The present council is the result of the 1996 merger of two previous councils, the Philadelphia and Valley Forge councils. The Philadelphia council was founded in 1911. In 1913, the Philadelphia council opened the first American scout camp, Treasure Island Scout Reservation, near Point Pleasant, Pennsylvania. Two years later, Dr. E. Urner Goodman and Carrol Edson founded the Order of the Arrow, which inducted its first members on July 16, 1915. The council is host to the oldest annual Scouting event in the nation, the Valley Forge Pilgrimage and Encampment.
The Valley Forge Council was created from the Delaware and Montgomery County councils in a BSA-directed merger in the 1950s. Valley Forge was named for the historic winter of 1776-77 camp by George Washington's troops. It opened its first camp, the Delmont Scout Reservation in Green Lane, Pennsylvania, and acquired land to open the Resica Falls Scout Reservation near the Delaware Water Gap in 1962.
Because of a shifting population (with city residents moving to the suburbs), and two councils each trying to gain capital funds for their camps, the BSA suggested to the executive boards of both councils that they merge, a process started in 1993 and made final in 1996.
When councils merge, they are given a new council number, and the new council became number 525. Philadelphia's OA lodge (Unami One), the one founded in 1915 on Treasure Island, and recognized as the first lodge nationally, would be lost in the merger. To prevent this, the members of Valley Forge's OA lodge, Delmont Lodge 43, voted to fold their lodge and became part of the Unami Lodge in 1997.
The council also operated Treasure Island Scout Reservation. The camp was damaged by flooding of the Delaware River in 2005 and again in 2006, forcing its closure for the 2005 and 2006 seasons. In September 2008, the Council Executive Board ratified the recommendations of the Camping Committee and the executive committee to close Treasure Island effective October 1, 2008. Resica Falls is situated near the controversial Tocks Island Dam project of the 1960s, now the present-day Delaware Water Gap National Recreational Area.
The council no longer owns any properties in or near Philadelphia. In 1929, Henry W. Breyer, Jr., purchased the abandoned Lindenhurst property once owned by John Wanamaker in Cheltenham on York Road, below Washington Lane. Breyer donated the former Wanamaker land to the Boy Scouts of America for use as a wildlife preserve. The camp was accessible to city-scouts by taking the train to the Jenkintown station. Camp Henry W. Breyer was sold by the Philadelphia Council in 1990 and is now the site of the Pennsylvania College of Optometry.
At one point, the Philadelphia Council was also given a tract of land near the Roxborough Reservoir at Port Royal Avenue and Eva Street (). This land was eventually sold and is now part of the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education. Also, the Philadelphia council also owned Camp Biddle on the Darby Creek (Pennsylvania) in Marple Township. (). The camp was named after Anthony J. Drexel Biddle.
The Cradle of Liberty's Order of the Arrow Lodge, Unami Lodge One, is the oldest OA lodge in the country, and in 2005 celebrated its 90th anniversary.
The Marks Scout Resource Center in Philadelphia was built in 1929. The Beaux Arts style building was designed by architect Charles Klauder. At the time city fathers invited the Scouts to move their offices to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The building was built and paid for by the Scouts, and turned over to the city with the understanding that the Scouts would be allowed to remain in it rent-free "in perpetuity." The building is located at 22nd and Winter Streets. The first copy of the R. Tait McKenzie sculpture The Ideal Scout stands outside the building.
The suburban (former Valley Forge) office, located in the northern fringes of the affluent Main Line area. Most of the council's activities and training sessions occur in the suburban office. Due to its size and flooring area, and it has been slated for expansion since the merger. The city office, which houses the Scout Executive and District Executives for the districts within the city limits, has less space for training, and has been maintained mainly for easier access to city residents, who would otherwise have to use either mass transit (which has limited stops in Valley Forge), or drive on the Schuylkill Expressway (Interstate 76), which is notorious for backups between Center City and Valley Forge.
