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Boy Scouts, YMCA have rich history

POSTED: March 28, 2010 1:00 a.m.

Boy Scouting is celebrating its 100th year nationwide. In Hall County the movement began about 1920, according to a history of local Boy Scouts written by Livingston Newton in 1927.

Journalist W.H. Craig wrote about Scouting in the Gainesville Eagle in 1913. But interest apparently didn't develop until several years later, perhaps because potential leaders were either busy at home or overseas during World War I.

"The people were doubtful of its success and were afraid to put their money into it," Newton wrote in his history. "Mr. J.H. Pittard enrolled and registered the first Boy Scouts in this city (Gainesville)." That probably was Joel H. Pittard, who taught school and coached championship football teams in Gainesville in the 1920s and '30s.

At first only a few boys joined Boy Scouts, but the movement began to catch on nationally and locally. "As time wore on more boys joined, and more adults were willing to give their time and assistance to this worthy cause," Newton wrote.

Churches began to organize troops, as did the villages of New Holland and Gainesville Mill.

In about 1923, local business and civic leaders Guy Barrett and John Rogers took charge of the local movement. They gathered support for a cabin that the Scouts themselves built, but unfortunately it burned about 1926.

The two men led weekly meetings, taught Scout laws and principles. They arranged regular swimming parties, teaching numerous boys who had never learned to swim. Barrett and Rogers took the boys to other area communities that were getting involved in Boy Scouts and to Scout rallies and camps in the mountains.

One of the camps was Camp Flanigan in Rabun County. Scouts continue their camping experiences today with Camp Rainey Mountain in Rabun County and Scoutland on Lake Lanier.

The late Ed Dodd, who gained fame for the comic strip "Mark Trail," also was instrumental in the early growth of Boy Scouts in the area. An avid outdoorsman, the Gainesville artist talked his way into a camp operated by Dan Beard in New York state. Beard had organized a boys' outdoors organization that he merged with the Boy Scouts of America when it formed in 1910. Beard and Dodd became close friends.

When Newton wrote his history in 1927, 100 boys were involved in Hall County troops. Fifteen had earned the Eagle rank. Today, more than 2,300 are registered as Boy Scouts in 57 troops in Hall County. A Gainesville council that formed in 1928 merged with one in Athens and became the Northeast Georgia Boy Scout Council in 1935. Now based in Pendergrass, it covers 26 counties with more than 24,000 boys in 611 troops.

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YMCA, Young Men's Christian Association, seems relatively new in Hall County because of its facility built off Ga. 365 in July 2007.

But the organization had roots in the area as far back as 1876. A.M. Jackson and M.J. Cofer had organized a YMCA in Gainesville with more than 100 members. Ministers from the Presbyterian, Baptist, Episcopal and Methodist churches were cooperating in furthering the YMCA's work in the area.

Jackson as president organized local men and women volunteers.

Said an article in an 1876 Christian Worker publication: "Gainesville is a flourishing town on the Air Line Railroad, and the establishing of an association will aid in extending YMCA work into many other places in Northeast Georgia. ... This association has already entered upon the work of cottage meetings and will soon have a nice hall and reading room. ‘What is worth doing is worth doing well.' Such is the motto of the Gainesville YMCA."

The organization apparently faded in later years, though attempts to revive it surfaced occasionally. When the Gainesville Daily Times first started in 1947, one of the key planks in its editorial platform was the establishment of a YMCA.

Y supporters began a series of meetings in 1995 to get the organization going for real. Hall County YMCA got its charter in May 1998 and began an after-school program in local schools the next year.

The J.A.Walters Family YMCA off Ga. 365 opened in July 2007. The organization changed its name to Georgia Mountains YMCA as it extended its reach into Gilmer, Fannin, Towns, Union, Dawson and White counties.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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