Before his Eagle Scout project, Andrew Dowden didn’t know how to play chess. Now he’s falling in love with the game as his project helped commemorate his state’s bicentennial and attracted the attention of the governor.
Andrew, 17, of Troop 6 in Jefferson City, Mo., didn’t know what he wanted to do for his Eagle Scout project. While his troop was camping on Jeanne Sinquefield’s property, she approached the Scouts with a project idea. Sinquefield is a supporter of Scouting and was instrumental in the creation of the Chess merit badge. With the state of Missouri’s 200th birthday taking place last year, Sinquefield thought a bicentennial chessboard would make a fun and educational site for visitors.
Andrew liked the idea. Working with Sinquefield and the city, he planned on making a 14-foot granite chessboard with laser-engraved images of the state’s historical figures and events that would be installed at Adrian’s Island Park, a short walk from the state capitol building.
To complement the chessboard, Maya Thomas of girls Troop 242 in Columbia, Mo., would install two wooden benches made from 200-year-old oak for her Eagle Scout project. The wood was cut in 1910 to be used for a barn, and she would help repurpose it for the park benches.
Like with many Scout projects, Andrew faced challenges that he and his team of volunteers had to overcome.
First, he was doing this project during the COVID-19 pandemic, and material shortages caused delays. He faced more delays as he waited for the city to build a bridge to the island park. He also met with an engineer to make sure that, in case the island flooded, the chessboard would stay put after being installed on its 18-inch concrete foundation.
“I learned many things, but I think the most important thing I learned was to plan out every detail of the project,” Andrew says.
The 32 images around the chessboard depict Missouri’s history and figures, including President Harry S. Truman, Dred and Harriet Scott, and George Washington Carver — along with music, railroads, farming and sports.
“What I enjoyed most was working with my fellow Scouts and mostly seeing how happy it makes people to learn about the history of Missouri and play a game of chess,” Andrew says.
A masterful ceremony
The project was ready to be unveiled in May. Missouri Governor Michael Parson and First Lady Teresa Parson, as well as members from the World Chess Hall of Fame and the St. Louis Chess Club, were there to see it. After a brief ceremony where the governor, Maya and Andrew spoke, attendees and Scouts stood on the chessboard.
The governor and his wife moved the king and the queen pieces, and they and the Scouts played an inaugural game while two state chess grandmasters called the moves.
“I will be able to go and see my project that will be there for the rest of my life,” Andrew says. “I hope tourists who come to Missouri will come to the capitol, and they will walk across the bridge and learn the history of Missouri and also have fun with a game of chess. It is a great place to hang out for the day.”