Visit the McGaw YMCA   
     Home     Events    History    Sponsors    Leaders    Media    Get Involved    Stories    Donate     
  Home > History
Bookmark and Share

Unforgettable Video

Unforgettable: Memories of the Emerson Street Branch YMCA

Click here to view Unforgettable: Memories of the Emerson Street Branch YMCA, a film by Susan Hope Engel chronicling its 60-year legacy and impact on Evanston's African American community.

125th Anniversary Video

The YMCA In Evanston: 125 Years Strong

Click here to view The YMCA In Evanston: 125 Years Strong, a film by Susan Hope Engel filled with stories and memories from the generations impacted by the Evanston YMCAs!


The history of the Evanston YMCA is one of creating connections with our community. As our society has grown and changed, the YMCA has increased its connections to lead and reflect ever-more progressive and inclusive thinking to create stronger, supportive, and more inclusive connections.
McGaw YMCA Timeline 1885-2010 1890 1910 1930 1950 1970 1990 2010 1885 1900 1920 1940 1960 1980 2000
The Evanston YMCA is founded November 17, 1885.
First Board of Managers: M.P.Aiken, President; Joseph M. Larimer, VP; J.H. Nitchie, Recording Sec; Howard G. Grey, Treasurer; W.E. Stockton; W.H. Spencer; O.E.Haven; S.A. Kean; Charles B. Congdon, Louis K. Gillson; P.O. Magmussen.
130 members, $2,210 in funds, and an annual membership fee of $5.00.
First location in Rink Building, Davis & Chicago. W.S. Mather first General Secretary.
Women’s Auxiliary started.
$20,000 is raised for a new gymnasium.
The Evanston YMCA moves to 1611-21 Orrington Avenue and installs its first telephone.
The first overnight camping for boys from the Evanston YMCA is held at Camp Hope (the predecessor to Camp Echo) in Phantom Lake, WI.
The Evanston YMCA wins the Central AAU basketball championship with a score of 18-11 over the Lewis Institute.
Rev. James Rayford Talley makes a request for African American youth to participate at the Evanston YMCA, but is rebuffed.
He organizes activities for African American youth behind Harland’s blacksmith shop.
The Evanston YMCA membership stands at 802.
Learn to Swim, the first campaign to teach boys and girls to swim is offered at the Evanston YMCA.
The cornerstone for the Emerson Street YMCA is laid on February 6,1914.  The building is dedicated in July 1914 with an audience of 450 in attendance.  The branch opens and is immediately very popular.
The first Emerson Street YMCA Committee members: Dr. Charles B. Scruggs; William H. Twiggs; S.C. Nichols; A.L. Jones; James Allen;  W.A. Kincaid; Major A. H.Edmonds; J.M. Poston; S.A. Cannon, with Rev. James Talley as Executive Secretary.
Sex Education talks draw 500 boys and 641 men at the Evanston YMCA.
Training drills are offered to servicemen as the U.S. prepares for war; Evanston YMCA facilities are provided free to Great Lakes servicemen; Funds are raised for POWs
The first Red Cross First Aid class is offered.
The Evanston YMCA helps returning servicemen to find jobs and gives free membership for three months.
The smoking room abolished at the Evanston YMCA.
1,545 members.
Camp Echo moves to Long Lake near Fremont, MI - its future permanent site.
The Hi-Y Club produces its first musical show  (a predecessor to Brillianteen).
The Evanston YMCA, playing under the name of Evanston Chandlers (after the Evanston store) wins the Central AAU basketball championship with a score of 21-19 over Capper & Capper.
The cornerstone of the new Evanston YMCA building at 1000 Grove Street is laid May 20, 1929.
An addition at the Emerson Street YMCA doubles its size, creating 19 dorm rooms for African American students at Northwestern University until the University desegregates its dorms in the 1960s.
The Evanston YMCA team becomes aquatic champs.
The new building at 1000 Grove Street is dedicated.
The Great Depression: The Evanston YMCA offers counseling for jobless men, jobs & advice; 1,000+ counseling sessions are held.
The Evanston YMCA basketball & boxing teams become champs.
Funds are rasied to offer memberships for for those who can’t afford it.
Nat Cole (later 'King' Cole) performs at the Emerson Street YMCA for the segregated Evanston Township High School prom.
50th Anniversary – Membership reachers 5,000.
The Evanston YMCA offers Tri-Hi-Y, its first club program for high school girls.
The Evanston and Emerson Street YMCAs help WWII servicemen.
The Emerson Street YMCA membership stands at 1,942.
After raising $15,000 for its creation, 'The Plantation Room' opens at the Evanston YMCA as a recreation spot  for young people.
The YMCAs work with servicemen returning from overseas.
Emerson Street YMCA / Grove Street YMCA committee is formed to study interracial problems.
Camp Echo opens its first session for girls.
The first Family Camp is held at Camp Echo.
A daycare center for children of working parents opens at the Emerson Street YMCA.
The first Pancake Breakfast is held to fund building projects and world service.
Membership cards are first used to enter the YMCA.
The Evanston YMCA Swim team become aquatic champs.
The Evanston YMCA wins an award for the best health & physical education department in Illinois.
Desegregation of the YMCA begins with 4th graders.
The family gym program starts.
Babysitting is introduced to allow women to use the YMCA.
Emerson Street & Central YMCAs both begin Indian Guide programs - a program founded by General Secretary Doug Monahan, well-respected local and national YMCA leader.
75th Anniversary – Membership stands at 5,152.
Wheelchair basketball is introduced.
Tot swim instruction is offered.
Evening exercise classes are offered for working women.
Aid is offered to families displaced by city riots.
First City Youth and Government program is held.
The Emerson YMCA is closed. Executive Director Roy Buley goes to work at the Grove Street YMCA.
Jazzercise makes national debut at the Evanston YMCA.
Indian Princesses for young girls is added to Indian Guides.
The Evanston YMCA hosts a novice swim meet; 500 attend.
The Evanston YMCA sponsors a program on new methods to teach the blind.
The first international counselors join the staff at Camp Echo.
The first Evanston Express race is held.
The first annual Black History Month exhibit is held.
The first full summer of coed camping is offered at Camp Echo.
A major gift from the Foster McGaw family renames the Evanston YMCA to the McGaw YMCA.
100th Anniversary.
Emery Moorehead speaks at the celebratory event.
Olympian Bart Connor gives a demonstration at the Y where he first started out in gymnastics.
Lu Bleavans is elected the first woman president of the Board of Directors.
The Project SOAR mentoring program is started when the Evanston YMCA, in cooperation with Robinson Bus company, the Evanston Police, and Rotary International, take a group of boys to Camp Echo.
The Grimm Family Aquatic Center is built.
Moving from just two rooms at 1000 Grove Street, the Children’s Center expands and opens at 1420 Maple Street will full day care, pre-school & after school programs.
Robert Reece is elected the first African American president of the Board of Directors.
The Sebring-Lewis Center is built.
Women make up half the membership of the McGaw YMCA.
The new fitness center is opened.
An Emerson Street YMCA history exhibit by Shorefront and event is held at 1000 Grove Street.
Project SOAR wins an NAACP community service award.
125th Anniversary – Membership stands at 10,543.
A new vision statement is developed: "We will welcome everyone; inspire, activate, and impact all - in spirit, mind, and body.