Cabin

The old scout cabin along W.Va. 16 in Sophia may be moved out of the flood plain it now sits in to the nearby site of the old Sophia Elementary School.

Held together by vines of ivy, the old scout cabin along W.Va. 16 in Sophia is a quiet reminder of a time when a busy scout troop sold homemade popcorn on the streets in this former hub of the Winding Gulf coal camp communities.

The Boy Scouts of Troop 75 built the cabin themselves sometime around 1933, just a year or two after they organized. Perry Polk donated the land, and scoutmaster W. Jesse McElrath led a group of young men whose many deeds were remembered fondly Thursday afternoon at a Town Hall meeting, the topic of which was moving the old cabin to higher ground, reviving its purpose and opening it to the public as a scout museum with an outdoor walking trail.

“This is something quite unique,” said Phyllis Rose, chair of the Gulf Preservation Authority and a member of the Sophia Scout Cabin Committee, a cooperative effort between the town and the authority. “It can be a museum and a tourist destination for our area.”

Buford Hartsog, possibly the troop’s only surviving charter member, said that to his knowledge the only other intact scout cabin sits at Jackson’s Mill. He remembers meeting at the Sophia cabin, working on projects there, and even staying overnight.

“That cabin kept me out of the other end of this building at that time,” Hartsog mused. The other end of the Town Hall building’s meeting room was, at the time, a jail.

Committee members discussed moving the cabin, which sits on the property of Mary McElrath Veneri, daughter of the scoutmaster who helped construct it, to the nearby site of the old Sophia Elementary School.

Veneri said she and a family member to whom the property was entrusted have agreed to donate the structure to the town, which owns the school property. If they don’t move the old cabin, it could fall to further ruin, as it rests in a flood plain. Or it may be torn down.

It’s also partly hidden, in a residential area. The school property would give it more visibility and plenty of parking for visitors who will find a number of tourist destinations as they travel the historic Winding Gulf district.

The dozen interested residents at Thursday’s meeting shared their memories of the cabin.

“It is a Boy Scout cabin, but a lot of girls used that cabin, too,” Veneri offered.

“I can’t think of anybody who would want to see that building destroyed,” another said from a back-row seat. “It’s one of the oldest landmarks in Sophia.”

But it is old. And the last time it was used by scouts was nearly 20 years ago, the group estimates.

Over the years, Little League Baseball, midget league football and other activities for youth seemed to distract from scouting, and eventually, the troop fizzled out.

Some on the committee hope that will change once the cabin is relocated and repaired.

“There’s not an active scouting movement down here,” said Alan Susman, a former scout. “I’d like to see that building used for more than just a museum. Leave it open for troops to meet in.”

Contractors are expected to attend the committee’s next meeting, set for 3:30 p.m. Oct. 5, at Sophia Town Hall, to discuss the cost of moving the structure. Anyone else who may be interested is welcome to attend. The committee also plans to collect old pictures and scout memorabilia as it carries out this project.

“These things cannot be accomplished overnight, but this is a beginning,” Rose said.

And it goes hand-in-hand with other efforts the Gulf Preservation Authority, the town and other concerned citizens are working to complete.

Already, a sitting park with a Korean War memorial appears to be closer to reality at Sophia, and the Gulf Preservation and Coal Heritage Trail committees are working with Sophia to plan a new city park and reclamation of the 1925 Chappies Esso service station, which is being restored by the building commission.

It won’t be long, either, until travelers through Sophia and the Winding Gulf notice Coal Heritage signage.

The Sophia Scout Cabin Committee’s next step, Rose said, will be raising money.

Maybe they’ll sell homemade popcorn on the street.

— E-mail: bnaudrey@register-herald.com

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