By Alex Russell
The Scout House — a sturdy, mild-mannered log cabin operated by the Falls Church Scout Building Association — has consistently played a major community role for the parents and children of the Little City since the early 1940s.
Located at 128 South Spring Street, the Scout House has not moved location since its original construction. But it would have never been built in the first place if not for the local community pitching in their time, money and effort.
When the initial fundraising drive fell short of its $4,500 goal in the early months of 1939, fifteen local residents stepped up to the plate. Together, they got a guaranteed loan from the Falls Church Bank, which helped fund the rest of the building’s construction the following year.
A.J. Webb, assisted by Kenton Hamer (builder of the Falls Church Presbyterian Church) and George W. Carlton worked together to design the Scout House. Walter Johnson, chairman of the Falls Church Scout Committee, worked to secure pledges, construction materials and help from local groups and businesses throughout Falls Church. Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Turner of Fairfax County donated the logs and stones that give the Scout House its rugged, rustic exterior.
Having been around for over 80 years, the Scout House has performed a wide variety of functions for the Falls Church community.
Events ranging from square dances to elections have taken place there over its long history. Different youth and educational groups have made use of this trusted meeting place throughout the years as well, such as the YMCA and other local organizations. During World War II, the House helped the war effort by temporarily serving as a first air center and even as an air-raid shelter.
Through it all, the Scout House never failed to live up to its name. Since its inception, it has been a welcoming place for Boy and Girl Scout troops from the Falls Church community and the surrounding area to assemble, plan camping trips and work on key Scouting lessons and skills.
Falls Church resident Aime Ballard-Wood has a unique connection to the Scout House. Her great-uncle Vernon “Jack” Ballard helped build the original structure and had remained linked to the Scout House for a long time afterward. At one point in time, he fulfilled the role of Treasurer for the Falls Church Scout Building Association.
Even though her great-uncle’s reputation in the community was firmly established, Ballard-Wood recalled that during one unlucky election day, Jack was kept from casting his ballot as he had forgotten his wallet (and accompanying proof of identity) at home. Even though almost everyone knew who he was, he had to circle back home before he could be allowed into the Scout House.
Ballard-Wood reflected on her “really cool family history,” saying that she currently lives just “around the corner” from the house her grandparents lived in and how her son, now a high school student, participated in a pre-K program operating out of the Scout House.
Called “On the Right Track,” the program was taught by another Little City luminary, Suhasini “Sue” John, who for over 25 years helped educate the young children of her community, using the Scout House to fulfill this mission.
Scouting, a major part of America’s youth throughout the 1950s and 60s, suffered a drop in numbers until picking up again around the early 2000s. Since then, a resurgent interest in Scouting has kept the Scout House busy.
Two local Boy Scout troops (Troops 681 and 895) have made the Scout House their base of operations and even an international youth group — The Hungarian Scouts of Washington D.C., part of the Hungarian Scout Association — uses the Falls Church Scout House for its meetings and activities.
Educating the youth of today to be responsible, civic-minded people has always been one of the underlying missions of scouting. The development of character and strong personal values, as well as the focus on teamwork and experiential learning, are some of the major hallmarks of the Scouting experience — hallmarks that the Scout House has dependably helped to support for its troops over the years.
Former Scout Building Association Secretary Joe Knecht recollects his first troop meeting as a fifth grader and how he considered the Scout House to be “the coolest place in town.” Now a parent, his two young sons love spending time at the Scout House and know it to be an important local landmark.
When asked about the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic had on the Scout House, Knecht said that there was a “hard stop” placed on in-person activities. In accordance with guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there was a period of time when the House was not used. Instead, emphasis was placed on small group-led activities outside, like campfire training and knot-tying.
Thankfully, as the pandemic continued to wane, the board “smartly opened” things up, conducting events with a limited number of participants, implementing mask-wearing and making sure to disinfect recently-used surfaces.
The role of the Scout House, both in terms of supporting local troops and in providing the community with a reliable meeting place, cannot be understated.
Its storied history and its place in the Little City has not failed to continuously make its mark in people’s lives across multiple generations.
Knecht reflected on how there is a strong sense of “continuity,” with successive generations going into scouting there as well as with both former and existing members of the Board actively making sure that the Scout House is in good shape to serve the community’s “current youth and future generations.”
“[There] are so few of those old scout huts left,” reflected Knecht. To help keep the feel and spirit of scouting alive in Falls Church, the Board has been making sure to “maintain [the Scout House] as it is,” preserving its connection to the city’s history as well as its own.