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Interview with Beaumert Whitton

Whitton, Beaumert
White, Jane
Date of Interview: 
Boy Scouts of America
Beaumert Whitton gives an historical overview of the Boy Scouts in early Charlotte.
Charlotte, NC
Interview Setting: 
Interview as part of the WSOC-TV Oral History Project. Interviews conducted at either the downtown public library or the Midtown Shopping Mall.
WSOC-TV Oral History Project
Collection Description: 
The Oral History Project of 1979, headed by Dr. Edward Perzel, was an effort to gather and preserve spoken recollections. Interviews were conducted with older citizens, primarily over the age of 65, who were encouraged to share their memories and stories.
Interview Audio: 
JW (Jane White): Thank you, Mr. Whitton, for coming to, to participate in our oral history. Now, I'll let you take it from here.
BW (Whitton Beaumert): Do you, you want me to say who I am or anything?
JW: No, you don't have to.
BW: Well, the great youth organizations of this century has been the, the Boy Scouts of America. And I am particularly interested in the early days of the Boys Scouts in Charlotte. And it's interesting that the Boy Scouts were organized in 1910 and as early 1912 or 1913, we had Boy Scout troops in Charlotte, which is--.
JW: It is.
BW: Seems remarkable to me that they had organized in New Jersey and came here. The, Charlotte has long had a, a reputation for participating in things like Boy Scouts and United Appeals and the bo--, the Salvation Army. And the Boy Scouts was one of the earliest ones in the field. The troop ( ) was the beginning of about three troops here back in prior to 1915 and that has now grown to where there are some 7500 boys and girls participating and 2500 adult volunteers participating in. Of course, that's not the long time ago part that we are, we are particularly interested in. The earliest troops in Charlotte and if it's, you're an Episcopalian you'd be interested in this. The two earliest troops in Charlotte were started by Episcopal rectors. Isn't that, isn't that surprising?
JW: Um-hum.
BW: The earliest troop that we, we can find was probably started in 1912 at Holy Comforter Episcopal Church, which was at that time on South Boulevard in Charlotte. The next troops were organized at the YMCA, and, then the third troop was organized at St. Martin's Episcopal Church on East Seventh Street near where the present Boy Scout office is located. The, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte is now engaged in making an extensive recording of the early history and that work is being done under the direction of a fella named Frank Wampler and Dr. D. D. Morgan at the university. So if anyone wants some detailed history of the Boy Scouts in Charlotte you can pick up a lot of material on it.
JW: Excuse me just a moment.
BW: Yes.
JW: Can you tell me how many were in your troops at that time at the beginning of it?
BW: Oh yes, let me, let me talk to you about some of the people that were in it.
JW: Oh sure.Good.
BW: Some of the people that were in it.
JW: Fine.
BW: The first troop that was started. We have been out to, to talk to a man named C. W. Pat ( ) in Charlotte. Pat was one of the earliest ones. Has Pat been up to talk to you?
JW: Um-hum.
BW: There was also a man named Tom Graham who ran a company here in Charlotte called the Charlotte Supply Company. Tom is over eighty something years old. We talked about the things that, that go on at those troops and they were, they were essentially the same things that, that the Boy Scouts do today. They played games and of course while they played games they learned their skills. They went camping. They did good turns.
JW: Excuse me just a minute.
BW: Yes?
JW: Thank you.
BW: The early Boy Scouts did about the same things as the Boy Scouts do today. They camped; they played games; they do good turns. I was talking to Morgan Speir, M. B. Speir in Charlotte who must be approaching eighty. He belonged to the Boy Scout troop at the YMCA. He said that his father told him that if he learned the ( ) of catechism he would give him a Boy Scout bugle. And he said, "I did, and he did." [laughter] And Morgan called me the other day and said, "I didn't call you at 4:00 in the morning, but I found my bugle at 4:00 in the morning, and I'm going to give it the Boy Scouts as a relic."
JW: Isn't that nice?
BW: [laughter] We, we talked to Mr. John B. London and John ( ) who are partners here in business here in Charlotte for many years. They were members of the troop at the YMCA. And Jack, Jack London wa-- has a medal that he won for selling war bonds during the first world war. He and a number of others including, I believe, Morgan Speir, have mentioned the fact that during World War I the Boy Scouts collected peach pits.
JW: Peach pits?
BW: Why would a person collect peach pits? Well, it seemed that they take peach pits and, and incinerate them and make charcoal and put charcoal in gas masks. [laughter]
JW: Isn't that interesting.
