The First 300

Troop Bala One

The first all-Eagle Scout Patrol in America, led by W. Lawrence Saunders II, standing at center, in October 1914. Flanked by, from left: Alexander H. Holcomb, Jr., Joseph H. Keefe, John Winters, John Rinkenback; seated: Isaac Kershaw,Jr., Harry Ingram, Harry Pierriera.

Citizenship Through the Years

Troop Bala One has a long and glorious tradition in both the Boy Scout movement and the Lower Merion community. In 1907, General Robert Baden-Powell, an English Army officer, took a group of lads to Brownsea Island, England. This was the first Boy Scout Camp. In 1908, he wrote a book called Scouting for Boys which had an international, instantaneous impact. Troops and patrols sprung up in England and, shortly thereafter, in Europe.

An Unofficial First

The Boy Scout movement was slower to transition to the United States, except in the tiny town of Bala, Pennsylvania. Here, in 1908, a group of community leaders, headed by insurance executive Frank Sykes, organized America’s first group of boys under the principles of scouting as set forth in Baden-Powell’s book. Troop Bala One thus became the first unofficial Boy Scout troop in the U.S.

The national umbrella organization, The Boy Scouts of America, was officially organized in February 1910. The following year, Troop Bala One was officially inducted with the alternate name of Troop 16. At that time, President William H. Taft was Honorary President of the Boy Scouts of America and former President Theodore Roosevelt was Honorary VP.

Troop Bala One scout camp scenes; formation, c. 1912.
First Aid training, c. 1930s.

The Saunders Initiative

In 1914, a young man by the name of W. Lawrence Saunders II, became Scoutmaster and raised himself and seven other members of the Troop to the rank of Eagle Scout. Troop Bala One dominated all regional scout competitions in Cobbs Creek Park and was the first in the United States to be awarded the prestigious honor of “Bucktail Troop.”

Mr. Saunders is now remembered as the dedicator of the beautiful Saunders Woods, a Lower Merion park in Gladwyne which is used to this day for Cub Scout and Boy Scout camping.

The Early Years

During World War I, troop activities became limited as both older scouts and leaders were called to serve their country. During the Depression, the troop endured although camping trips had to be limited because of lack of equipment. During World War II, Troop Bala One was continually involved in projects and services to aid the troops overseas and their families at home.

Continuing Activities

Troop Bala One still maintains an active schedule of camping, canoeing, backpacking and educational outings. The troop still carries the torch, lit by Baden-Powell and followed by the early local leaders, to promote personal growth, leadership, fun, safety and self-reliance in outdoor settings.