Celebrating 125 Years
It’s hard to imagine Glens Falls as a mere village, at a time when no car or traffic light could be seen on its dirt and brick streets and the gaslight lamp posts of Glen Street shone brightly at night, yet it was in this environment that the Glens Falls YMCA was born.
On December 2nd, 1887 a group of local church and community leaders met to discuss organizing a YMCA. They were concerned for the welfare of young men, the temptation of the many saloons on South and West streets in particular, and hoped that a YMCA would provide a counter-attraction for boys who had nowhere to go. Just one year later the Glens Falls YMCA obtained its charter.
When the first official ‘Y’ building opened its doors in 1892 at 221-229 Glen St. it was a center for vibrant social affairs. The Y hosted lectures, mock trials, spelling bees, and musical performances. The “Y” Men’s Club, Phalanx Fraternity, and Yomechas boasted high membership and held bi-weekly meetings, dinners, and discussions. The YMCA Bicycle Club planned rides to Lake George and the more than 100 Women’s Auxiliary members organized fundraisers such as ‘Strawberry and Cream’ festivals.
In 1909, thanks to an endowment from Y founding father William McEchron, a gymnasium, bowling alley, and one of the first indoor Y swimming pools in the country were added. The Glens Falls YMCA supported church-league basketball teams, men’s gymnastics, and a Y organized baseball team that competed as far north as Plattsburgh. Group calisthenics classes using weighted wands and Indian clubs were held in the gymnasium and swimming lessons were offered for all ages.
A service organization at its core, the Y quickly became an integral part of the community. For many years the Y was the local Red Cross representative, ran an employment bureau, and housed newcomers and transients in its more than 50 dormitories. By 1914 the Y sponsored Boys Conservation League had planted more than 7000 trees in Crandall Park. When funding shortfalls caused school and church sponsored after school programs to fold, quite literally, because they couldn’t afford to keep the lights on, the Lights on After School! program stepped in to provide a safe place for children to go. Additionally, the YMCA led the local Boy Scout movement and even started the area’s first official troop.
During World War II a number of members were called to duty and the Y transformed. Facilities were made available to the Air Transport Command for physical training of pilots. Program schedules were adjusted to extend service to factory workers on the third shift and, responding to the growing need of young women, a recreation and consultation program was implemented for war wives. The Y raised thousands of dollars for our soldiers and allies overseas and provided leadership for the local National War Fund Drive.
In 1950 the Y Men’s Club purchased a TV set for $1,500 and installed it in the social room, the first available for use by the public in the City. As many as 200 people crowded into the viewing area to watch wrestling matches, boxing, baseball, and Milton Berle. Throughout the decade youth enjoyed playing in the Optimist basketball league and Friday night ‘Jam In’s’ (1945-54) gathered hundreds of teens for an evening of dancing, darts, and pool.
Change was the atmosphere of the 1960’s and the YMCA was no different. During this time it was decided that the old Y building, after 77 years, could no longer house the operation. Fundraising began with a new ‘Family Y’ concept in mind; an inclusive Y designed for men, women, and children. In January of 1966 the bylaws, which equated “member” and “male”, were rewritten so that “male” was no longer a qualification for membership on the board of directors. That June the first female board member was elected; Mrs. E. Hodgson.
Since the opening of the 600 Glen St. building on October 5th, 1969 the Family YMCA of the Glens Falls area has grown tremendously both in size and in services. The 1970s and 80s saw a renewed interest in fitness and the popular Nautilus fitness center, which opened in 1982, boasted state-of-the-art equipment. Programming like women’s Trimnastics and Mermaid fitness, karate and judo classes, and Scottish highland dancing were some of the unique offerings of the era. During this period the Gator’s swim program was transplanted from Lake George straight into the Y pool where is has remained for nearly four decades.
The 1990 campaign for renovations and debt retirement enabled the YMCA to allocate more resources to youth programs and a building expansion project resulted in a new gymnastics center and the NAMIC Wellness Center complete with indoor track (2006) along with numerous building improvements. The Y continues to provide over $300,000 in annual scholarships, fulfilling its goal of no person turned away due to an inability to pay.
Today, the Family YMCA of the Glens Falls Area serves over 20,000 people and although the names have changed, from Lights on After School! and the Jam In to today’s After School Care and Teen Night, from Optimist Basketball to Youth Basketball, from Trimnastics to Zumba, and from the very first ‘Y’ summer camp in 1899 that hosted 25 campers at Bloody Pond to the Camp Chepontuc Day Camp that now serves more than 700 campers a season, the mission of the Y from its 1888 charter, “For the improvement of the spiritual, mental, social, and physical condition of young men,” has remained fundamentally the same: To provide a safe and healthy environment for the youth and families of the Glens Falls area to grow, to promote our core values of caring, responsibility, honesty, and respect through all areas of programming, and to continue to strengthen our community for generations to come.