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"History of Eau Claire County Wisconsin, 1914, Past and Present"


Chapter  32

Young Men's Christian Association

(-as transcribed from pages 456 - 460)


The first Young Men's Christian Association of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, was organized in September, 1881.  Elijah Swift was elected its first president.  Rooms were rented for two years in the second story of a building situated at No. 112 Kelsey street, now Grand avenue East. From there it was moved to rooms over the postoffice, situated at the corner of South River street and Grand avenue East, where it remained until November, 1895.  The building having been declared unsafe and there being no other rooms available it was decided to close the association's work for awhile.

The association provided a reading room, a physical department and bath rooms.  The religious department was the crowning part of its work, as many can testify who then were persuaded to commence the Christian life.  Gospel meetings were held in its rooms, on the streets and in the county jail.  Consecration meetings and meetings for the study of the Bible were held weekly.  During the summer a Gospel wagon was used to hold meetings in small places outside of the city.

On March 4, 1914, the new $100,000 Y. M. C. A. building was opened to the public and dedicated free of debt, in the presence of Gov. Francis McGovern and many other prominent out of town guests.  The activities lasted a full week and a conservative estimate placed the total number of visitors at 15,000.  Men, women and children alike were interested in the new building, and this new interest and enthusiasm was so intense that an editorial in one of the daily papers stated that the whole city was "Y. M. C. A. mad."

The building is built of colonial red brick, trimmed with white sandstone; it is four stories high with a fine basement, and faces three streets, thus providing splendid light in all of its rooms.

In the basement are three separate locker rooms, boys', seniors' and business men's.  Each of these three classes have marble shower baths of the latest type adjoining the locker rooms.

A large white tiled swimming pool, 60x20 feet, is another feature in the basement.  This pool holds 78,000 gallons of water and is eight and one-half feet deep in the deepest end.

One great fault to be found in most big pools is the lack of provision for visitors.  Men step out on the white tiled floors in street shoes and the bathers pick up the dirt on their bare feet and carry it into the water.  The Eau Claire pool has provided a visitor's gallery near the spring board, where forty or more may enjoy seeing the diving and swimming without interfering with the swimmers.

A fine handball court and two bowling alleys help to make the basement very attractive, and these privileges are used almost continually. A movement is now on foot to use these bowling alleys for target practice with 22-caliber rifles.

A large boiler room with capacity to heat the building in the coldest weather and a 1,000-gallon hot water heater insures comfort for all members.

The main entrance, which is used only by the men, is located on the west side of the building and brings the visitor into the fine big lobby. This lobby is 90x30 feet, with beamed ceiling and handsomely decorated walls.  The color effects are harmonious and give the lobby a hospitable and homelike atmosphere.

At the right of the entrance is the reading room with a great fireplace, and on the table are kept the latest publications.  Adjoining this end of the lobby are the checker, chess and correspondence tables.

At the left of the entrance is the billiard room, where the tables are very popular, and in almost constant use; the next alcove is the music room, where the young men gather nearly every evening for social good times.

Directly in front of the entrance is the check room and general office, with the private office of the general secretary and the boys' secretary.

The gymnasium, 70x42 feet, is well lighted and ventilated and is completely equipped with modern gymnasium apparatus, including a running track banked and padded, thirty-two laps to the mile.  The physical director's office with windows overlooking the gymnasium, provides perfect supervision.

The boys' department is very fortunate in having a part of the first floor reserved for its work.  The private outside entrance leads into the lobby, where the boys have the use of a large fireplace with built-in cozy corners, reading rooms and game tables.  These rooms are greatly appreciated and well patronized by the boys of the city.

A second floor is used exclusively for educational and social work.  A large kitchen, which is the envy of most of the ladies, is completely furnished for serving 150 guests.  The equipment includes large commodious cupboards, gas range and service tables, with silverware and china with Y. M. C. A. emblem worked into the design.

Next to the kitchen one enters the banquet room through double swinging doors.  This room seats 150 at tables and over 300 when used as a lecture room.  The unique feature of this room is that it may be turned into one, two, three or four separate rooms, through the use of accordion doors.  Recently all of these four rooms were used at the same time by four organizations.

The directors of the Eau Claire Y. M. C. A. always point with pride to the big business men's club room adjoining the banquet room.  This room is furnished as fine as any in the city, with beautiful rugs, drapes, tables, fireplace and easy chairs.  There is little wonder that it has been used constantly.

The women of the city greatly appreciate the thoughtfulness of the directors when they set apart a nicely furnished room known as the ladies' parlor.

Next to the ladies' parlor is a room used for committee meetings, with ample room for twenty-five or thirty.  It was in this room that the Northwestern Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association was organized with thirty high schools interested.  The Y. M. C. A. has been chosen as the headquarters of this organization.

