it remains to this day, also housing the Scout Store and Service Center. A hurricane flood later destroyed any remaining records stored at Hawthorne, making our task of putting together a troop history difficult at best.

Katonah celebrated the centennial of its relocation in the wake of reservoir construction on April 1997. Troop 1 Katonah took part in a special centennial parade attended by hundreds, and later enjoyed tours of the site of Old Katonah.

As we approached the 21st century, the population of Bedford rose to more than 18,000. Population of our troop remained steady, averaging anywhere from eight to twelve boys at a time. Our Scouts continued our annual traditions of taking home blue ribbons from district events, canoeing down the Saco River each summer, and spending a week at Camp Read in the Adirondacks.

In 2004, the council announced that Durland Aquatic Center in Rye was up for sale. At the end of 2005, we helped Scoutmaster Doc Smith celebrate 50 years as leader of Troop 1 Katonah, certainly a record in our council, if not for the nation.

In 2006, the troop began to grow with the arrival of new Scouts. Soon, our troop was able to field three distinct patrols, the Rabid Raccoons, the Mad Monkeys, and the Swamp Chickens. The council completed their sale of the former Durland Aquatic Center in 2007 to private developers. To honor Agatha Durland and her contribution to Scouting, Clear Lake Scout Reservation was renamed in her honor. At the start of the school year in September 2008, there were nearly 20 boys registered and active in Troop 1 Katonah.

In late October, we said farewell to our dear friend Doc Smith, who passed away quietly at age 89. Hundreds of people who were touched by Doc’s friendship attended a heartwarming service in honor of the man who gave of himself so often to support the youth of Katonah.

Throughout the year, our troop continued to grow and succeed. We now field three strong patrols, and look forward to welcoming more new members in the future. In 2009, Troop 1 Katonah celebrates ninety years of Scout service to the community. We look forward to celebrating the centennial of Scouting in America in 2010, and to our own 100th anniversary in 2019. Who knows what the future may hold, but with strong leadership building up a strong troop of proud young men, anything is possible.

—by Kyle W., Troop Historian; and Otto Vondrak, Assistant Scoutmaster