by Ed Johnson, Assistant Scoutmaster and Scoutmaster in the 1950s
Scouting was founded in England in 1909 by Lord Baden-Powell. The BSA was chartered in this country in 1910.
Chapel Hill’s Troop 39 began as Troop 1 in the fall of 1911. This number, 1, indicates that it is the oldest troop in North Carolina. Its founder was C. Walten Johnson, then a senior at UNC. Here are some quotes from a letter he wrote in connection with the troop’s 50th year in 1962.
… I am glad Troop 1 in Chapel Hill is planning to celebrate their Fiftieth Anniversary in 1962. They really could celebrate it in the fall of 1961. I organized this Troop during the fall of 1911. I don’t recall the month but we were going strong before Christmas.
I took this Troop of about 15 boys on a short-term camp in Orange County during June 1912, just after I graduated from the university. I have very vivid and happy memories of that camp, even though we had practically no equipment. We simply camped out in the woods by a stream. I am almost sure that was the first Boy Scout Camp held in North Carolina and this probably was the first Scout Troop in the State.
I can understand why it may be difficult for the National Headquarters to trace the troop back to 1911. I imagine they had a poor record system at that particular time, and I am not sure that our Troop sent in the proper records, but it was a definitely organized Boy Scout Troop. I became interested in the Boy Scout movement the year it was organized.
Johnson went on to found the well-known Camp Sequoyah in the Smoky Mountains. The Troop’s original sponsoring institution was the campus YMCA. In 1924 the troop was assigned to the Cherokee Council and became Troop 5. During this period, Troop 1 (and then 5) was a “demonstration” troop. Organizations interested in sponsoring a scout troop would travel to Chapel Hill to see how one should be run. In the mid-twenties a story in the Chapel Hill Weekly noted that North Carolina had a grand total of 24 Eagle Scouts and that half of them were in troop 5.
Scouting grew rapidly in the 20s and 30s. In 1936 we were assigned to the newly formed Occoneechee Council and became Troop 39. It was then sponsored by the Kiwanis Club but met in the old Methodist Church building located where the east wing of the church now is. University United Methodist Church became the official sponsor in 1947 and has continued ever since.
During my tenure as a troop leader in the ’50s, Troop 39 was considered to be one of the finest in the Occoneechee Council, the largest Council in the state. Under Jim Mackorell’s leadership (1967 to 2006), the Troop’s reputation soared. Enrollment pressure was so high that Jim had to create more 8-boy patrols. Membership has been as large as 100, 85 scouts and 15 leaders.
The troop became involved in recycling in the 1960s and became such a vital component of Chapel Hill’s total recycling effort that, when the machinery was put out of operation by an accident, the town invited the troop to enlarge its operation on town-leased land. All the boys participated in the effort and the money earned bought equipment and financed camping trips and other adventures. In 1990, the non-profit group, Recycling for Youth, was formed to hold title to the Troop’s trucks and buses and to hold proceeds from the recycling as well as donations to a scout building fund.
In 1980, Troop 39 forged an alliance with Bristol Group 26 in England, a scout troop run by its then scoutmaster, Bill Loach. Over a period of many years, the two scout troops have hosted boys from the other troop and enjoyed camping and fellowship together. In 2006, Bill Loach died and willed about $30,000 to our building fund.