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SRAC History

Bringing Scouting to Our Area

The Suwannee River Area Council was chartered in 1924, but Scouting had already been in the area for more than a decade by that time. In the earliest days of the Boy Scout movement, troops were served directly by the National Council, and each town managed its own programs. 

Thomasville has the distinction of being the first community in our council to start a Scout troop. Will Watt, a young leader who was already heavily involved in the local Rotary Club and Y.M.C.A., brought the idea home in 1912 after attending a Scout encampment in Virginia. When a local council formed in August of that year, Watt became its first commissioner. J. Scott Hunter was its first Scoutmaster. The city’s first ten Scouts passed their necessary tests to become troop members on November 14, 1912.

Tallahassee formed a local council of its own in 1912 with some serious star power at the helm. The first commissioner was Frederick M. Hudson, a former president of the Florida Senate. Commissioner of Agriculture William A. McRae and State Printer T.J Appleyard were also on the board. The first Tallahassee youth to officially become a Scout was John Gamble, who passed the necessary Tenderfoot test on December 27, 1912.

Scouting first arrived in Whigham in 1914 when Rev. Llewellyn of the Methodist Church organized a patrol of 8 boys led by Edwin Laine (patrol leader) and Herbert Bell (assistant patrol leader).

Scouting first arrived in Whigham in 1914 when Rev. Llewellyn of the Methodist Church organized a patrol of 8 boys led by Edwin Laine (patrol leader) and Herbert Bell (assistant patrol leader).

Perry’s first Scout troop emerged in 1917 with Fred G. Warde as Scoutmaster. U.S. Senator Claude Pepper served briefly as Scoutmaster in Perry when he practiced law there in the 1920s.

Bainbridge also had a troop at least as early as 1917, but it appears to have been short-lived. In 1919, a new troop was formed with D.H. Wood and then J. Robert Haire as Scoutmaster. The troop expanded until it had to split into two troops in 1920.

It’s unclear exactly when Quincy got its first troop, but the city had to have one by early 1918 because the Tallahassee Democrat reported on a good turn done by one of the members. J.C. Jessup was listed as the Scoutmaster.

These are just a few of the more prominent communities where Scouting emerged in the early years of the movement. By 1940, the Suwannee River Area Council was serving Scouts in 15 counties in North Florida and South Georgia.

Map of the 15 counties historically part of the Suwannee River Area Council.

A Camp of Our Own

Our council’s first summer camp was located on Lake Bradford in Leon County and was briefly called Camp Sonokyaholee. The property was purchased from Tallahassee troops 1 and 2 in 1920. Ralph Holt of Quincy served as the first trained camp director in 1926.

As the Scouting movement grew, the summer camp program needed more space. In 1927, Herman C. Fleitman of Leon County and New York donated ten acres of land on Orchard Pond, as well as $10,000 toward new buildings. Orchard Pond is located about 12 miles north of Tallahassee. Fleitman intended the gift as a memorial to his friend Dr. Tennant Ronalds, a winter resident of Leon County who had purchased the Orchard Pond property around 1916 and left it to Fleitman in his will. The main building at Camp Orchard Pond was named Ronalds Hall in his honor.

Summer camp operated at Orchard Pond from 1928 to 1947, when the need for more space prompted council officials to lease a new campsite in the Apalachicola National Forest—Camp Semialachee.

See the Summer Camp Leaders page for a list of key staff members from camps Sonokyaholee and Orchard Pond.

Camp Semialachee

By the late 1940s, Camp Orchard Pond was too small to properly serve the growing Scout population of the Suwannee River Area Council. In 1946, Council President R. Harris Jefferson of Cairo appointed a committee to search for a new place to hold summer camp. The Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce urged the council to consider leasing land in the nearby Apalachicola National Forest. In May 1947, Scout officials negotiated a long-term lease for 227 acres on Cypress Lake, now called Moore Lake, about 13 miles southwest of Tallahassee.

Constructing new buildings for the camp turned out to be a race against time. Contracts for the dining hall and pump house were not finalized until the last week of May 1948. Luckily, work on the dining hall was finished just in time. Members of the local Order of the Arrow lodge arrived at the new camp on July 29, 1948 and put in a week of hard work getting everything ready for the first troops to arrive.

The name “Semialachee” is a contraction of “Seminole” and “Apalachee,” both Native American tribes that once inhabited the area. The name came about in 1948 when the Order of the Arrow lodge, then called Suriarco, held a contest to come up with a new name. “Semialachee” was the winning entry, and the council applied it to both the lodge and the new camp.

The last event at Camp Semialachee was a camporee in April 1966. Summer camp operations moved to the new Wallwood Scout Reservation later that year.

