The moisture on the tent was cold; the dew having set in over the course of the night. In the distance wild dogs can be heard talking to each other in a jumbled mix of yips, growls, and barks. Another train rolls through, sending the rumblings through the night as the metal wheels rattle on the iron tracks bound for a distant destination. The blinking yellow-white stars fill a clear bluish-black night sky, dazzling and capturing the imagination of yet another generation of young scouts. Sitting, huddled beneath a blanket inside the small tent, scouts warm themselves against the cold, October night. In a few hours, after the sun rises, creating a reddish-purple painting across the morning sky, the scouts would rise from their tents and huddle around their crackling orange fires to knock a bit of the chill off of themselves. Soon they would scramble around, performing their chores and adhering to a Patrol Duty Roster to gather wood, water, and begin cooking their breakfast. After forty-five years, Boy Scouts had returned to Camp Irondale.
In 1913 Major H.H. Simmons, a British veteran of the Boer War, transferred from being a Chicago (Illinois) Area Council Field Secretary to become the St. Louis (Missouri) Council Scout Executive of the Boy Scouts of America, a position he would fill until 1921. Another local supporter of the early Boy Scouts of America movement, Clarence H. Howard; the president of Commonwealth Steel Company, permitted Major Simmons to operate a summer camp on Howard’s Washington County (Missouri) farm near the small town of Irondale, the camp being called Grenia Springs, a name taken from the early days of the town of Irondale’s history.
The first group of settlers had gathered in 1806 on what would become the community of Irondale, Missouri. Hughes Mountain was named for John Hughes, one of those first settlers, who owned the grist mill, John McCormick, Hezekiah Horton, and Moses Grenia. Moses Grenia built a cabin near one of the local springs, which was named for him, Grenia Springs, which was kept by the Boy Scouts as a museum for many years.
Summer camps continued to be operated out of the Irondale area each year. Originally, in 1913, at Grenia Springs and then in 1919 the name was changed to Camp Roosevelt to honor the recently deceased former 26th President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt, in 1920 it received it’s official name when Clarence Howard, who had become the St. Louis Council President in 1918, he gave the Council the entire 53-acre tract of land he had just bought from the Big River Lead Company in the same region and it was dubbed the Irondale Scout Camp Reservation, or as it was known Camp Irondale. Eventually more land was added, after his death, Clarence’s widow, Minnie Morey Howard, deeded their own 20-acre farm to Camp Irondale, bringing the total area of the Camp up to over 125 acres by 1934.
A man named Earle Beckman got a local mill in Irondale to donate lumber to build proper buildings on the newly acquired Camp. An early 20th Century marketing genius of a plan was formed in which the newly built buildings, built with donated lumber and local farmers’ help, had the naming rights to the buildings sold to St. Louis businesses. Funds were then available to build more buildings and to operate the camp. Finally, in 1924 Irondale Scout Camp Reservation was dedicated by Dan Beard, who had founded the Sons of Daniel Boone in 1905 which would later merge with the Boy Scouts of America and who served as one of the first National Scout Commissioners.
On the Fourth of July, Independence Day, in 1946 the DeStaebler Memorial and Inspiration Hall was dedicated by Colonel James Howell Howard. Colonel Howard’s family was from St. Louis, Missouri and the John Burroughs School graduate had served in the United States Navy as a pilot, becoming a member of the famous Flying Tigers group in Burma. Colonel Howard had been presented with the Congressional Medal of Honor, the United States military’s top honor, for his actions in Europe during World War Two. Colonel Howard had flown his plane, a P-51 Mustang, alone against up to thirty Nazi Luftwaffe fighter planes, shooting down six enemy fighters. The DeStaebler Memorial was named after Roy DeStaebler, the president of the Beck and Corbett Company and a Veteran Scouter who had been presented with the Silver Beaver Award in 1934. Uncle Roy, as DeStaebler had been known to thousands of Scouts, had devoted much of his life to Scouting and sadly, had just passed away in 1942.
