Sunday Favorites: History of Camp Flying Eagle

Boy scouts at Camp Flying Eagle circa 1965. Photo: Manatee Historical Archives
Boy scouts at Camp Flying Eagle circa 1965. Photo: Manatee Historical Archives
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It's officially summer and as we drop our children off at various summer camps across the Tampa Bay area, I think about back to one of the oldest camps in Florida, Camp Flying Eagle. Located in east Bradenton, this camp has been around for more than a century and it's one that fathers and sons still enjoy together.
 
This year, on Father's Day, I figured I'd explore the history of a longtime father-son tradition, becoming involved in Boy Scouts. It just so happens that one of the oldest Boy Scout troops in the United States originated right here in Manatee County serving generations of fathers and sons since the organization's inception in the early 1900s.
 
A man named Lord Baden-Powell founded Boy Scouts in England in 1907. Just three years after it originated in the motherland, the association made its way to the U.S. That same year, one of the first Boy Scout Troops in the nation was formed right here in Bradenton. The troop met regularly at a church on the corner of Ninth Street and Fourteenth Avenue and were serviced by the National Council, according to a 2009 speech by Col. B.J. Mainard, "The History of Camp Flying Eagle."
 
By 1913, local councils began popping up in a handful of cities. By the 1920s, there were about 14 local troops serving a total of 295 boy scouts. At that time, the boy scouts camped during summer vacation, when they weren't focused on their school studies. Because there was no park system in place back then, they asked permission to camp on the private land of local farmers.
 
They often camped the majority of the summer, a total of six weeks, learning how to survive for an extended time in the wild according to Mainard. One of the properties they frequented was in present-day Oneco on the Braden River. There, the boys found a Bald Eagle's nest. Every year, they would see the same family of eagles
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In 1925, Manatee and Sarasota counties petitioned the National Council in Washington D.C. to establish their own council. On Christmas Day that year, 100 civic leaders met in the Palmetto Carnegie Library and formed the Sunnyland Boy Scout Council.
 
As time went on, it became harder and harder to find wooded land where the large troop could camp for an extended amount of time without disturbing the owners. They decided they needed to invest in their own property that would support their growing membership and the outdoor activities they enjoyed. Eventually, they found a 140-acre tract of land in East Bradenton near the present-day Rye Wilderness Preserve. The woman selling it, Miss Minnie Harris, asked for $2,000 for the entire stretch.
 
The Sunnyland Council did not have the money to purchase the property, so they made the logical decision to borrow it from the bank. However, they were told they didn't qualify for a loan because they weren't considered a business or a corporation. The executive board of Sunnyland formed a charter in order to get around the rule, they called it the Manatee County Boys Development Association (MCBDA). Their intention was to give the land to The Boy Scouts after the documents were signed. But the bank would not allow that, instead, requiring the MCBDA to rent the property to Sunnyland Council for the duration of the loan. Because the people making up both entities were one and the same, they essentially were required to rent the property out to themselves!
 
Under those circumstances, the board reasoned that the mortgage would never be paid off. So, the MCBDA put the property up for sale, inviting community members to buy an acre for $15 in support of the Boy Scouts. By doing so, approximately 37 businesses invested in the boys, raising enough money to pay off any debt owed on the property by 1931.
After the property was purchased there were many projects that needed to be completed before Sunnyland could officially host a summer camp. There were no roads, the land was lush and overgrown and the only way to access the property was a rough wagon trail. Thus, the most logical way to bring in supplies was via river barge. In order to receive the shipments, Sunnyland needed a dock. The dock was the very first structure built on the property.
 
The next building, Rotary Hall, was funded by the Rotary Clubs of Palmetto and Bradenton, which also provided labor, and was used as a dining hall and camp store. At nearly a century old, the building is still around today! A 600-foot artesian well supplied fresh water to the structure.
 
North of the dining hall, six cabins were constructed along with camp instructors' headquarters and a wing for a camp physician. The camp officially opened in July of 1929 with 48 children attending. They named it Camp Flying Eagle after the bald eagle family they enjoyed for so many years. The boys enjoyed canoeing, swimming, and typical lifesaving activities on the river. On land, they learned to hunt, track and identify wildlife. However, the majority of their time was spent building up the property, according to Mainard. Most of Camp Flying Eagle was built by Boy Scouts.
 
The amount of physical labor the boys were doing, along with a fear of malaria, required a policy that the boys be weighed daily and examined by a doctor twice a week. There was also a unique four-person latrine designed by a local engineer!
 
In 1942 the MCBDA rented the property to Sunnyland Council for $1 a year for 100 years. In 20 years, it will be forever in the hands of the Scouts serving even generations to come. Since its inception, the scouts have progressed to include not just boys, but girls and entire families. It's amazing to have such a historic treasure in our own backyard. 
 
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Reader Comments
Russell Owens
JUN 19, 2022  •  I was surprised by the lack of generosity of the banks of the era. Seems more like today!


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