Steve Restelli stands in front of his Pond Street home, built by William Foster Milne, who founded the country's first Boy Scout troop.
BARRE – When it comes to Boy Scouts in America, Barre was first.
So says the granite monument that has stood in front of the First Baptist Church on Washington Street for over 50 years.
So insisted William R. Cameron, a Canadian immigrant, who, in the early 1900s, spent decades researching "Troop 1" – a band of 14 boys organized by Scottish stonecutter William Foster Milne several months before the Boy Scouts of America was incorporated on Feb. 8, 1910, in Washington, D.C.
So says Steve Restelli, a local historian who now lives in Milne's old house and has spent months re-researching the man he likes to call "America's first Boy Scout."
So was Barre first?
That's a big fat "maybe," admits Restelli, who, for better or worse, has an electronic leg up on Cameron when it comes to research.
Restelli, who launched the Web site firstboyscout.com, is aware that folks in Pawhuska, Okla., recently celebrated the centennial of what they claim is the nation's first Boy Scout troop – one that was supposedly organized several months before the Oct. 29, 1909, date etched on Barre's granite monument. And, he has combed through the relevant archives at the Aldrich Public Library, which include a 50-year-old newspaper clipping that suggests Burnside, Ky., is the self-proclaimed "Birthplace of the Boy Scouts of America."
The latter community credits Myra Greeno Bass, the wife of a local businessman, for bringing the ideals of a scouting movement that was launched overseas by Sir Robert Baden-Powell, back from a trip to England and organizing a troop of her own in March of 1908. Bass' so-called "Eagle Troop" disbanded five years later when its members reportedly used the $5 in the troop treasury to buy a basketball and dropped their scouting activities.
Despite those and other competing claims, Restelli believes there is still a good chance Barre's Boy Scout Club was the first in the nation and an even better chance that it was the first founded by someone – Milne – who actually participated in scouting before coming to America from Aberdeen, Scotland in 1907.
"There's a very good possibility Barre was the first," Restelli says. He's not convinced the Oct. 29, 1909, date that has been etched in granite since 1947 is the actual date that Milne organized a club composed of students in James Grearson's Sunday school class at the local Baptist Church.
"It could have been earlier," he says.
According to Restelli, the Oct. 29 date appears to have been plucked from the pages of the Jan. 12, 1910 edition of the Barre Daily Times.
A brief article, recapping a months-long contest sponsored by Homer Fitts Co., explained how Harry Kent, a "… popular member of the Boy Scouts Club' of the Baptist Church," – with the help of his fellow scouts – collected the most coupons for shoe sales and won the "fine Traverse sled" that was offered as a prize.
The contest, according to the newspaper account, started on Oct. 29, 1909 – providing the earliest verifiable evidence that the scouting movement was alive and well in Barre at that time.
However, Restelli believes the date Cameron and others decided to use for the monument was off by weeks – maybe months – putting Barre back in the running for an elusive accolade.
"I don't know if we'll ever really know who was first, but I like to think it (scouting) started here," says Restelli, pointing to a 1912 letter from Sir Francis Fletcher Vane of the British Boy Scouts that describes Milne as "the first scoutmaster in America."
Then there's an Oct. 22, 1910, letter from Byron Clark, secretary of the Young Men's Christian Association of Vermont. Clark wrote to Milne asking him to round up his scouts for a photograph: "Inasmuch as they are the first troop organized in America."
Who knew others would eventually make that same claim and a combination of shoddy record-keeping and inconsistent historical accounts shared by folks with fading memories would fuel a dispute that remains unresolved.
Even if the Boy Scouts of America were inclined to take a position, the organization can't speak definitively about troops – like the one in Barre – that were up and running before it was incorporated.
So was Barre first?
Well, in true "Miracle on 34th Street" fashion the U.S. Postal Service has decided to weigh in.
Seems the postal service has created a special stamp cancellation to mark the centennial celebration of what it describes as "the first Boy Scout Club in the United States."
The postal service?
On Thursday – 100 years to the day after the monument located outside the local Baptist Church credits Milne with bringing scouting to Barre – a remote post office will be set up at the Aldrich Public Library as part of a day-long celebration.
Folks who drop by the library between 1 and 4 p.m. will have the opportunity to collect the unique pictorial postmark that reads: "Troop 1 Station, Barre, Vermont, 05641, October 29, 2009, 100 years of Scouting in Vermont; First Troop Organized Barre, Vt. Oct. 29, 1909."
By request the commemorative postmark will be applied free of charge to postcards and letters bearing appropriate postage.
In honor of the occasion a special collectible stamped envelope featuring photographs of Milne, who died in 1920, and the Baptist Church where Troop 1 was formed, will be available for sale.
Postmaster Mathew Rodeck says customers can also request the special postmark free-of-charge by mail for 30 days after the event by sending a self-addressed, stamped envelope containing the letter or envelope they wish to be cancelled to: Postmaster, 3 South Main Street, Barre, VT 05641-9998.
"We will be happy to cancel and return by mail any letters that our customers mail in," he says. "Customers may also bring in their own envelopes to obtain a postmark that they can take home as a keepsake."
Rodeck expects to do a brisk business when the 11th annual Scouting Salute to Veterans Parade is held in Barre on Nov. 7. In order to accommodate parade participants – a figure that has numbered between 1,500 and 6,600 in past years – a special collections box will be set up on the morning of the 11 a.m. parade.
However, the library will be the center of attention this Thursday where, in addition to the temporary post office, Library Director Karen Lane says there will be a display of Troop 1 memorabilia, historical information from the Green Mountain Council, refreshments and a brief ceremony.
The beginnings of a plaster model for a monument to Boy Scouts that noted Barre sculptor Carlo Abate was working on when he died in 1941 is on permanent display at the library. Former Barre Boy Scouts Idalo Masi and Leno Lavin posed for the model, which illustrates the method for carrying a wounded man, Lane says.
At 7 p.m. Thursday a service will be held at the First Baptist Church where Milne and his first scout troop are said to have dug by hand the cellar that they later used as a gymnasium and meeting space.
Restelli, who would like to see the monument started by Abate finished, is hoping to arrange a rededication of the existing monument in front of the church some time during the day and Mayor Thomas Lauzon has agreed to participate.
While no one knows for certain the precise date Milne started Troop 1 in Barre, the same can apparently be said of the date the troop ceased to exist. Restelli remembers it was still around in the mid-1970s, but must have given up its charter shortly after that.
Scouting was once a big deal in Barre, where by 1939 there were eight church-affiliated troops in existence and another two on the way. Today there are only two – Troop 714, which is affiliated with the Hedding United Methodist Church, and Troop 795, which is affiliated with the First Presbyterian Church of Barre.MORE IN Central Vermont
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