Tuesday, August 3, 2010

History of Boy Scouts of America

     Chicago publisher William Boyce founded the Boy Scouts of America on February 8, 1910. Boyce was inspired by the British organization of Scouting begun in 1907 by General Robert Baden-Powell. Baden-Powell was a hero in the Boer War and wrote a book about military scouting called Aids to Scouting. The book was a hit with British boys who used the book as a guide to outdoor activities. Baden-Powell rewrote the book as Scouting for Boys, galvanizing scout troops to organize all over England.
     Boyce employed as many as 30,000 boy-agents to sell his weeklies. Through working with these young men he came to understand the importance of providing for the needs of America's youth.
     Although there were several small scouting groups in America in 1910, William Boyce organized the Boy Scouts like one of his businesses. He incorporated the organization, hired experienced staff to design and operate the program, and he provided the funding to insure its success.
     The Boy scouts program was designed to have three divisions: Cub Scouting (for boys in 1st through 5th Grades); Boy Scouting (for boys and young men aged 11 through 17) and Venturing (formerly Exploring; for young men and young women aged 14 through 20.)
     In the Semi-Centennial Souvenir History of South Bethlehem, written in 1915, Henry Topfer is mentioned as scout master of Boy Scouts Troop One. Topfer was a printer for Bethlehem Steel and lived with his wife, Isabel, and their three sons in their home on Center Street. Topfer was raised in South Bethlehem on Vine Street. His father, Nicholas Topfer, was a talented florist and maintained five greenhouses at 813 Seneca Street. The number of Topfer’s troop suggests that it was the first Boy Scout troop in Bethlehem.
     The Bethlehem Area Council of Boy Scouts evolved from early troops such as Topfer’s. The Council opened a sleep away camp in the Delaware Water Gap area, in 1919. The Army donated land to the Council in Tobyhanna Township and the camp was moved there in 1928. Then in 1949, Samuel Rubel, largest Pennsylvanian ice and coal distributor, bequeathed to the Bethlehem Boy Scouts of America, 1,100 acres of camping grounds in the Pocono Mountains. Rubel, as a child, was a boy scout in Brooklyn, N.Y. He left the gift to express his appreciation. In the 1950’s Bethlehem Steel donated funds to rebuild the camp buildings. The camp re-opened in 1958 and has remained in operation at that location ever since. The camp, known as Camp Minsi today, is surrounded by beautiful woodlands with over 20 miles of hiking trails.
     In 1969, the Bethlehem Area Council joined Delaware Valley Area Council, and Lehigh Council to form the Minsi Trails Council. Today the council consists of six districts and maintains two camps (Camp Minsi and Trexler Scout Reservation). Its headquarters is located on Postal Road in Allentown. The R. Tait McKenzie sculpture “The Ideal Scout” stands outside the center. The Mini Trails Council scouting program continues to be very popular with local boys.
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