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#145 Stanton Burgess, NU 1917: a member of America’s first Boy Scout Troop?

Jeff Dobbin 200 Things about Norwich, Fun Facts & Stats

A 1989 patch commemorating the second annual Boy Scout Camporee at Norwich University.

Norwich University is known for having many former Boy Scouts among its students, alumni, faculty, and staff. And scores of Norwich alumni were first introduced to the university through their attendance at Boy Scout camporees on the Hill in the late 1980s through the early 2000s. But it is a little-known fact that nearby Barre, Vermont, holds the distinction of being home to what was quite possibly the first Boy Scout troop ever formed in the United States. Even lesser known is that a member of that first troop attended Norwich University.

Dr. Stanton L. Burgess, NU 1917, was a retired dentist living in Clearwater, Florida, when he was interviewed in 1980 by Clearwater Times editor Robert Henderson. Henderson had published two articles in his paper on the “oldest former Cub Scouts,” and those earlier news items had caught the eye of Dr. Burgess. Burgess went to the Times office to tell the editor about what he believed to be the nation’s first Boy Scout troop, of which he was a member.

This monument reads: “First Baptist Church. Home of the First Boy Scout Troop in America. Organized Oct. 29, 1909 by William Foster Milne.”

Although there are conflicting claims as to who officially founded the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), there is little doubt that one of the first Boy Scout troops in the United States—if not THE first—was chartered in Burgess’ hometown of Barre, Vt., by William Foster Milne, a year before the BSA was established. A scout in Scotland before emigrating to Barre to work in the granite quarries, Milne established a Boy Scout troop in the fall of 1909, only a year after the movement had taken hold in Britain. The Barre troop met in the basement of the First Baptist Church and laid claim to the designation “Troop No. l.”

There were 17 Scouts in that first cohort, among them, 14-year-old Stanton Burgess and his 12-year-old twin brothers, Earl and Carl. Burgess was a member of the troop for four years, and according to the Clearwater Times article, liked to “reminisce about the picnics, hikes and other good times.” He also had in his possession a collection photographs from his time spent with the scouts.

At Norwich, Burgess was a classmate of Waterbury, Vt., native Harold Denny “Soup” Campbell, (see 200 Things #40). In 1914, the two became Phi Kappa Delta fraternity brothers together, and even though Burgess left Norwich the following year to enroll at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he maintained close ties with his former alma mater, attending alumni events in Boston and keeping in touch with classmates via the Norwich Record. After graduating from Harvard University Dental School in 1919, he set up a private practice. He died in 1984.

A Tribute to the “First” Boy Scout Troop in the United States

Local Boy Scout historian Steve Restelli is currently leading an effort to commission a piece of art conceived more than seven decades ago honoring Barre as the birthplace of the Boy Scouts. The project—a granite statue of a scout carrying a person on his shoulders—was started in 1941, but then stalled following the death of renowned Italian-born artist Carlo Abate. A master sculptor who trained generations of Barre granite artists, Abate was in the process of creating a plaster model for the statue when he passed away. Restelli is heading up a committee that seeks to finish the monument, to be carved out of the area’s signature gray granite by local artist Giuliano Cecchinelli II. The committee has applied for grants and set up a GoFundMe campaign with the goal of raising $32,000 toward the cost of the monument. Restelli is hopeful that the project will be completed in time for the Green Mountain Council’s annual Veterans Day parade.

By Diana L. Weggler