We need your help — Support your hometown newspaper by making a donation.

Oceanside lays claim to first Eagle Scout (Part Two)

Posted

To read Part One, click here

Since Arthur R. Eldred was conferred as America’s first Eagle Scout, representatives from Rockville Centre have aggressively laid claim to the village being his home.

Despite local historian Richard Woods’ claim that Eldred was an Oceanside resident, Rockville Centre has heavily publicized its claim that Eldred was one of its own — in large part due to its claim that he joined Troop 1 of Rockville Centre, which, the representatives said, has been renamed and is now Troop 40. Over the years, the village has held numerous Boy Scout celebrations heralding its claim to fame as being the home of the first Eagle Scout and enlisted countless state and local officials to speak to this claim. Rockville Centre even went as far as establishing Eagle Scout Park and placing a memorial to Eldred.

While objective, historical documentary evidence overwhelmingly corroborates that Eldred grew up in Oceanside, can the village still boast that Eldred was affiliated with Rockville Centre by joining Boy Scout Troop No. 1?

The answers can be found by examining the words of Eldred himself. In early 1940, Eldred wrote a letter to Dr. Walter S. Boardman, who was the principal of Oceanside High School and an active volunteer with the Boy Scouts of America Boardman had written Eldred asking about his past and the history of scouting in Oceanside. 

Eldred described the start of scouting in Oceanside related to the fact that Rockville Centre had a troop of American Boy Scouts in 1910. The American Boy Scouts, not to be confused with the Boy Scouts of America, were rival scouting organizations. The two organizations, however, were frequently confused for one another. So when Eldred’s older brother, Hubert, went to New York City to start an Oceanside chapter of the American Boy Scouts, he accidentally ended up at the headquarters of the Boy Scouts of America. Eldred wrote that Hubert was so impressed with the ideals of the Boy Scouts of America, that he decided to start a troop. Hubert became the scoutmaster of the newly formed Troop No. 1 of Rockville Centre. 

Eldred wrote that the Troop was called Troop No. 1 of Rockville Centre because while they lived on Terrell Avenue, they received their mail through the Rockville Centre Post Office. All of the boys who joined the troop, however, were students of the Oceanside school, according to Eldred. Eldred further stated that the troop met on the second floor of his family’s barn of Terrell Avenue, in Oceanside, where they were able to conduct various scouting activities. 

In the fall of 192, Eldred left Troop No. 1 after enrolling in Cornell University. He wrote that he believed the troop disbanded in early 1913 after his brother moved away.  In 1916, the Rev. L. Walter Stephens started a Boy Scout Club of the Oceanside Presbyterian Church, which became a troop with the Boy Scouts of America, and Eldred served as the assistant scoutmaster when he was home from Cornell.

The troop would regularly meet at Oceanside’s Columbia Fire House. The only connection to Rockville Centre involved the name “Troop No. 1 of Rockville Centre.”  Whether the troop was given that name in 1910 was either the result of the Boy Scouts of America competing with the American Boy Scouts or due to the fact that the Eldred household received its mail from the Rockville Centre post office.

There is little doubt that the troop’s actual connection to a community was with Oceanside: the scoutmaster lived in Oceanside; the troop met in Oceanside; and the members of the troop were all students of the Oceanside School District. 

While Rockville Centre has long claimed to be the home of America’s first Eagle Scout, based on object evidence it is unclear whether Eldred ever stepped foot within the boundaries of the incorporated village. Furthermore, it is also not entirely clear exactly how Troop No. 40 of Rockville Centre delineates its origins to Eldred’s Troop No. 1 — especially given Eldred’s account of how Troop No. 1 disbanded in early 1913. 

Therefore, based on an objective and careful review of the facts, despite a concerted effort to rewrite history going back generations, Oceanside is the true home of America’s first Eagle Scout.