In 1912, the center of La Jolla was truly deserving of the name the “Village,” nestled as it was between the sparkling expanse of the Pacific at its front door and the large bare mass of Mt. Soledad rising at its back.
That very same year, Troop 4, the oldest continuously operating Boy Scout troop west of the Mississippi, was chartered and a boy by the name of Bert Wilbur joined up as a Tenderfoot.
Thus began a lifelong association between Mr. Wilbur and the Scouting movement, a connection he had remembered 25 years ago, when he add-ressed the crowd at the troop’s 75th anniversary celebration in 1988. At that celebration, Mr. Wilbur recalled his days in Scouting, when Scouts slept rolled in blankets when camping and wore floppy pants that reflected the military style of the times, including leggings and long-sleeved khaki shirts.
Looking back at that time, modern Scouts try to imagine what it would have been like.
“I might feel as though I was dressed for Halloween, but if this was common dress, I would feel proud to be in the uniform,” said Jake Chasen, the senior patrol leader of Troop 4 this year. “Today’s uniform is more versatile; the top comes in short-sleeved version and the materials are designed to be cool and to dry quickly.”
Mr. Wilbur also remembered that backpacks at the dawn of the 20th century were made of heavy canvas — as were the tents — and that the packs themselves were mounted on wood backboards, which to a modern Scout seems almost inconceivable.
Eagle Scout candidate Jamie Abrams shook his head at the image.
“I can’t picture walking long distances carrying this kind of bulky weight,” he said. “Our backpacking tents and the packs themselves weigh only about three pounds each.”
What did Troop 4 boys do for outings back then? It shouldn’t be surprising that Wilbur and his Scout brothers focused much of their attention on the same sorts of things that modern Scouting encourages, but they didn’t have to go nearly as far to find Mother Nature in all her pristine beauty.
The Cuyamacas were about the outer limit, Wilbur recounted, and in his day, Scouts would often camp out in the “wilds” of Mt. Soledad or the seemingly distant flats of Torrey Pines.
Another potential Eagle Scout, Matt Alessio (who is currently junior assistant Scoutmaster for Troop 4), wryly noted, “I’ve never hiked Mt. Soledad, but I have biked up and down Nautilus Street. An overnight on Mt. Soledad seems like a fun idea, but today, I’m not sure where you could set up a tent.”
Asked how they thought the Boy Scouts of 1912 would react if a Scout from 2012 could be whisked into the past to join them, Jake Chasen summed it up by saying he believes the troop back then would be shocked at what he has done in his Scouting career.
“I’ve gotten merit badges in computers, cinematography, scuba diving and aviation, among many others,” he said.
Jamie Abrams said he felt an environmental angle has been added in his generation, and that in a century the attitude toward the land has evolved.
“Today, we try to leave every campsite better than when we found it,” he said. “We want to make sure future campers enjoy the same landscape we’’ve had the privilege to visit.”
But reversing the question, what if an 11-year-old Wilbur were to magically appear at a modern Troop 4 meeting or camp out? What might most astonish him?
“The use of technology,” said Alessio without hesitation. “On a camping trip he would be amazed by the use of GPS for hiking or activities such as geocaching.”
Some Scouts agreed.
“Freeze-dried food, energy supplements and head lamps,” were what Chasen thought would surprise a transplant from the past.
Abrams had another take: “He might be puzzled that Scouts don’t ride their bikes or walk to meetings any more, as parents drive them for safety — and also because a lot of Scouts live pretty far away. La Jolla has grown so much.”
La Jolla has indeed grown, and along with it Troop 4 has grown and matured. But just as the current residents still speak of the community as the “Village,” modern Scouts still hold the same values, recite the same oath and come to venerate the same 12 points of the Scout law, just as Wilbur did a century ago.
On Saturday, Nov. 24, Troop 4 will celebrate its centennial with a dinner in the Fellowship Hall at La Jolla Presbyterian Church, 7715 Draper St. For information and reservations, contact Sara Jarvis at (858) 459-8605 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Troop 4 a living tribute to La Jolla history
How did La Jolla — a small community virtually at the end of nowhere in the early 1900s — get a Boy Scout troop that was one of the first in the country and now is celebrating its 100th birthday this month as the oldest continuing troop west of the Mississippi? It has to do with the association of two men: Col. Milton A. McRae, a founding member of the Boy Scouts of America in 1910, who took a great deal of interest in La Jolla after establishing a second home in Southern California, and E.W. Scripps, the newspaper baron who McRae started a lifetime business association with in 1883, later continued when Scripps built Miramar Ranch and was active in many community philanthropies when his sister, Ellen Browning, lived in La Jolla.
With their efforts, La Jolla established Troop 4 in 1912, just two years after the national organization took shape in a New York YWCA with William Howard Taft as honorary president and Theodore Roosevelt as honorary vice president and chief Scout Citizen. McRae served as vice president in the founding of the national Boy Scouts of America.
Troop 4 will celebrate its 100th anniversary with a centennial dinner at 6 p.m. on Nov. 24 in the La Jolla Presbyterian Church Fellowship Hall. Now with a membership of about 60, the troop and its activities are a far cry from when it began with a handful of scouts, one of whose main challenges was the 15-mile hike from La Jolla over barren landscape to the E.W. Scripps Miramar Ranch.
“Quite a hike for little kids,” early Troop 4 Scout John Clarke Rose recalled in an interview with a La Jolla Historical Society member 62 years later. Rose further recalled that the charter group “had some interesting characters in it,” including Jay Wilson and Everett Whitson, but that he was “the only kid in La Jolla with a complete uniform.” Once he wore his Scout uniform to Camp Kearny, where it readily admitted him to the soldiers’ mess for the day. He also stated that Troop 4 “was a special pet of Miss Ellen Browning Scripps, who augmented the money raised by putting on minstrel shows.” Rose recalled, however, that it was McRae’s association with the national and his partnership with E. W. Scripps that resulted in La Jolla’s early troop number.
McRae and E.W. first met in 1883 when he was advertising manager of the Cincinnati Post newspaper and Scripps, already building a publishing empire at age 30, was its managing editor. After Scripps purchased the St. Louis Chronicle, he made McRae its managing director and later brought him in as partner in the Scripps-McRae League of Newspapers (the base of the renowned Scripps-Howard chain and impetus for the foundation of United Press International, the wire service popularly known as UPI).
As the publishing empires expanded, so did the pair’s interest in the Boy Scouts of America, growing to an amazing 61,495 members a year after its founding, and to more than a million by 1919. McRae became the third national Scout president in 1926 and when Scripps moved his empire west to San Diego, McRae also gave up some of his Midwestern roots and established a second home in San Diego. He became president of the San Diego Scout Council; Scripps served specifically on the Troop 4 committee.
Before McRae died in 1930, Scouts presented a scroll of appreciation and good cheer to him at Scripps Memorial Hospital where he was a patient and had served on the board of directors. On the front page of the La Jolla Journal of Oct. 16, 1930, McRae was eulogized as a “true friend and admirer of La Jolla.” More than 700 Boy Scouts stood at attention at his San Diego residence in homage after his death and Scoutmasters escorted the hearse to the San Diego train station to begin its journey for burial at his winter home in Detroit. At each stop along the journey, Scouts met the train with floral tributes. In its eulogy, the Journal article concluded that McRae was “always interested in local projects (such as Troop 4) … La Jolla joins other communities in regret of the passing of this fine citizen.”