See the Summer Camp Leaders page for a list of key staff members from Camp Semialachee.

Building Wallwood

By the mid-1950s, the children of America’s post-World War II “Baby Boom” were beginning to reach Scouting age, and Camp Semialachee simply couldn’t keep up with the growing Scout population. As early as 1956, council officials were on the hunt for a new facility that could serve the needs of local Scouting programs for at least 20 years.

Dr. Charlie K. Wall was one of many potential donors the council approached for help. Dr. Wall was a retired surgeon from Thomasville, Georgia who had settled near Tallahassee with his wife Margaret. Council fundraising officials first asked Dr. Wall to contribute to a program called “Trustees of Scouting,” but when he heard the council’s most urgent need was for a new, larger summer camp, he proposed a different idea. He and Mrs. Wall donated 476 acres of land on the western side of Lake Talquin. Frank L. Pittman, a descendant of one of Gadsden County’s pioneer families, donated an additional parcel of land, and the State of Florida granted the council a lease for 68 acres of lake frontage. The new site, named Wallwood Boy Scout Reservation in honor of its primary donor, was dedicated on April 4, 1964 with more than 1,000 Scouts and Scouters present.

Thanks to a massive, ambitious fundraising drive, most of the camp’s main buildings were completed in time for the 1966 summer camp season. Later additions included a high adventure outpost at Camp Tom Matherly north of the main camp (1990), a pool (2000), and multi-purpose activity buildings and shower houses (2000). View a list of camp facilities at Wallwood and information about their donors and the dates of their construction.

See the Summer Camp Leaders page for a list of key staff members from Wallwood Scout Reservation.

Wallwood Traditions

The Wallwood Marathon is a competitive relay race, usually run on Family Night. The legs of the race change from year to year, but it usually starts near the middle of camp and ends up at the lake with a canoeing and/or rowing leg. In recent years, the “baton” has been edible, and must be consumed by a Scoutmaster for the troop’s race to be called complete. The marathon has been run each year since at least as far back as 1968.

Since 1966, Scouts and adult leaders from each troop have memorialized their week at Wallwood by etching their names into a concrete stone. More than 1,700 of these stones form a walkway around the outer edge of the Parade Field. In some cases, multiple generations from a single family are represented along the walkway. View an index of the walkway stones organized by troop.

The "Clean Table Award"—a giant wooden fork, knife, or spoon depending on the year—is traditionally handed out by a staff member after each meal to the troop with the cleanest table. The winning troop has the honor of writing its number and the names of its members on the award itself, plus getting in line first for the next meal.

Not every tradition stands the test of time, and that was the case with the once-beloved Critter Crawl. This now-defunct competition, which had its origins at Camp Semialachee, featured animals Scouts captured during their week at camp—grasshoppers, snakes, lizards, etc. They would stand with their animals at the center of a large circle and, on a staff member’s signal, release the animals on the ground. The Scout whose animal exited the circle first and was then successfully recaptured was the winner. This event appears to have fallen out of use by the mid-1980s.

Order of the Arrow

The Order of the Arrow recognizes Scouts and Scouters who best exemplify the Scout Oath and Law in their daily lives. The organization promotes camping, responsible outdoor adventure, and environmental stewardship, in addition to providing cheerful service to Scout units, the local council, and the community. The Order was established in 1915 at Treasure Island Scout Camp along the Delaware River by Camp Director E. Urner Goodman and his assistant Carroll A. Edson. 

The Order of the Arrow first appeared in our area in 1939. In announcing plans for that year’s summer camp season at Camp Orchard Pond, the Tallahassee Democrat wrote that “a new society for two-week campers” called the “Order of the Arrows” would be formed. To be eligible, Scouts had to earn their Orchard Pond wings and complete work in nature study and lifesaving.

The lodge was officially chartered on June 16, 1943 as Suriarco Lodge 239. “Suriarco” was a contraction of the first two letters of each word in the name of the local council—SUwannee RIver ARea COuncil.

In 1948, a contest was held to choose a new name for the lodge. Members voted on a series of suggestions printed in the lodge newsletter,  and Semialachee was the winner. “Semialachee” is a contraction of the names of two Native American tribes who once inhabited this region, the Seminoles and the Apalachees.

Patches and other memorabilia from Semialachee Lodge usually feature a crawling Native American figure. The original design is believed to be the work of a French artist commissioned by Gilbert Pirrung, a prominent Scouter from Bainbridge, Georgia. The same artist had already made portraits of Mr. Pirrung’s children and designed a patch for a camporee held in his district.

Semialachee Lodge 239 is guided by youth leaders with the assistance of adult advisers.

View a list of youth and adult lodge members from the 1940s to the present.