Meetings of the following organizations have been held in this room:  Manufacturers' Association of Wisconsin, Northwestern Wisconsin Jewelers' Association and baseball clubs and the musical organizations of the city.

Next to the committee room is a room fitted up for high school boys with school pennants hanging on the wall and college papers of the state on the reading table.  It will tend to interest the boys in higher branches of education.

Upper Floor Accommodations

The two upper floors are devoted entirely to the use of sleeping rooms for the use of young men away from home, thus providing a place under proper influence for strangers in the city.  The forty-eight dormitory rooms are provided with the necessary furniture and furnishings to make the young men satisfied.

A motherly woman looks after the rooms and keeps them in fine shape, and she prides herself on the cleanly appearance of the rooms once she has cleaned them.

It is little wonder that the citizens are proud of this building for which 1,270 different ones subscribed to the necessary funds to erect, and there is never a day passes that some one does not bring in a friend or stranger to go through it.

What caused a city the size of Eau Claire to put up such a large, handsome building?

How the Movement Started

Mrs. H. H. Howe organized a group of boys in a band called the "Clan Gorden;" this group of boys kept getting larger and larger until this little woman saw the necessity of larger and more adequate quarters.

One of the boys had visited a Y. M. C. A. building in another city and he suggested that Eau Claire ought to have one.  At a later meeting of the boys they had a big sign painted, "We Want a Y. M. C. A.," signed "The Boys."  This sign was strung across one of the business streets, and several wealthy men saw the need of such a move and opened their purses with liberal subscriptions.

The three heaviest subscribers were:  H. C. Putnam, $20,000; O. H. Ingram, $20,000; Mrs. Cornelia Truax, $16,000.

A campaign of ten days was launched for $100,000, and the amount was raised with the assistance of the state Y. M. C. A. force of Wisconsin.

This campaign opened the eyes of the citizens to the great possibilities of organized effort in the city, and as a result of this get together spirit there is a movement now on foot to raise by public subscription funds for a municipal auditorium to be used for conventions, lectures, etc.

During "opening week" several women were offended because they were not solicited for cakes or asked to serve at the big reception; they all deemed it an honor to be asked to assist, and the officials at the association were swamped with cakes and offers to serve.  The Women's Club at one of the meetings appointed a committee to call on the general secretary to find out how best they could serve the Y. M. C. A., and through their efforts many costly oil paintings adorn the walls of the building.

A call was sent out to the young men to work as ushers in showing people through the building evenings; some sixty responded and did splendid work.

Through the opening up of the billiard room in the building one of the worst pool halls in the city was forced to go out of business, and the rest cleaned up their places.

The gymnasium classes have been patronized by a large number of men and boys.  The gymnasium is the place where many prominent business men have built up their physical needs and are getting great benefits every week.  Swimming lessons have been given and the association secured the services of an eastern swimming expert to teach the men and boys to swim.

The new building is the social center of the city among the men's organizations, who have taken advantage of the quarters on the second floor.  The homelike atmosphere and moral tone of the building cannot help but uplift everyone coming in contact with it.

One prominent man when he was shown through the building was so impressed with it that he told the general secretary to order a big electric sign that could be seen all over the city and send the bill to him.

Many architects and contractors have come miles to go through the building, and without exception have felt the trip more than repaid them for their effort.  Almost without exception they recognize that the building is a model for its size and the arrangement for supervision in all its departments have brought it to the attention of other Y. M. C. A.'s around the country.  Hardly a day passes that letters are not received asking particulars regarding it, and many secretaries and building committees have inspected it.

The board of directors early decided not to push the memberships until next fall, so without solicitation 561 members have joined and the board looks forward to a big work next fall.  The members of the board are as follows:  O. H. Ingram, W. J. Starr, J. D. R. Steven, A. J. Keith, George B. Wheeler, K. Rosholt, W. K. Coffin, T. F. Branham, H. T. Lange, E. D. Rounds, C. T. Bundy and H. W. Chase.

The following is a list of the names of the association's presidents:  Elijah Swift, 1881 to 1883; V. W. Bayless, 1883 to 1884; J.  H. Thorp, 1884 to 1886; D. P. Simons, 1886 to 1888; R. H. Chute, 1888 to 1891; S. S. Kepler, 1892; B. J. Churchill, 1892 to 1893; C. A. Bullen, 1893 to 1894; A. L. Dodge, 1894 to 1896.  General secretaries:  S. A. Abbott, 1881 to 1883; W. L. Lougee, 1883 to 1886; John Caldwell, 1886 to 1891; Arthur T. Adams, 1891 to 1893; George H. Timmings, 1893 to 1896.

Albert L. Dodge
Eau Claire, Wis., June 15, 1911

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