Two blocks southwest of Broad Street in Falls Church, youth groups of all ages can find themselves transported back in time to the scout house. The rustic log cabin was built in 1939 which means that the Scout House will mark its 80th Anniversary next year.
The cabin’s construction was made possible through a fundraising drive that consisted of $600 for the two-acre property and $4,500 to build the property. In its inaugural year, the greater Falls Church area was home to nine Boy Scout troops.
At the time, Falls Church was significantly more rural in character compared to neighboring Washington, D.C.
Today, all of Northern Virginia is considerably more urbanized, especially Falls Church.
As a result, scouts in Falls Church and similar suburban locations generally take trips farther away to the Shenandoah. However, much of scouting takes place locally.
“A lot of the very basic skills like using a stove, knife safety, setting up your tents, a lot of those basic foundational skills are taught in the meetings and then those can be practically applied in the woods,” explained Falls Church Scout Building Association (FCSBA) secretary and a troop assistant scoutmaster Joe Knecht. “All of my peers who went through the scouting program would attribute a lot of their successes in adult life to the foundations that were laid in scouting.”
In the interim, many of the scouts in the area feel that the homely nature of the scout house, however, bridges the divide between urban and rural.
“The minute you walk in there, like if you’ve been to a cabin in the wilderness, it immediately transports you back in time to that environment,” says Troop 895 assistant scoutmaster Matt Dillard.
The scout troops typically meet at the home of their charter organization. For example, one troop is chartered by Falls Church Presbyterian Church and meets there while another is chartered by Saint James Catholic Church.
Both, however, use facilities at the scout house.
The scout house allows for more rigorous activity than some of the chartering organizations’ homes are equipped for.
“A den master or St. James is not going to say ‘Why don’t you teach kids how to chop wood with an axe in the church business. The Scout Master is going to do those activities that don’t set themselves [well in the Church in the scout house] basement,’” explains Knecht.
It also abates any scheduling burdens on the chartering organizations.
Troop 895, for example, used the scout house for a ham radio workshop, but it also turns to the house if the Falls Church Presbyterian Church’s facilities are in use.
The scout house is open to all youth-oriented groups which include Brownies, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, groups from the YMCA and a co-ed Hungarian youth group.
The FCSBA charges a user’s fee to defray operating costs. They also rent out the facility to neighbors.
“Occasionally they ask us, and as good neighbors, we make it available to them. We’ve had birthday parties and a rehearsal dinners,” explains FCSBA president Bruce Sanford.
Perhaps what was most remarkable about the log house’s construction is the degree to which it was a true community effort under the supervision of Falls Church Scout Committee Walter Johnson.
Johnson secured building materials and labor throughout the community, while various contractors donated architectural and building services, and another couple, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Turner, donated the logs and stones.
When the initial fundraising fell short, 15 local residents bounded together to guarantee a loan from the bank.
For their part, the scouts collected discarded papers, toothpaste, shaving cream tubes, and license plates to reduce the building‘s debt.
The tradition of scouts working towards the self-sufficiency of the scout house continues today. Workdays are held throughout the fall and spring to maintain the grounds and property with volunteers welcome as well.
As it was built at the onset of World War II, the scout house was designated as an air raid shelter, a hospital and first aid shelter in case of an emergency.
While Knecht describes it as a “museum of sorts”, each scouting group has a space on the walls for a bulletin board with pictures, flags and other mementos to show that the piece is being claimed by those in the present as well.
The date of the anniversary event has yet to be decided.
The building association is currently in the stages of collecting feedback from alumni and user groups to coordinate the event. Knecht and his colleagues say they want it to be an opportunity for all former scouts to connect over the experiences they received from the programs.