Boy Scouting in Oxford, back in the day02/20/2023 11:58PM ● By Steven Hoffman
By Mike Heron
Those of us who grew up in the 1950s in our little village of Oxford really didn't know how good we had it. The town was small enough that everyone knew almost everyone else. There was very little crime, good participation in church activities, and a real sense of community. In addition to having a swimming pool, and good schools, there was plenty of fun to be had, both organized and unstructured.
After a few years in Cub Scouts many of us had the opportunity to become Boy Scouts—a real sense of upward movement. Our little village had two scout troops! Troop Thirteen and Troop Forty-Four. Francis X Maule was the distinguished scoutmaster for Thirteen and Joe Coates led Troop 44, with his sons in leadership positions. I don’t know why, but for some reason I chose Mr. Maule’s outfit, partly because he was paternal, and a good role model. He later went on to be Oxford’s mayor. In looking over his obituary, he had 75 years of leadership with the Boy Scouts of America! And he was also quite the historian on Oxford. But all in all, the two troops were friendly rivals. My best friend was in Troop 44 and we constantly argued which was the better.
There were about 30 scouts in each troop, divided into patrols of 8 or 10. My patrol leader was an older scout, Lane Jackson, who was an Eagle and deeply respected by everyone. He went on to be an officer in the Peoples Bank of Oxford. He was a great role model.
We met once a month after dinner down at the scout cabin on lower Wheeler Boulevard. It wasn't until years later that I realized that most scout troops didn't have their own facility, but were required to use church basements, service clubs, etc. for their gatherings. We had a neat log cabin with a humongous moose head hanging over the fireplace!
We worked on merit badges all the time, and this built a sense of challenge and accomplishment in young men. We wore them on a sash across our chests. Great bragging material. I rose to the rank of Star, a couple of notches below Eagle.
I still use skills I learned in scouts: first aid, tying knots, lashing wood beams, swimming and lifesaving techniques, etc. I also learned about discipline, respecting elders, and being of service to the community
Oxford scouting also meant several trips a year down to Camp Horseshoe, a beautiful Boy Scout Reservation on the banks of the Octoraro, a tributary of the Susquehanna, not far from Rising Sun, Md. In winter we would make a retreat to Horseshoe for a December or January weekend in a rustic cabin—the only heat was a huge fireplace. Once we were caught in a winter blizzard and the Oxford Fire Department rode to our rescue. They broke a trail through heavy snow drifts for several carloads of scouts. I rode in the back of the firetruck and the driver blew the siren when he approached a large snow drift so the cars following could build up a little more speed and break through. It was a great thrill.
I also attended Horseshoe with my troop over several summers for a week’s camping. It was always great fun. Four or six of us would bunk in open-sided cabins, sleeping on straw mattresses, almost like being under the stars. The ‘washhouse’ and latrine was at least 50 feet off into the woods.
In the dining hall there was always singing at dinner, which pitted one troop against another. I still remember the lyrics from “John Jacob Jingle Heimer Schmidt,” “I Wish I Was in Amsterdam, (Amster Amster Dam Dam Dam)” and “Green Grow the Rushes O.” The food was fair but there was always plenty of ‘bug juice’ (Kool Aid).
Naturally there was spirited competition between us and other troops in Chester County. It seemed our perennial rival was the Paoli One group. They were always well-buttoned down, usually won the marching and skill games, and were always impeccably attired. I came to find out later they were organized and run by retired military men, fresh from World War II, and it showed. But since it was the early 1950s, most of our scout fathers had served in the army, etc. and taught us lots about marching, policing our campsites, discipline, etc.
The last night of our week at camp at dusk there was always a game of ‘Carry The Flag’ where half the camp tried to get a banner to the top of Mount Eagle, and the other half had to prevent it. It was great fun sneaking through the woods without being detected or intercepted. We all felt like commandos in World War II.
Three or four of my fellow scouts in Troop 13 went for the respected ‘God and Country” religious award, and I was invited to attend the ceremony as part of Sunday services at the Oxford Presbyterian Church. This was a thrill since as a Catholic we were usually forbidden from attending other services. Then a couple of months later I was awarded the equivalent Ad Altare Dei medal at my Catholic Church. We returned the invitation and several of my scout mates were invited to Mass. They were confounded by all the kneeling and Latin prayers, but it was all good.
By far my favorite scouting memory involves the Great Blizzard of 1958, an unusual Nor’easter that clobbered the Mid-Atlantic states with 3 to 4 feet of drifting snow, closing U.S. Route 1. All the Oxford hotel rooms at both places were booked, and the Fire Department was rescuing stranded motorists off Route 1, which at that time was the main route from Washington to New York.
The firemen and rescue crews brought all the stranded motorists to the fire house. Scouts were called out to help escort rescued folks to various shelters, to meeting rooms at the Presbyterian Church, and to nearby private homes for the night. The community really came together to help the many isolated motorists. We hauled fire blankets and jugs of coffee and food. In all, we Scouts felt like we were real lifesavers. The atmosphere was magical with snow up to our waists and an eerie quiet, moonlit night, not too cold. Rescued families were for the most part very grateful, but my aunt and uncle took in several stranded New Yorkers who complained quite a bit about having to sleep on the carpet, despite having a hot meal, blankets, pillows, etc.!
I was fairly active in Boy Scouts from the time I was 10 (when I graduated from Cubs) until I was 15 or so. Scouting was a great experience, and I relish the memories. Alas, girls and cars started distracting me....
Mike Heron resides in Atlanta, Georgia now, but lived in Oxford as a youth from 1943 to 1964. His parents owned Heron’s Soda Shoppe.