With the first Parish Reservation Round Tuit next weekend (February 4), we thought this was a good opportunity to take another look at Parish as Camp Boxwell. Specifically, we thought we’d show the Rock Island Boxwell as it was.
When the Rock Island Boxwell opened in 1949, it used “bivouac camping.” In other words, tents were set up around the site. By 1950/1951, campsites were developed around the camp. Rock Island started with 6 sites and grew to 8 by 1959. Many were named (supposedly) for Cherokee chieftains.
The map here is based on the 1949 Rock Island Boxwell map, the only known map of the camp. We have added sites and other items based on our research and consultation with former Rock Island Staff members. While all the details are difficult to see, it gives an idea of where things were. And interestingly, if you go to Parish today, the camp’s physical arrangements have not changed THAT much since 1959…
Sometimes Boxwell photos can get a little repetitive. After all, there are only so many ways to take a photograph of a dining hall!
Fortunately, drones open up some new perspectives, allowing new angles for photos and even for videos. In many ways, drone photos are even better than helicopter fly overs because of how close they can get, though trees are clearly more of an issue!
Shown here are two different angles of the OA taken by the drone of former staff member Ben Whitehouse just a little earlier this year.
Ernest Lee “Ernie” Ragsdale joined the Boxwell Staff in 1976. There are conflicting stories about how he arrived–either on a motorcycle or in a jeep with his wife and son–but the stories agree that Ragsdale simply showed up, having recently been discharged from the Army. Ragsdale had served in Vietnam and in fact was the only survivor of an Viet Cong ambush on his unit. Now, he was looking for work.
With his experience in the Army, Ragsdale was a natural fit for Field Sports Director, a program area that at the time included all the shooting sports. The job was great for Ragsdale as well for his new position at Stahlman lined him up with a man who almost immediately became his new best friend, Jim Barr. The two shared a competitive spirit and similar sense of humor.
Ragsdale returned to Boxwell in 1977, this time as a Program Director (back when Program Directors, not Camp Directors, ran the camps). Setting up shop at the new Camp Craig, Ragsdale built a reputation for amazing campfires and unique awards, either created by himself or Barr. There was a loyalty and powerful espirit d’corps among Ragsdale’s staffs as well.
When Stahlman closed in 1979, the Stahlman Staff led by Russ Parham, moved to Parnell, while Ragsdale remained firmly ensconced at Craig. But in 1980, given the choice of Parnell or Stahlman, Ragsdale and Barr chose Stahlman, flipping the Camp Craig staff to Stahlman Staff. The reasons for the move were in part about geography–Barr liked the waterfront better–and in part personality. Both men were interested in building a better and stronger relationship with the Schliechers, the Reservations’ cooks.
Ragsdale embraced the larger Middle Tennessee Scouting program as well. He served on the Warioto (Sumner County) Camping Committee for at least eight years and worked with the Council Scout-O-Rama for at least a decade. He led the Council contingent to Philmont in 1980 and he and Barr were part of the National Jamboree Staffs for three years (1981, 1985, 1989). If you saw a Jamboree Campfire, you saw Ragsdale and Barr at work. He served on at least 4 Wood Badge staffs, was awarded the Long Rifle Award in 1980, and was awarded the Silver Beaver in 1987. And this isn’t even a complete list!
In his life outside Scouting, Ragsdale was a teacher, a high school Chemistry teacher, which helped explain his amazing campfires! He served as a chairman of the Sumner County Tennessee Educators Association (TEA) and was named an outstanding teacher in the Sumner County System. Ragsdale taught chemistry at both White House High School and Beech High School. He built his home in the Shackle Island area of Hendersonville.
Ragsdale continued at Stahlman throughout the 1980s, missing only 1986. 1989 ended up being his last summer. He had plans to return in 1990, but he and Barr took a troop trip with Barr’s son. Upon returning, Barr’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and the two men stayed close and supported each other. And then, in the early morning hours of Halloween 1990, Ragsdale suffered a heart attack in his sleep and passed away.
Staff who worked with Ragsdale praised his ability to let people make their own mistakes and use that as tool to teach with. They praised his parenting, often seeing his approach first hand when his young son David was out at camp. Ragsdale was also remembered for his amazing carving skills; he whittled constantly and getting a Ragsdale handmade item was a true jewel. And of course, every Stahlman staff member in these years had a story about a joke or a prank pulled by the great Ernie Ragsdale.
There have been many enduring friendships made at camp, people who stay friends for decades. Few friendships were as powerful as the one between Floyd “Q-ball” Pearce and Ward Akers.
Akers met Q-ball when he became Council Executive of the Eastern Arkansas Area Council in the 1930s. While the when and where of their first meeting is not known to this author, the two definitely crossed paths at Kia Kima, the council camp where Q-ball was already a well-establish staff member and Akers became the Camp Director.
Of course, these were the depression and then World War II years, so money was often tight. Q-ball liked to tell stories of how he kept $1000 dollars in a can under a rock and how a young Akers roamed the hills buying eggs and milk and other goods from local farmers on the cheap to get the Council out of debt. According to Q-ball, Akers was responsible for the creation of Camp Cedar Valley (about 1940), where he hired Q-ball with the understanding that any “crazy” things that happened there were Q-ball’s fault, not Akers’!
Akers came to the Nashville Council in 1947 and ran Camp Boxwell at the Narrows in 1948. In 1949, Akers moved Boxwell to Rock Island and who should he bring along, but Q-ball Pearce. While Q-ball would not be able to attend camp every summer from his home in Clarenden, Arkansas, he was a regular face from 1949 until his last year in 1984. The two men remained friends throughout these years, including Akers’ early retirement in 1975, all the way up to Akers’ death in 1983.
Seen here are the two men at Scoutmasters’ Dinner by the cooks’ cabins in 1971. If you don’t recognize them, Q-ball is on the left and Akers is behind him on the right.
Why are these men pawing and fawning over the chimney at Stahlman Dining Hall?
When the Reservation was built in 1959-1961, it was a marvel of modern Scout camps. Not only did the 1959 Capital Campaign become a template for other councils, but the camp itself became a model, with representatives from out of council coming to see the facilities. The photo here is one such visit.
During the first weekend in November, 1963, a group of Scouters from the Gulf Ridge Council in Tampa, Florida came “to inspect the sprawling reservation which has seven and a half miles of shoreline,” reported Nashville Banner writer Jack Bond. The guests were impressed, not simply with the existing facilities, but the potential for growth. As visitor George Sanford expressed, “All elements seem to have been taken into consideration, even the future growth potential and expansion possibilities. It is one of the finest examples of development we have seen.”
Seen here at Stahlman Dining Hall are (l-r) F. L. Brock, Herbert Wilkins, James Johnson, and Norton Agee. Brock, Wilkins, and Agee were all from the Gulf Ridge Council, while Johnson was the Reservation Director. And the answer to the question above? In Florida, to build chimneys and foundations, rock had to be brought in from miles away, driving up development costs. At Boxwell, limestone was native to the property and thus these same structures were built with limestone found on-site. It is a blessing not easily replicated!
Read more in “Florida Scouters Inspects Boxwell” by Jack Bond, Nashville Banner, November 4, 1963, pg. 10. Photo by Banner photographer Bill Goodman.