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Wednesday, December 11, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Then & Now: The first YMCA

The YMCA has been in Spokane more than 130 years.

The Young Men’s Christian Association, founded in London in 1844, was started to offer healthy activities, both physical and spiritual, for young men who lived alone in the city. The idea spread to the United States in 1851.

A group of Spokane pioneers and businessmen founded Spokane’s YMCA chapter in 1884. Their stated goals were “to preserve and strengthen the moral and religious life of young men.”

As in London, expanding industries drew young men to work in Spokane, but they toiled long hours and often slept at work or on the street. Far from home, saloons and brothels competed for their spare time and money. The Y offered clean beds and sports facilities.

Early YMCA recruiting brochures read: “The basis of membership is neither religious, social, political or financial – it is simply character, such as would be required by any business house.”

After 20 years of renting space, the YMCA built the $75,000, five-story center at First Avenue and Lincoln Street in 1906. There was a gymnasium, a swimming pool, locker rooms, meeting and reading rooms, a restaurant, a spa and apartments for rent. Col. David Jenkins, a Spokane pioneer, donated $50,000 in 1907 to start a vocational program at the Y, which lasted several years.

The Spokane YMCA added summer camp in 1915. Camp Reed is named for the donor of the land on Fan Lake.

During World War II, the Y building hosted hundreds of soldiers and sailors who came through Spokane on weekend furloughs. Each Saturday night, 300 cots were crammed into the gym and meeting rooms.

After the war, lower age limits allowed younger boys into fitness and sports programs.

Starting in the 1920s, the YMCA started a father-son program called Indian Guides. The scouting-style program consisted of outdoor and crafting activities.

Washington Water Power Co. gave the YMCA a parcel of land on Havermale Island, and car dealer Ray Barton gave a large donation in 1957. The new YMCA on Havermale opened in 1964.

Women and girls were accepted in the 1950s, and child care became an important program at the YMCA in the 1970s.

The 1964 facility was abandoned after the Spokane Valley YMCA opened in 2000, followed by new centers downtown and in north Spokane.

– Jesse Tinsley

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