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Camp Olmsted's Totem Pole

Totems, Scouts, and Elton Davis
Local Legends

Elton Davis, 1888-1971, was a well-known local artist. Although he did not always reside in Warren, the city has many reminders of his contributions to the community. Mr. Davis created the Historical Map of Warren County, which has been reproduced and widely circulated, and he painted a 40-foot mural at the Conewango Club entitled At the Wharf, which depicts an 1852 riverfront scene.

Another civic project that Elton Davis undertook in the 1950s was the design for a totem pole for a group of Boy Scouts.

Recently, while reorganizing part of the collection at the Warren County Historical Society, the original templates and plaster casts for the project resurfaced. Along with the materials was a copy of a locally published article relaying the story of the construction of the totem pole.

In the mid-50s Donald Taft apparently put forth an idea to harvest a pine tree growing on the Allegheny National Forest, where he was the Administrative Assistant from 1944-1956. Troop 9 sponsored by the First Methodist Church, and their leaders met at Sill Run near Route 337 and, with the help of heavy hauling equipment and willing hands, cut and transported a 16-foot 20-inch diameter log to the church property. It has been stated that the log was "...inserted into the church basement through a window (with minor damage to the window) and set up on the west side ledge of the swimming pool...." Work was begun on the initial outlining and carving on the log, following the Uncle Sam--Chief Cornplanter--Sun--Rain  God--Smokey Bear Totem design created by Elton Davis.

The instigator of this project, Donald Taft, was transferred out of the warren area in 1956 and did not return until 1965. Upon his return, Mr. Taft learned that the log had been shifted from farm to farm throughout the years, with the final carving being completed in time for a Warren 4th of July Parade and formal dedication at Camp Olmsted in 1975.

Mr. Taft had returned to Warren as director of Project Find, 

which had an office in the Montgomery Ward building. This particular structure was razed for the construction of the present Spiridon Building. During the demolition process, Mr. Taft unearthed the original Elton Davis totem pole drawings and casts from the waste material in the old building, where the Scouts had at one time had a temporary headquarters office.

Once rediscovered, the Davis designs were used to complete the totem pole and were then delivered to the Warren County Historical Society.

Thanks to the copy of the 1981 article from Steppin' Out, the local publication printed by The House of Printing, the complete roster of the 1955 Boy Scout Troop 9 is available: Tom Africa, Douglas S. Arnold, Edward L. Ball, Rodney Betts, Ralph Caldin, Richard Elmhurst, William Elmhurst, Richard Fowler, David G. Frantz, David C. Grady, Dennis Honhart, Robert Ladner, Donald Nichols, Russell Rudolph, Jr., Robert Schaeffer, Donald Taft, Jr. Richard H. Wilson, Richard H. Nollinger, Eugene J. Wilson, Robert W. Lindsey, Melvin F. Gnage, John Smith, Richard Ladner, Donald W. Wilson, Douglas P. Wilson, George Ball, D. Allen Crossett, Phillip N. Gahring, J. William Peterson, David S. Trager, Peter Ostergard, Robert Koebley, Donald McKay, Stephen Coe. The Troop 9 Committee and cooperating leaders included C.C. Winans, Dick Arnold, Joe Hoffman, Royce Black, Don Taft, Arthur Colley, Earl Christensen, Joe Brown, Ray Lewis, Harold Baker, and Dick Betts.

It is readily apparent that the people of this community take neither their heritage nor their promises lightly. After nearly half of a century, Elton Davis' mural still adorns the wall of the Conewango Club; the Warren County Historical Society preserves the original materials for the totem pole and features his maps on the office walls and his drawings on the masthead of this magazine; and the partnerships evolved from the creation of the totem pole will, perhaps, provide their own promise for those who will come hereafter.

Recounted by Rhonda J. Hoover

Published by
Warren County Historical Society
Stepping Stones
Vol. 45 No. 1    January 2001

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