THE Y. M. C. A.
by Charles F. Sullivan
My first recollections of the Y. M. C. A. was in the second floor of a building standing upon the alley north of the Court-house, now the Electric Building stands there. This work was started in 1870, and in the Williams directory of this city of 1871, it gives “Young Men’s Christian Association, rooms 27 N. Main, Journal Building; H. P. Adams Superintendant.” Since this was started in the Journal building, it looks very much like Mrs. W. D. Bickham, wife of the editor of the Journal had considerable to do with the organization of the Association, for she was a good Christian woman and was interested in all kinds of Christian work. At the time I first went there I met Mr. D. A. Sinclair, the secretary, and I was drawn to him even though I was only a child.
This place soon became too small and a residence on E. Fourth street was bought in 1876, which seemed to be plenty big enough to do them for many years. At first I think that Mr. Sinclair lived in the rear of the building but that did not last long for all the room was needed for the work. Reading rooms were a part of the program and they were crowded from morning until 10 P. M. when they were closed.
On each New Years day an open house was held and every body was invited to call during the afternoon or evening and the place was crowded until very late in the evening. Music and other programs were given continuously from the time the doors were opened until 10 P M when it was closed. The census of Dayton was 38,700 people in 1860 and almost all of the people were within walking distance of the Y, and it was crowded.
On Sunday afternoons, Mr. Sinclair gave Bible studies at 3 P. M. and one winter we studied the miracles of Christ and another winter the parables, and he knew his subject well and was so thoroughly interested in the work that we could not afford to miss a single one.
At 4 P. M. he held a men’s meeting and the rooms in the old residence were soon too small and a large auditorium was built behind the residence, that would seat several hundred people and it was filled each Sunday afternoon with men and Sinclair was the program maker.
Also they sold tickets for a “Star course” held in this auditorium and the entertainments were very high class and educational.
One man gave a lecture upon his experiences at Andersonville prison during the war, the McGibeny family came back several years giving a concert, the family consisted of father, mother and several children all able to sing and play an instrument, either as a solo or together as the program called for, and they always had a full house.
Some times it was a slight of hand performance, a lecture, dramatics, or other kind, yet all were high class, and a season ticket did not cost a great amount. In the late 80’s it was suggested that they make a gymnasium of the hall and when they offered a ticket for all departments of the Y for $10.00 there were enough subscribed to turn the hall into a gym with lockers and baths in the basement. There was a gallery around it used for spectators when any thing special was going on and as a running course for the boys. Some of the boys would bring their girl friends and seat them in the gallery while they were on the floor in Gym classes. D. A. Sinclair was always on duty and ready to talk to any one that was in trouble, and every one loved him. This change made it necessary that the residence in front should be replaced with a new building and it was done. A nice auditorium was located in the new building and the star courses were renewed. A drive for new members was made and the building was filled for the city was growing and many new men were coming to Dayton to work and needed the help of the Y greatly.
In the mean time it had been found necessary to employ extra men to assist Mr. Sinclair and a gym teacher was taken on, yet Mr. Sinclair was the head of it and seldom did any friction develop in the organization or membership, and when a stranger came in, he was made to feel welcome and urged to come again. This building soon became too small and another location was looked for and a good friend of the Association made it possible, to get a larger lot and very central for the purpose that it was to fill.
As a boy, I would pass a place on my road to Grace church, where there was a large house and the grass was kept in good shape all the time, with flowers in abundance and seldom did I see any one around. There was a joke about this place, for when asked who lived there, the reply was that the house covered two acres and the person told would wonder if you knew what you were talking about.
He would try to tell you that you knew it did not cover one acre, when you would answer but it did, for it covered William Eaker and his sister Belle Eacker, and they did keep it very good order all the time and as she was much interested in the Y. she willed it to them at her death. Also the house next door owned by John H Winters was up for sale and she bought it and included it in the will.
After Miss Eaker’s death, Billie had died before, the property was deeded to the Y. and plans were made to build the new building. The old building was very crowded with educational classes, gymnasium, and all other activities so that plans were for a new building immediately upon the Eaker lot.
The new building soon became a reality and it was fine and it seemed to be large enough to fill all needs for many years. The old building was sold and the money placed in the new building, and the old one is now used for business and especially for a moving picture Theatre. The old Winters building next door was kept as a boys department and Mr. C. B. Kern was placed in charge of it and he soon had it full of boys. I went in to see him one day and when I opened the door, the noise was terrible and I wondered how any man could stand such a terrible racket. When I approached Mr. Kern, he looked up and saw me and he made a signal by whistling and at once all noise stopped, and I had my talk with him and as I left he said to the boys, allright and then the noise started all over again.
Mr. Kern was just the right man for the job and could get control of the boys without any effort, and was in charge of Sinclair Park for a while but was killed when he drove his auto in front of a traction car. The boys camp at Fort Ancient below Lebanon is named for him, Camp Kern, and his death was a big loss to the boys department.
In the new building all departments of the work were increased and located at Third and Ludlow just a square from the court house, it became very popular and at the Open House of New Years, the building was jammed with people and there were exhibits in very many of the rooms.
One of the features of this was the boys orchestra which played most of the afternoon in the lobby. This Orchestra practiced every Friday evening and about once a month they were allowed a swim in the swimming pool. And that was quite a drawing card to get the boys to practice.
About this time the schools began having orchestras in the different districts and that removed the need of that orchestra and it was allowed to die. These educational classes serve a great need, allowing men that have not had a chance to get the kind of education needed by them to get what they want and at the same time go ahead with their work.
This building also became too small and another location was found on Monument avenue, where all work has been carried along as usual.
I was much interested in the work of the early Y and held a ticket as a member for many years, but I am no longer a young man, and while they are as cordial to old men as ever, yet the urge to go some where in the evening is not great but instead there is an urge to stay at home so I seldom see the inside of the present Y.
The old building was sold and the name changed to the Industries Building but it was not a success and so was sold again to the city, and they have almost finished remodeling it and moving in.
They plan to have all departments of the city located in that building, instead of scattered all over the city, as formerly.
I enjoyed my work with the Y. very much and I think it accomplished much good, it drew strange young men there, instead of in places of doubtful character, and at the Y they met people who would give good advice. I made many acquaintances that I have kept up to this day.
My work at the Y gymnasium was fine and I have it to thank for some of my good health, which I enjoy at this time.
Chas F. Sullivan