The Henderson YMCA
Original local facility got off to rocky start
By FRANK BOYETT, The Gleaner
The old Henderson YMCA, at the time it was sold at public auction in 1974, was called a "shadowbox" filled with memories.
A century ago, however, it was a gleam in the eyes of those attending "an enthusiastic mass meeting" at the First Presbyterian Church.
Although the YMCA is now located in a large modern facility on Klutey Park Plaza, for 66 years it was housed in a three-story building at Third and Main streets, which provided generations of youngsters opportunities to play basketball, swim, bowl and learn how to dance.
"To many, it's the place where they first heard about fair play, sportsmanship and morals," said a 1974 Gleaner article written by Judy Jenkins.
That was the dream of a small group of local men who met in 1894 at First Baptist Church to organize a local YMCA. The world's first Y was founded in Great Britain in 1844, and the first one in the United States in Boston in 1851, but it took a while for the idea to percolate to the South and Midwest.
"The north and east have some time before this grasped the point of their usefulness and one is sure to see on visits to the cities these buildings -- many of them veritable bee-hives of young men," a story in The Gleaner said in 1905. "Kentucky has this year taken on eight or ten building movements, with a number of the buildings already being erected. Henderson, Danville, Georgetown and Frankfort are engaged in these canvasses."
The local YMCA began in a Sunday school meeting room at the Presbyterian church then located on Second Street, which had to do until more suitable quarters were obtained on the top floor of what is now the Neel & Co. building at First and Elm streets. After that, the YMCA moved to the Merritt Building, where it stayed until the YMCA building at Third and Main was erected in 1907.
Although 1907 is usually given as the date of the building's completion, its construction was actually an on-going process between 1906 and 1911. And that process began at the end of 1905 with a fund-raising program. The first mass meeting of that program began 100 years ago this weekend with the Kentucky YMCA secretary urging the citizens of Henderson "to contribute liberally to the building fund."
James W. Clay, the president of the local YMCA at that point, noted that the fund raising had already gotten off to a good start.
"He said that 18 men had subscribed the sum of $10,000; that 71 young men had subscribed $11,655, and that the total to date was $11,655. The sum of $35,000 is the amount the committee will endeavor to secure before the work of building is begun."
The fund-raising effort apparently fell on hard times, in that only a couple years after the building was erected the YMCA still owed a substantial amount of money. An article written by Dr. J.W. Stone, the local YMCA's first president, appeared in a special edition The Gleaner published March 23, 1913. It indicates that 1909 was a tough year for the local Y.
"The darkest period which the organization has known was the year preceding the white elephant campaign in 1910. There was a debt of $18,000 hanging over us (apparently unhonored pledges to the original building fund drive), and when finally the board determined to again go before the people and ask that this be lifted, some said it could never be done. But God was with our work and the dark cloud rolled away."
Stone's article also described the YMCA building as it stood in 1913: "The structure is built of brick with three stories and a basement. On the (basement) ground floor are dressing rooms for members, a bowling alley, baths and swimming pool. On the main floor are the lobby, reading rooms, offices and gymnasium. On the second floor are the assembly hall, kitchen, living rooms for men and the gym gallery. The third floor is taken up with living rooms. There is room for 30 in the dormitory area."
The facility at Third and Main streets lasted until the new YMCA on Klutey Park Plaza opened at the end of April 1973. The old building, and an adjacent house, were sold for $45,000 to Woodring Fryer in late March 1974. The 1907 building was demolished in mid-July of 1976.
75 years ago
A 12-year-old boy lost both hands and suffered serious wounds to his stomach and chest when accidentally shot by a companion with a shotgun, according to a 1930 article in The Gleaner.
H.L. Chapman Jr. and John Williams had returned from a hunting trip and were horsing around, thinking their guns were unloaded. They aimed their guns at each other and Chapman was shot, which required the amputation of his mangled hands. His gun stock and his hands took the full force of the blast.
50 years ago
James Blue was hired as a new sanitarian with the Henderson County Health Department, The Gleaner reported in 1955.
Blue was a graduate of the University of Kentucky, and had previously been working for Spencer Chemical Co. "We had several applications for the job, but his qualifications were the best," said Dr. Frederick Eberson, county health officers. "I am delighted to have a man of his qualifications and experience in the department."
In more recent years Blue has done important work documenting local cemeteries and transcribing federal census records.
25 years ago
A study by an Owensboro man indicated that of Kentucky's 12 largest cities, Henderson ran the most efficient city government in the state, according to a 1980 article in The Gleaner.
The study by R.L. "Bob" Robertson determined such factors as cost per citizen to operate government, cost per employee to operate, and number of citizens served per employee.
"You people in Henderson have a lot to be proud of," Robertson said.
Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2006 HCH&GS