In 1908, a company of the United Boys Brigade of America began in Webster Groves. The First Congregational Church of Webster Groves sponsored the group.
The Boys Brigade in the United States taught boys about how to march, perform U.S. Army drills, first aid and camping, according to “The History of Troop 301” by Ann Morris.
Boy Scouts of America (BSA) became a national organization in 1910, two years after Webster Groves Boys Brigade. The Webster Groves mayor at the time, Edward Hart, traveled to Canada, where Boy Scouts was already a national organization. While in Canada, Hart received a charter for Boy Scout Troop 301 in Webster Groves. Actual records of the original charter no longer exist, but Hart’s daughter, Margaret Patton, told this story in Morris’s book.
If true, then Troop 301 would be one of the first BSA troops created. What is known for certain is that Troop 301 is the first and oldest BSA troop west of the Mississippi River, said Troop 301’s Committee Chairperson Denise Lee.
The church hosted a centennial celebration for Troop 301 in 2009. There, the troop was honored by the BSA National Council as one of the few troops that was started and is still around since the first year Boy Scouts chartered to the United States.
Troop 301 has always held its meetings in the basement of the First Congregational Church. Glass cases along a hallway of the church contain old scouting material and records from as early as the 1920s. Uniforms from different decades of BSA are hung with the name and information of the scout member who wore them.
Scoutmaster of Troop 301, Mike Grzyb, recognizes how unusual it is for a church to have sponsored a troop for this long. This is his fifth year with the troop, and he said knowing that history gives him great pride.
“I’ve heard that the troop used to make fires in the basement,” Grzyb said. “That was a long time ago, of course, but to think that is the same place where we meet now is incredible.”
Grzyb plans to incorporate the original intentions of the troop back into BSA. He wants the organization to be led by scouts and supervised by scoutmasters. He wants the older scouts to show the younger ones how to start fires and set up campsites. He believes learning from peers is a better learning process than if he did all the teaching.
Grzyb said the BSA method of teaching is something he incorporated into his own job as a firefighter in St. Charles, Mo.
Grzyb teaches the EDGE Method to new firefighters. The EDGE Method is a BSA teaching method that encourages scouts and leaders to explain, demonstrate, guide and enable. He uses it to teach younger firefighters the skills they need on the job.
—Reporting by Sam Masterson