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The Boy Scout Hut

In my newspaper column for tomorrow, I mention the historic Boy Scout Hut in Arkadelphia.

Here’s the context: The column is basically a review of John P. Gill’s fascinating history of the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion, “Open House,” which recently was published by the books division of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies.

I wrote: “While attending the annual meeting of the Arkansas Historical Association several years ago at DeGray Lake Resort State Park, I was approached by Little Rock attorney John P. Gill.

“‘You’re from Arkadelphia, aren’t you?’ Gill asked.

“When I responded that Arkadelphia was indeed my hometown, Gill requested that I go into town with him.

“‘There are two things I’ve always wanted to see,’ he said. ‘I’ve never been up to DeSoto Bluff, and I’ve never been to the Boy Scout Hut.’

“We walked through the woods that warm spring day so Gill could see the bluff view high above the Ouachita River. We then went to the Depression-era log cabin known as the Scout Hut. Located in a wooded area of Arkadelphia City Park, the Scout Hut was constructed by the National Youth Administration.

“Few people from outside Arkadelphia would have known about either the bluff or the Scout Hut. But few people know this state, its history and its landmarks better than Gill. That’s why he was the perfect person to write a history of the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion.”

I grew up in a wonderful neighborhood known as Ouachita Hills, within easy walking distance of both the bluff and the Scout Hut. It was a great neighborhood for running through the woods, going to the banks of the Ouachita River, exploring Mill Creek and wandering through Arkadelphia City Park.

When you’re young, you don’t think about the historic significance of things. It was only as an adult that I learned that the Scout Hut has quite a history.

It’s one of the best remaining examples of the work done by the National Youth Administration.

The Arkansas Historic Preservation Program website gives this history of the NYA: “First lady Eleanor Roosevelt was the leading advocate of the National Youth Administration and a leader in its establishment in June 1935. The NYA was an equal opportunity agency, providing aid and opportunities to all races and genders. It was established to provide emergency relief and employment to those between the ages of 16 and 25.

“The NYA program was twofold in that it catered to youth who were in school, as well as those not currently attending school. According to Robert Cohen, the NYA employed more than 2 million students between 1936 and 1943 (including more than 10 percent of the total college student population). This enabled them to continue their education, which many would not have been able to do were it not for the New Deal programs. The NYA also employed an additional 2.6 million youths in the out-of-school program.

“Dorothy Canfield Fisher, a writer and friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, noted that the second part of the NYA program was due in part to an Arkansas experience. Located in Arkansas were four work-study homes that were a response to the Depression. Their results in combining agricultural work with study and an alternative to home life gained national attention. According to Fisher, these four ‘homes’ promoted a degree of job training, health, enthusiasm and good citizenship, which later became goals of the NYA.

“The NYA was responsible for employing youth across America. Arkansas youths completed various NYA projects throughout the state from 1935, the year of the program’s implementation, to the year of its termination. Congressional conservatives brought an end to the NYA in July 1943, eight years and one month after its establishment.”

The Boy Scout Hut at Arkadelphia was constructed in 1938-39 under the supervision of a district supervisor named Edwin Dean from Camden and an area supervisor named Edward Wayte from Hope. Almost 30 unemployed local boys were paid by the NYA for work on the project.

Local leaders ranging from school superintendent L.M. Goza to Mayor Thedore Goodloe were involved.

Arkadelphia is in timber country, and local timbermen and forestry-related companies were quick to pitch in. Tom Clark provided trucks and 850 feet of lumber, while John Sturgis provided 500 feet of center-match slabs. The Sturgis Lumber Co. donated cypress lumber, the Ozan-Graysonia Lumber Co. contributed the logs for the walls, the Clark County Lumber Co. donated cash and materials, the Arkadelphia Sand & Gravel Co. suppled gravel and sand and the Kraft Paper & Pulp Co. supplied additional logs.

The Arkadelphia Rotary Club donated $217.28 to purchase windows and doors, and the city provided the use of its trucks.

In other words, the entire community pitched in.

The building was considered city property, but it provided a meeting space for the two local Boy Scout troops — Troop 23 and Troop 24 (I was in Troop 24 and became an Eagle Scout in 1976). The Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts were later allowed to use the building. Even though the facility is known as the Boy Scout Hut, it has been used far more by the Girl Scouts in recent decades.

According to the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program: “The Arkadelphia Boy Scout Hut is typical of buildings constructed by the Works Progress Administration, Civilian Conservation Corps and NYA during the Great Depression. However, it is the only known structure, out of the 724 properties surveyed in Arkadelphia, built by the NYA.

“More than likely, any federal funds received through the numerous New Deal programs were funneled into the town through other programs. The WPA funded the construction of the National Guard Armory in 1940, but these are the only two properties in Arkadelphia known to have been built with funds from the New Deal programs. Thus the Boy Scout Hut is not only unique because of its association with the NYA but also because it is the only Rustic-style building in Arkadelphia designed during the New Deal era.”

So that’s the Scout Hut.

We’ll tackle the bluff at a later time. After all, my Eagle Scout project was to clean up the bluff. I consider it one of the finest pieces of undeveloped property inside the city limits of any Arkansas town.

I took Mike Huckabee to see the bluff one day with this in mind: If lightning struck and he became president, his presidential library should go there with large windows that would take advantage of those marvelous views of the Ouachita River, the pine woods of the Gulf Coastal Plain to the east and south and the Ouachita Mountains to the north and west.

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