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A 150-Year History of the YMCA of Saginaw

The Castle Museum preserves a collection of archival material related to the YMCA. The collection is rich in photographs and processed by our intern from Saginaw Valley State University. As part of her work, she wrote a brief history of the organization that remains an important part of the community today:

The Saginaw YMCA began on Oct. 7, 1864 as the "Young Men's Association." After the establishment of the National Young Men's Christian Association in 1868, the Saginaw "Young Men's Association," became the Saginaw YMCA. Early in its development, meetings were held at the Central Baptist Church in East Saginaw. Traditionally, business and religious leaders attended these meetings. In time, meetings became inclusive and men and boys regardless of race and creed could join.

In 1895, another branch opened in West Saginaw following the disbandment of the East Side branch in 1874. The West Side YMCA lacked the support and funds to stay open and was also headed towards disbandment as well. However, in 1906, Governor Aaron T. Bliss donated a sum of $20,000 to the organization and stipulated that $5,000 of the funds would be used for building cost. In 1909, Arthur Hill also bequeathed $25,000 to the association in his will. With these donations and a building drive in 1910, the YMCA built a new site for their organization on Oct. 1, 1912. The new site was called the "West Side YMCA," until it was renamed in 1929 as the "YMCA of Saginaw."

Despite wartime and the depression, the YMCA of Saginaw continued to grow. By the 1940s, 30,000 people were members or enrolled in programs offered by the YMCA of Saginaw. It was clear by the 1940s that the Saginaw YMCA needed a newer and bigger building. As a result, in 1948, the organization developed a six-year working plan for expansion.

It took a total of seven years to raise funds for the $2.7 million dollar building dedicated on Sept. 11, 1960 and located at 1915 Fordney Street. It took a vote from the people of Saginaw, a special act of Congress, and donations from 7,000 plus citizens to obtain $2.7 million for the building.

For nearly 150 years, the YMCA of Saginaw has been a significant organization in the Saginaw community and provided many youth programs, clubs and summer camps. The first camp was established in 1914 on Tawas bay and was also held at various other sites between 1915 and 1927. By 1928, a permanent site was established for the YMCA of Saginaw Resident Camp. The camp was called "Camp O-Ge-Maw-ke" and was located on Wagner Lake in Rose City. The camp remained open until 1966. However, lake level diminished through the years and by 1965, the lake water was so low that the Camp had to share space with the Bay City YMCA Camp Iroquois the last two remaining summers. On May 28, 1968, YMCA Camp Timbers was formally dedicated. The camp is still operating in West Branch Michigan, off 320 acres with a private lake, and many amenities for campers and staff. The first session for girls occurred in 1968 and by 1971, the camp became entirely co-ed. 


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