When you visit the YMCA of Saginaw at 1915 Fordney Street you may have noticed a rather elegantly lettered block of stone placed on the front lawn – currently, a more accurate description should include snowdrift.
Originally, this carving was a sign positioned above one of the entrances of the old YMCA building located at North Michigan and Ames. Dedicated in 1912, this building served the community for nearly five decades. When it was demolished in 1962, this architectural detail was salvaged and relocated to the Y’s new Fordney Street home.
In 2018, the Castle Museum celebrated the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Saginaw YMCA with an exhibit. In the exhibit, we chronicled the founding of the organization:
An organizational meeting for the Saginaw YMCA held in June of 1868 at the East Saginaw Central Baptist Church. On January 1, 1869, the organization’s first home was dedicated. It was located in a commercial building on South Washington Avenue across from the Bancroft Hotel. The YMCA’s first decades in the cities of East Saginaw and Saginaw City were challenging. City directories and newspapers record efforts to establish a home in the cities. Sometimes, the organization was without a permanent facility.
In 1881, “the Rev. J.N. McEldowney, pastor of the Jefferson Avenue Methodist Church said there was no city in the state where a YMCA influence was more needed than Saginaw.” - The Saginaw News
However, by 1887, the YMCA settled into the Bates Building on the corner of Tuscola Street and Franklin Avenue. The newspaper reported the building was “tasty but not elaborate.” It included classrooms, a reading room, bathing rooms, an assembly room, and a gymnasium was. By the time of the consolidation of East Saginaw and Saginaw City in 1889, each community had a YMCA branch. At an 1891 state convention, the east side Y reported 305 members and the west side claimed 155.
In 1895, the west side Y became an independent organization known as the West Side YMCA of Saginaw. After a few years, the group encountered difficulty and closed its space in 1902. In the early 1900s, the east side YMCA started an ambitious fundraising campaign that was initially successful. However, a disagreement led to the abandonment of the project in 1905.
The future for the west side YMCA was profoundly changed by a bequest from former Governor Aaron T. Bliss. After his death in 1906, the group received $25,000. Three years later lumberman Arthur Hill bequeathed $25,000. These gifts formed the foundation for the reestablishment of the west side YMCA and formed a base for a successful fundraising drive for a new building. Groundbreaking for a new home occurred in April 1911.
The new building was dedicated in the fall of 1912 and was officially named the West Side YMCA. It was renamed the YMCA of Saginaw in 1929.
Watch our Facebook Page for the history of the current YMCA Building.