Scouting History

Scouting History in the Heart of America Council - July 2016

by Andy Dubill, Council Historian

An Aquatic Legend: The Summer Camp Swimming Hole

Scouter R.L. Flynn had recently returned from camp at Elk Springs and reported that Boy Scouts were in for a real treat in 1915 as the swimming hole was 15 feet deep and 200 feet long. Scout Executive Palmer reported that he had been to the campsite to inspect it and it was the best that he had ever seen. In fact, the swimming hole was so fine that he went in twice in one day to enjoy a swim. Youth in the early part of the century did not have access to community swimming pools like their children and grandchildren did later.

Swimming in a clean river with lifeguards was a special treat. One of the later camp brochures from the Elk River camps emphasized that “swimming in the Elk River is almost ideal.” Nature had shaped a deep end for experienced swimmers upstream in the Elk River and a shallow end downstream for beginning swimmers. The camp owned a “Shoot-the-Shoots” which was a giant slide that catapulted Scouts into the river at high speeds as well as a diving platform. These two novelties were seen in many early camp brochures and movies as they were two of the high points of the camping experience.

Lifesaving classes were another important part of camp. In 1922, Dr. Elliott Smith, who was known as an expert Red Cross Lifeguard and a nationally known swimming instructor, was in charge of the swimming instruction and water sports program at Camp Dan Sayre in Noel, Missouri. Safety was paramount at these early camps as parents counted on the Kansas City Council to return their sons safe and sound after camp every year.

If you have questions about Scouting history that would be good topics for future columns email Andy Dubill at