In 1844, evangelicals in England founded an organization meant to attract young, often wayward men into Christianity through social events and Bible study groups. A decade later, in 1854, a branch of the Young Men’s Christian Association, or YMCA, was established in Richmond.
Within a year, the new branch organized a fundraiser, collecting $10,000 to aid the victims of a yellow fever epidemic in Norfolk. During the Civil War, they held revivals for Confederate soldiers and established a hospital. By 1886, membership had outgrown two rented rooms in downtown Richmond and more funds were raised to build a headquarters at Main and Sixth Streets in the city.
Though the group remained committed to its founding Christian principles, its mission on both the national and local levels began to change in the twentieth century. In addition to providing temporary housing for traveling and down-and-out white men, the local branch contributed to the war effort in the 1940s. At an even bigger, newer location downtown, soldiers slept, ate, played sports, and attended dances. After the war, as suburban flight changed the population of the city center, the group adjusted, opening locations in the west end, south side, and north side of the city. Over the ensuing decades, further evolution would eventually persuade the facility to open its doors to African Americans, non-Christians, and finally women in 1975. This is also the year the YMCA’s second location, the Tuckahoe branch, opened for business on Patterson Avenue in the near West End.
One hundred and sixty years after coming to Richmond, the club’s focus has shifted from a spiritual mission to physical health and its influence has expanded to seventeen locations throughout the metro area.
Photo: Cook 920, 1886, Cook Collection, The Valentine