On June 28, 1947, almost a year later, the new swimming pool at Camp Irondale was dedicated. It had been opened the previous summer and was, at that time, one of the nation’s largest outdoor refiltering pools.
In September of 1959, St. Louis Scout Executive Jack Keith ended his 13-year tenure and was succeeded by Russell J. Hart, the first St. Louis native to hold the position of Scout Executive for the Council since Henry C. Thompson. The Roosevelt High School graduate made the decision, within a few months, to replace three of the existing Scout Camps being operated by the St. Louis Council. On the chopping block were the Brereton Camp, the Lions’ Den, and Camp Irondale.
Elmer E. Jones, a Divisional Manager at the St. Joseph Lead Company, and the St. Louis Council Camping Committee Chairman persuaded the St. Joe Lead Company to sell 3, 985 acres in the Mine LaMottee Domain, at a cost of only $60,000 or roughly $15 an acre. Arthur B. Bear, the President of the Stix, Baer & Fuller Company, agreed to donate the entire purchase price of the land. This land would eventually become known as the S Bar F Scout Ranch, named for Stix Baer & Fuller for Mr. Baer’s generous donation, and the end of Camp Irondale was in sight.
The Summer Camp of 1965 was the last time Scout fires burned at Camp Irondale. When the final Council Ring fire finished burning in August of 1965, a sampling of the ashes was taken and added to the Opening Camp Fire at the newly opened Summer Camp at S Bar F Scout Ranch in 1966. A year later, in 1967, the St. Louis Council sold the land that was Camp Irondale to real estate developers who had planned a subdivision, Camp Irondale Estates.
Boy Scout Troop 697, along with Cub Scout Pack 697, rededicated the chapel, Inspiration Hall and all through 2008, 2009, and the beginnings of 2010, local Boy Scout Troops and Cub Scout Packs worked to reclaim the area of Camp Irondale. Boy Scout Troop 403, out of Ironton, Missouri, Boy Scout Troop 480, out of Potosi, Missouri, and Venturing Crew 2480 worked under the leadership of Jeremy Medley and Denny Allen worked for over eight months to clear and prepare some of the old Camp Irondale sites. As a joint project with the assistance of members of the city of Irondale, these Scouts planned to honor the history of Camp Irondale with a Centennial Celebration to celebrate not only the history of Irondale but also the 100th Anniversary of the birth of the Boy Scouts of America.
October 1st through the 3rd of 2010 marked the first time since August of 1965 that the Boy Scouts of America returned to Camp Irondale. Boy Scout Troops from the Ozark Trailblazers District, along with troops from other districts within the Greater St. Louis Area Council gathered together for a Fall Camporee. A patch trade-oree, a Boy Scout museum, blacksmithing, branding, Dutch oven cook-offs, and other activities provided Scouts and Scouters the opportunity to experience a portion of what other Boy Scouts had experienced for over forty-five years on the same ground.
Although the Greater St. Louis Area Council has no plans to reacquire the land that originally encompassed the Irondale Scout Camp Reservation, an agreement had been reached between the city of Irondale and local Scouts. The city would allow the Boy Scouts of America to reserve and use the city owned areas of the site of Camp Irondale for scouting functions, as long as the Scouts continued to improve and respect the area. This agreement will hopefully provide an additional area for Scouts to utilize for years to come.
On the final morning, Scouts packed up their tents and gear ready to leave the former Boy Scout Camp. Many of the Scouts took with them a better understanding of the rich history of the former Camp and an appreciation for those involved in the project to bring life back to the Camp. Although, as previously mentioned, the Boy Scouts of America have no plans to reacquire the land, the future of camping by Scouts; Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, and Venturing Scouts, in the area seem almost certain. Individual troops, packs, and crews of Scouts will utilize the area and each time the memories of former Scouts will help guide these young people.
List of Sources:
“The Spirit of Scouting ’76” by William J. Brittain, 1976: The St. Louis Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America.