The Swinging Bridge
The Narrows of the Harpeth Boxwell (1930-1948) had several neat attractions. In addition to the Narrows themselves, which made for a great lazy canoe trip, there was the Montgomery Bell tunnel, a Native American Mound builder site, and at least one local cave. It’s hard to understand why the Council ever let the property go, though now everyone can enjoy the area as a state park.
One of the less permanent attractions was a Swinging Bridge. The bridge was made of wire and wood and crossed the entire width of the Harpeth River. Indeed, the bridge was often a test of bravery among the Scouts: who would cross the river using the swinging bridge. And you can take our word on good authority: that bridge swang!
Pictured here is the Swinging Bridge at the Narrows of the Harpeth, complete with two boys crossing the river. The photo is a little fuzzy, but you can just imagine what an experience this must have been. The bridge is long gone now, but perhaps we could consider this an early version of COPE!
The Swinging Bridge at the Narrows of the Harpeth Boxwell. Date unknown, mostly likely post-1940.
Operation Long Rifle
Have you ever heard of “Operation Long Rifle”? The name sounds like either a covert Special Ops mission or a special committee to create the Long Rifle Award. It’s neither. Operation Long Rifle was a practice Woodbadge held at Rock Island.
If you’ve read Wilbur F. Creighton, Jr.’s _Boys Will Be Men_, you’ve read over the quick one paragraph history of Woodbadge. In short, in 1950 Ward Akers and Troop 1 Scoutmaster Billy Jim Vaughn were the first in the Council to get their beads and decided to bring the program to Middle Tennessee. A National Course was held at Rock Island in 1951 and Beany Elam ran another National Course in 1952. The first Middle Tennessee courses (MT-1 and so on) were held shortly thereafter (Creighton, 142).
But that’s only part of the story. Before the National course was held at Rock Island in 1952, a group of 29 Explorers spent a week in early June going through what was essentially a dry run of the program. Headed by Gene Tolley and patterned after Woodbadge, the program worked primarily as a Junior Leader Training course (an early Brownsea), but served as a practice for the Woodbadge course later that summer. And as an added benefit, 14 of the 29 attendees were getting training for summer camp staff.
Pictured here a photo of Operation Long Rifle from the collection of John Parish, Sr. Parish was not only a Rock Island staff member, but a participant in this program. Interesting side note: His father was Charles E. Parish, who would soon serve as Council President, and for whom the Rock Island property was later renamed.
A scene from Operation Long Rifle in 1952
First Day on Camp Staff
Some camp staff experiences are surprisingly universal. Regardless of which camp you worked at or which year you worked, that first day of the first summer seems to be a remarkably similar experience for most. Read the brief story below from John Cyril Stewart; does this sound familiar?
|1st Day on Camp Staff – June 1965
I first attended Boxwell Reservation Boy Scout Camp when I was 11. That week, and the next year were exciting times. I got to be with my best friend Brad and, although I didn’t realize it then, I was in awe of the older boys who rapidly became my mentors.
During a scout troop meeting our District Executive, Earl Tatum, told me that I should apply for camp staff. I told him that I had looked into that and the minimum age was 14 and that I would only be 13. He said I should apply anyway. At several times in my life people have given me words of encouragement that radically changed my life. This was one of those times. Our conversation was probably only two or three minutes but it has had a lifelong impact on me.
The Scout Office was on 23rd Avenue North, in an old house that later became a downtown home for Loretta Lynn. I still remember timidly and fearfully walking up the broken front step and sitting for my interview. I don’t remember many of the questions but I do remember them asking why I wanted to serve on staff. Among the other reasons I gave, I told them that I wasn’t sure that I could pass the swimming and lifesaving merit badges required for Eagle without extended time at Boxwell.
They hired me and I was to report to Camp Stahlman, where I had never been before. “Staff Row” was a double line of tents along a rocky road below the dining hall. I’ll never forget the Sunday afternoon when my mother and father dropped me off, setting my footlocker on the rocky road, and drove away. I remember the most extreme, immediate level of homesickness, standing there, watching them drive away, tears streaming down my face. I didn’t know anyone there and didn’t know what to do.
By dinner I had found a tent, new friends and a home at Boxwell. Over the next seven summers I would have adventures and experiences that would stay with me for the rest of my life.
My Mother and Daddy never talked about that time but I have to think they were probably as moved by my leaving for the summer as I was. Life was never the same.
Story submitted to Boxwell Staff Anecdotes Project, March 2018
From the Archives, November 11, 2018
Remembering Tom Willhite
Tom Willhite was Reservation Director from 1976 to 1994. When he retired as Director of Supprot Services in 1994, there was, not surprisingly, a retirement party for him. A host of individuals attended and honored Tom’s service. After all, he had been part of the Middle Tennessee Council since 1964.
All retirement parties try to find unique ways of honoring the retiree. This party was no different. Attendees were encouraged to complete a “My Fondest Memory of Tom Willhite” sheet with whatever memory or story of Tom they liked best. While he might not have seemed like it, Tom was sentimental enough to keep these pages.
In September 2016, three years after his passing, Russ Parham and Kerry Parker visited Tom’s wife Marie and documented many of the artifacts left behind, including these sheets. Shown here is a page by former staff member and then District Executive Shane Gladden. Shane’s brief description encapsulates perfectly the image so many staff members have of Tom Willhite.
Shane Gladden’s “Fondest Memory” of Tom Willhite from Tom’s retirement party in 1994
The Original Pirate Ship
Once upon a time, there was a pirate ship. It was a pirate ship that floated. And the first place that Pirate Ship floated was Parnell Bay.
In the summer of 1995, former staff member John Cooper and his team began work on what would be CubWorld’s pirate ship. The 1994 Capital Development Campaign was complete and the transformation of Camp Murrey was proceeding. Throughout the summer, construction continued and eventually the ship was launched in Parnell Bay. It eventually was floated to what was Murrey’s Swimming area and what is today Pirate’s Cove.
It is easy to forget, but originally, the pirate ship did in fact float. After the 2010 floods, the ship was damaged so badly that the entire Pirate Cove idea was re-thought. But more on that another time. Here is the Lancaster Pirate Ship in all its emerging glory on the shores of the Camp Light waterfront in 1995.
Construction of the Lancaster Pirate Ship, 1995, at Camp Light waterfront