The Boy Scouts of America maintained an official policy of barring homosexuals from membership; Cradle of Liberty, however, had adopted a non-discrimination policy (primarily to continue receiving funding from the United Way). The BSA National office sent Cradle of Liberty a cease-and-desist letter which threatened dissolution of the council if it failed to adopt the policies set forth by the National office, and the council rescinded its non-discrimination policy at the annual BSA meeting. Philadelphia, whose city charter bylaws prohibit discrimination against all individuals, including homosexuals, owns the land on which the council headquarters building stands rents it to the council for $1 annually .
Because of the council's decision to follow national policy, the city wanted the council to vacate the office at 23rd and Winter Streets (near the Franklin Institute ); this decision drew fire from Scouting officials and city residents who saw Scouting as an alternative to the "mean streets" of the depressed areas of the city. In 2004, negotiations with the city resulted with the Scouts promising not to "unlawfully discriminate." This agreement held until the city realized that under the Supreme Court decision (Boy Scouts of America v. Dale) the Scouts could lawfully exclude people from membership. Afterward, the city reversed its decision.
In July 2006, Mayor Street once again told the council to either change its policy and allow homosexuals to be members, pay fair market rent or leave the city-owned Marks Scout Resource Center. The city said that providing the city-owned property rent-free to the council violates Philadelphia's anti-discrimination laws. The BSA planned to fight to the city's decision.
Local Boy Scouts officials must vacate their Center City headquarters by July 24, 2007, if they don’t begin either paying rent or accepting gays, City Solicitor Romulo L. Diaz Jr. said this week. The commission issued its notice to the Scouts on July 24, 2006, stating they could avoid eviction if they began paying fair-market rent or accepting gays, Diaz said. "Our position is that [the Scouts] already have been given notice," Diaz told Philadelphia Gay News. "The clock began ticking on July 24, 2006, at the latest." The mayor and City Council also must approve the eviction, but the 1928 ordinance doesn’t specify a time frame for those approvals, Diaz added.
The Fairmount Park Commission also endorsed the move by the Street administration to force the Boy Scouts to vacate its headquarters on city land.
However, citing "rising violence and other urban ills daily threatening Philadelphia's teens," some community leaders said it made no sense to evict the Boy Scout. Also, some questioned the objectivity of city solicitor Romulo L. Diaz, Jr., himself openly gay, in moving to evict the Scouts - arguing that the city could lose $62 million in federal funds with the eviction because of the Support Our Scouts Act of 2005 and the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act..
Around May 31, 2007, in an unannounced vote, the Philadelphia City Council voted 16-1 on a bill introduced by Darrell L. Clarke to permit the eviction and terminate the 1928 lease by which the council was allowed the use of the building "in perpetuity." This came despite the fact that the building itself was built and paid for by the Scouts, and given to the city with the understanding that the Scouts would be allowed to remain in it "in perpetuity." Because of this decision, as of July 24, 2007, the council must pay $200,000 fair market rent or leave the building. Not everyone agrees with the decision by the city:
But the state, or in this case the city of Philadelphia, apparently doesn't have to give the Scouts a break on their rent. Isn't it hypocritical, though, to be intolerant in the name of tolerance, to say that it's wrong to disapprove of the lifestyles of others but OK to condemn the religious and moral beliefs of others? How is it that an organization that has done immeasurable good for tens of millions of boys becomes one of America's most notorious and dangerous hate groups?
Barring a resolution, the Cradle of Liberty Council must vacate the property at 22d and Winter Streets after May 31, 2008. Philadelphia is set to become the largest city in the nation without its own council office, and the local gay community, led by Perry, insists that the council can still change its policy. This position is supported by Mayor Michael Nutter, who in a televised debated on NBC 10 Live @ Issue said, "In my administration, we will not subsidize discrimination." Solicitor Diaz has given the Council until December 3, 2007 to comply with the city's demand. The Scouts intimated they would file suit, and did so in May 2008. The scouts claimed their civil rights were being violated, and the firm Drinker Biddle took the case pro bono.