The YOUNG MEN'S CHRISTIAN ASSN. of Cleveland, one of the country's first, was founded in 1854 to prevent "the ruin, physical and spiritual, which overtakes so large a proportion of the multitude of young men constantly arriving in our city." It operated out of rooms at Superior and W. 3rd streets, offering prayer meetings, a Sunday school, a lending library, and lectures by figures such as Henry Ward Beecher and Cassius M. Clay. The Cleveland YMCA disbanded in 1863 due to the Civil War, but was reestablished in 1867 with the leadership of Chas. E. Bolton, SERENO P. FENN, Henry A. Sherwin, and Chas. J. Dockstader. It grew rapidly, and by 1872 had opened the country's first YMCA specifically for transient railroad workers (eventually the Collinwood Branch).

During the 1870s, religious and missionary work intensified, and interest broadened to include younger boys. In 1875 the YMCA opened a home for "newsboys and bootblacks." In 1879, under president Joseph B. Merian, the agency shifted away from reformation and toward character development, establishing educational and physical-culture programs (1881), a Juniors Dept. (1887), and equipping the city's first supervised playground (1900). During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, supported by men such as JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER, the YMCA built new main buildings and branches: the Broadway Branch (1883); the West Side Branch (1901), and the East End (UNIV. CIRCLE) Branch (1911), and new central buildings in 1891 and 1912. The latter, at Prospect Ave. and E. 22nd St., remained its headquarters into the 1990s.

The Cleveland YMCA worked with SETTLEMENT HOUSES and WELFARE/RELIEF agencies and promoted the Allied cause with a "War Work" fundraising campaign during World War I. After the war, it continued to add branches and increased its attention to physical training and work with young boys. In 1921 the educational work formally organized into the Cleveland School of Technology of the YMCA (renamed FENN COLLEGE in 1930), which the agency assisted in directing until 1951. Despite financial problems, the YMCA continued to offer services and added employment counseling during the Depression. It entered into joint management of some local facilities with the YOUNG WOMEN'S CHRISTIAN ASSN. in the 1950s, but the relationship eroded and was formally terminated in 1986. By the 1990s, with over 20 branches, the Cleveland YMCA provided residential facilities for men, and maintained a nationally recognized physical-training program, a camping program, outreach, counseling, leadership training, and job placement. In Oct. 1994 the headquarters on Prospect Ave. was closed, although soon after the YMCA announced it was renovating the facility with $8.4 million in physical and structural improvements. Funds were drawn mainly from grants, tax credits, and loans from the City of Cleveland, the CLEVELAND FOUNDATION, and other benefactors. In 1995 Kenneth W. McLaughlin served as president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Cleveland.

Plans for a new downtown branch at the GALLERIA at ERIEVIEW were initiated in 2014. The new location, the Parker Hannifin Downtown YMCA, was named after PARKER-HANNIFIN which contributed $12.5 million to the project. The facility includes a lap pool, group exercise rooms, spinning studio, and massage-therapy rooms. In 2016, Timothy Hilk was elected as CEO, heading an organization with eleven locations within the Greater Cleveland area. 


Updated by Gretchen Norton

Black, white and red text reading Western Reserve Historical Society

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 Finding aid for the Young Men's Christian Association of Cleveland Records, WRHS.

Finding aid for the Young Men's Christian Association of Cleveland Records, Series II. WRHS.

Finding aid for the Young Men's Christian Association of Cleveland Photographs, WRHS.


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 View more on the YMCA in the Cleveland Metroparks at Cleveland Historical.

 View more on the West Side YMCA at Cleveland Historical.


Health and Human Services Directory, 1989.


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