Gazette Article by: Susan Shabica
Appeared in the Gazette: Spring/Summer 2000
Several years ago when the Minnesota Historical Society reopened its exhibit area, a unique approach was taken to interpret its history from “A to Z.” Various objects and topics were depicted by “letters,” and visitors moved through the gallery “alphabetically.” The editorial board of the Winnetka Historical Society Gazette has decided to adopt a similar technique and has added a new feature, “WINNETKA HISTORY: A to Z.”
They are visible in the Village several times a year—in full uniform for parades on Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, and out of uniform cleaning up the Green Bay Trail, celebrating in costumes on World Friendship Day, helping out at the North Shore Senior Center, competing in First Aid Meets (volunteer victims required), delivering food baskets, visiting nursing homes, preparing for camping/adventure trips, painting windows of local stores, and selling trees, wreaths, garlands, and, of course, cookies. They are the Boy and Girl Scouts, and they have a long, illustrious history in Winnetka.
Chartered by the United States Congress in 1910 and 1912 respectively, the formation of Boy and Girl Scouts of the USA fulfilled the visions Lord Baden Powell of England and his friend, Juliette Gordon Low of Savannah, Georgia. Based on values of personal integrity, responsibility, and competence, scouting on both sides of the Atlantic quickly became popular. The first Winnetka Boy Scout troop appeared as Troop I in 1915 and was renamed Troop 18 after World War II. Troop 18 serves the community today, together with Troop 20, chartered in 1927 to the Winnetka Community House and in 1937 to the Congregational Church.
Early activities of the Boy Scout troops in Winnetka included a drum and bugle corps, care and handling of draft animals, signaling (semaphore and Morse code), and public safety. In the manner of military units, Boy Scout troops were trained in mobilization to respond to citizen emergencies.
The first Girl Scout troops appeared in Winnetka in 1928 and were known as New Trier Girl Scouts. Christ Church Parish House was the center of activities, including semaphore signaling, laundering, electricity, and child nursing, and service projects such as wrapping bandages, canning food, sewing layettes for infant welfare, and nursing in hospitals. For the 1931 cookie sale, troops baked their own cookies and cakes, the proceeds of which purchased camp properties and equipment. They sponsored two community-wide events annually, International Friendship Day and a holiday party featuring a “mitten tree” for needy children.
In the 1940s and 1950s, virtually every boy and girl in Winnetka belonged to a Scout troop, attending school in uniforms on meeting days. The boys met on Tuesdays and the girls on Thursdays, at Christ Church and at the Community House. During the summers, the park district offered tennis lessons for ten cents and the Girl Scouts ran a day camp on the Village Green, walking to Maple Street Beach for swims and using Christ Church for “facilities.” In the late 1960s, summer camp was moved to Crow Island Woods.
The Scouts owned and operated several camp properties, Makajawan and Napowan for the boys, Windego, Timberloft and Hawthorn Hill, for the girls, and a former Civilian Conservation Corps property in Glenview (Adahi). Scouts also took advantage of national and international sites and events, such as BS Philmont Scout Ranch, GS National Center West, BS Jamborees and GS Roundups, programs in the National Parks and Alaska, white water rafting, climbing…and at the same time worked on merit badges, performed service and earned the highest ranks in both Scout organizations, the BS Eagle and the GS Gold Award (the first incarnation of which was the Golden Eaglet!).
Throughout the 90 years of scouting history, societal changes and administrative necessities have stimulated the fine-tuning of both organizations. Camp properties have been sold, councils have gotten bigger, “professionals” have replaced volunteer staffs, new merit badges have been created and older ones updated. Even the Girl Scout Promise has been changed to reflect the necessity for girls to “be strong” and “respect authority.”
One bumper sticker reads, “America is returning to the values Scouting never left.” As you line Elm Street on July 4, watching uniformed Scouts march by carrying flags, remember the traditions set by the past. The Scouts say, “Thank you, Winnetka” for being the kind of community that supports Scouting.