BW: Well, one, one of, one of the things that they did. Scouting through the years has had a, a long series of Boy Scout camps. A long-- 'cause scouting is, we think of it as an outdoor activity to a large extent. We've had a lot of, of outdoor activities. The first Boy Scout camp of which we have record was on the Catawba River and that was prior to the big flood of 1916. By the way if you don't know have a report on the flood of 1916, you must, you must surely get one. The, I don't, don't know whether the camp was washed away or not. The earliest camp was below the, the road that now goes to Gastonia. The second Boy Scout camp on the river was built above Mountain Island Lake above the city of Charlotte watering intake. It was used only a single year because after we got our camp built in 1925, the health department came along and said you can't camp on the watershed. So we, that camp was closed down. Then Camp Steere down near the Buster Boyd Bridge was opened in 1925 or 26 and that camp was used for over fifty years.
JW: Had the land been donated to the Boy Scouts or did you buy it?
BW: It was--. No, the Camp Steere land was, let's see, was loaned to us by the Duke Power Company.
BW: They have always been mighty good friends of ours, and they let us use it. We used it for over fifty years and are still using it. About four years ago the Boy Scouts bought 1500 acres near Marion and we have a big new reservation there which has been this year I think will be its fourth time it's to be used.
JW: Is that just for the Charlotte Council or Boy Scouts from the rest of the state?
BW: For the Charlotte Council.
JW: Just the Charlotte council?
BW: Um-hum. Which include Mecklenburg County. Let me go back, I have a few notes here that. I have a friend Richard Simpson who is about my age. I'm sixty-eight. I joined the Boy Scouts in 1923. Dick Simpson was a local real estate man remembers when scouting was one of the principle, probably the principle, extracurricular activity for high school boys. At that time, it was generally accepted that, that a boy became twelve years old he joined the Boy Scouts. There was no night football at that time of course. High school athletics was small or there was almost, there was no intramural athletics between the Charlotte high school and the five or six county high schools. But there was little to do and Friday night was Boy Scout night. Mr. Simpson was talking and said that they were seven troops in the downtown area of Charlotte at one time. And he said on Friday night it looked like Charlotte was scout center with. There were boys in uniforms starting from St. Peters Catholic Church on South Tryon at First Street. Then there was a Tryon Street Methodist Church at Second. There was an ARP Church at 3rd. First Presbyterian Church on West Trade Street. The Second Presbyterian Church where Montaldos now is. St. Peters Episcopal Church right across from the public library. And the First Baptist Church where the Spirit Square is now being built. There were active Boy Scout troops in each one of those, each one of those churches downtown.
JW: Did they have a black Boy Scout troop here?
BW: Oh, I joined the Scouts in 1923. There were no black scouts at that time. I don't know when black scouting appeared on the scene. There were in addition to all these troops downtown of course there were many troops scattered out in the suburbs. Many mature men today remember James E. Steere. We spoke of him as Chief Ske -- Steere of the scouting period of the 19, of the 1925 to 1942 at the time of his retirement. There is probably no other man in Charlotte that had such an influence on young men, who had a greater influence on young men than he did. And many of us are, are certainly eternally grateful for the, the example that he set us and his insistence, and his insistence that any job worth doing was doing well. I interviewed Mr. Morgan Speir, as I said, within the last two weeks. I thought he made a, an excellent point about the Boy Scouts. He said, "I remember so many things about the Boy Scouts, things that we did. But truly the thing that I remember was the, the Scout oath and law, and the fact here was an organization that was devoting itself to, to" - did he say - "uplift of the development of moral character." And I, I was interested that Mr. Spier should make that comment because a lot of us do feel that way. Do feel that we have a, a strong obligation to this organization. You ask me some questions if you would, and then I'm going to have to run along.
JW: Um, have there been many changes in uniforms?
BW: Oh, I would say substantially not.
JW: No?
BW: They began in, the uniforms in 1916 or thereabouts were khaki uniforms the boys wore instead of, the boys wore coats instead of jackets. They all wore flat hats. Cavalry type hats with flat brims. Overseas caps did not appeal. We did not wear our shorts and didn't wear long pants. We wore lace britches that were in usually cotton, brown cotton stockings. The neckerchiefs have been a continuing characteristic of them. One of these men that I interviewed some months ago was telling me about the, they used to buy their uniforms at, at, at a store named York and Skinny York's daddy ran the store. [laughter]
BW: They remember those names. [laughter]
JW: Yes. Yes. Well, thank you very much, Mr. Whitton, for commenting on the Boy Scouts. .