Editor’s note: This is the first of three articles highlighting the history of Troop 17 in St. Anthony Park. This first article describes the troop’s beginnings through World War I and II.
By Mike Smith
The year 2016 will mark the centennial of Troop 17, Boy Scouts of America (BSA). Troop 17 is the second oldest continuously chartered troop in Minnesota. It meets at St. Anthony Park United Church of Christ (formerly St. Anthony Park Congregational Church), 2129 Commonwealth Ave., nearly every week and has done so for the last 100 years.
It is the oldest troop in the the state continuously chartered by one organization and meeting in the same building as when it began.
The troop was formed and began meeting at St. Anthony Park Congregational Church the first week of March 1916. The first Scoutmaster was James “Dad” Drew, a professor in the University Farm School. Drew’s house was right across the street from the church, at 1307 Chelmsford St. The new church building on Commonwealth was completed in 1914, and the story goes that boys in the neighborhood came to Drew and asked him to start a new troop. With a new building for meetings right across the street, it seemed a perfect fit. They met with the deacons of the church to gain the church’s approval.
The troop was temporarily registered as Troop 69, but within a few months the number was changed to 17.
Drew had been part of a previous start of Troop 17 in St. Anthony Park, also associated with St. Anthony Park Congregational Church, but at its earlier location in south St. Anthony Park. That troop was organized in December 1910 by A.D. Wilhoit and had nearly 30 members. Drew and E.A. Norcross were assistant Scoutmasters. It appears the troop became inactive in 1911 or 1912. There were other startups about the same time. These included Twighlight Troop 35 (formed in April 1911), whose member Roy Young was the first Eagle Scout in Minnesota and the third in the nation.
Drew was a merit badge counselor for area troops as early as 1910, the founding years of the Boy Scouts of America. He was an expert at knot-tying, archery and blacksmithing and was involved with both the Hennepin and Ramsey Boy Scout Councils as well as the local troop. It was Drew’s hands that were illustrated tying knots in early BSA Scout Handbooks. Dad Drew held many honors and awards from Scouting, and in 2014, he was included in the Founders Hall at the North Star Museum of Scouting for his many contributions.
In 1919, many of the older Scouts wanted a troop for themselves (and Troop 17 needed room for new 12-year-olds) so they formed Troop 25, “The Wyandots.”
In 1920, some of the Scouts who attended a different church left Trooop 17 to form Troop 22, meeting at St. Anthony Park Methodist Church, one block away. By 1921, knot-tying had become a specialty of Troop 17, with the expert teaching of Dad Drew. In 1924, Drew stepped down as scoutmaster (he was 61 at the time) and was replaced by E.T. Field. In 1926, the Wyandot troop merged back with Troop 17, and Samuel Haupt, the first Eagle Scout of Troop 17, became Scoutmaster. In 1927 Troop 17 won first place in the prestigious City Wide Scout Contest. Kenneth Boss, another former Troop 17 Scout, became Scoutmaster in 1928.
In 1930 “wall-scaling” became a popular activity for area Scouts. Troop 17 constructed a wall for its exclusive use and practice behind the church. The troop celebrated its 15th anniversary in 1931 with a “review.” Scouts created their own regalia, and in 1932 participated in the Scout Show held at the Hippodrome on the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. Troop 17 became active in the St. Paul Scout Hockey League in 1936.
With the outbreak of World War II, Scouts frequently volunteered with paper and metal drives. The troop created a newsletter to keep in touch with former Troop 17 Scouts serving around the world. It was a real morale booster. Drew again served as Scoutmaster in 1944-45, at the age of 82. And 1949 found Elmer Andersen serving as Scoutmaster. Eleven years later, he became governor of Minnesota. The list of Scouts, Eagle Scouts and leaders of Troop 17 during these years is a who’s-who of community leaders in St. Anthony Park and St. Paul.
If you or someone you know is a former member of Troop 17, let us know so that you can be recognized and participate in the centennial celebration, which will be held Saturday, Feb. 27, 5-8 p.m. at St. Anthony Park United Church of Christ.
Contact Mike Smith: by phone, 651-398-5552; by email, firstname.lastname@example.org; or by mail at Troop 17 Centennial, c/o St. Anthony Park United Church of Christ, 2129 Commonwealth Ave., St. Paul, MN 55108.
Former Scouts of St. Anthony Park Troops 22, 25, 48 and 80 are encouraged to participate.
Next month: more history of Troop 17 from 1950 to 1980.