Glens Falls in 1888 — YMCA opens
The wish of F.A. Johnson, charter president of the Glens Falls Young Men’s Christian Association, has been realized many times over in the past 134 years.
“With earnest, prayerful, united and diligent effort, we may reasonably expect a good work by the association in the year ahead which we now enter, and that shall be continued through coming years, and from which the community will reap a rich blessing,” he said in his dedicatory address when the first Glens Falls YMCA rooms opened on Warren Street on Feb. 2,1888.
Johnson said the local YMCA movement was one of prevention, not reform.
“I do not believe that Glens Falls is an exceptionally bad place in which to rear young men. On the contrary, I believe it will compare favorably with other places of its size in our state for the disposition, the ability and the efforts in the line of good morals, law and order, and a healthy moral tone and a high moral standing in the community,” he said. “At the same time, we all know full well that intemperance and vice in many forms are here, and that there is much, very much, to deplore in this region.”
Johnson said it was a testament to the community’s character that the organizational effort, begun just a few months earlier in October, was so expeditious.
“A few gentlemen from the various churches, with characteristic readiness to do anything in their power for the good of the community, made a careful, judicious, and, as the result proved, effective canvass to secure the material and required to start the enterprise on such a basis as would give fair promise of success,” he said.
Discussion of organizing a local Y.M.C.A. began at a meeting Oct.14, 1887.
“There is certainly room enough and work enough for such an institution here, and we have no doubt that our citizens will respond liberally,” The Morning Star reported the next day.
There were sceptics at first.
“The project of starting a branch of the Y.M.C.A. here seems likely to fall through for want of support,” wrote a Morning Star columnist who used the penname Spectator Redivius. “It seems too bad that a town of this size should be so blind to its own interests and those of its growing youth as to fail in standing of its kind.”
Organizers persisted — quietly but studiously.
At a meeting on Nov. 29, 1887 at Glens Falls Methodist Episcopal Church, it was announced that five local business men had contributed $100 each — the equivalent of $2.935 in 2022 dollars each — to jumpstart the effort.
The men were William McEchron, a local lumberman and philanthropist who had many business interests; W. E. Spier, a lumberman and horse-racing enthusiast; T.S. Coolidge, an executive with the Jointa Lime Co.; Henry Crandall, lumberman and philanthropist; and H.G. Lapham, a lumberman and railroad owner.
On Dec. 12, it was announced that $1,800 had now been contributed to the fund to start the local Y.M.C.A. branch, in addition to about 80 members that had joined, paying annual dues of $2 — the equivalent of about $59 in 2022 dollars.
On Dec. 14, the Board of Directors met at the offices of Glens Falls Insurance Co. and elected Johnson, a banker and former congressman, as President.
Committees were appointed to draft proposed bylaws, to search for rooms to lease, and conduct a search for general secretary, as local Y.M.C.A. executives were known at the time.
“The general secretary will be selected outside of town. He will receive a certain sum per annum for his services and will be required to remain in the rooms regularly. His duties will be in the main to receive strangers, to induce young men to join the association, thus bringing them into a companionship that will be conducive to their spiritual welfare. He will also see that suitable reading matter is provided and hold himself in readiness to furnish information to newcomers in the community who may call at the rooms.”
The next day the Committee on Rooms recommended space that was vacant on the second floor of S.W. Russel’s building on Warren Street, space that the board leased shortly there after.
The board hired Will A. Lloyd of Utica as general secretary.
On Jan. 15, the Y.M.C.A. held the first of its weekly Sunday afternoon gospel meetings at Glens Falls Methodist Episcopal Church.
“The singing will be good and sermon brief,” The Morning Star reported.
Organizers declared it a success.
“The attendance was large and the meeting of great interest and religious fervor.”
The Morning Star, too, declared it a success.
“If crowded rooms and manifest interest is any indication of what may be expected from this organization, this meeting gave promise of the things hoped for. Much credit is done to all who have worked for and contributed to this new Glens Falls institution.”
The weekly Sunday afternoon meetings rotated between downtown churches until the Y.M.C.A. rooms opened on Feb. 2.
“Soon after the doors were opened at seven o’clock the friends of the association began to gather, and at a quarter of eight the rooms were packed. A count was kept of the number who entered the rooms up to half-past eight, and it amounted to 300.”
Johnson praised the “Committee of 15 Ladies,” three from each of the five participating local churches, that was in charge of interior decorating and securing furniture, much of which was donated.
“Indeed, whatever you see about you that is attractive in the furnishing and arranging of these rooms is largely due to their good taste and earnest and cheerful effort,” Johnson said.
The facility had a general meeting room and a reading room.
It was hoped to add a library and gymnasium in the future.
“We desire to have our rooms so cheerful and so homelike in all their appointments, provided with such a pure literature, and provided by such a pure, moral atmosphere as to attract our young men, and so provided a safe and pleasant place where they will choose to spend more or less of their leisure time.”
Membership had crossed the 100 mark, and 20 more new members joined the evening of the opening.
Sources: The Morning Star of Glens Falls, Oct. 24, Nov. 29, Dec, 12, 15, 16, 1887; Jan. 12, 14, 16, 18, Feb. 3, 4, 1888