An Early Start
The Memphis Young Men’s Christian Association was organized in 1855 only 11 years after the movement was born in London, England.
For the first 15 or more years of its existence, the Memphis YMCA, like the international movement, was a lay-evangelical fellowship of young men united by a common loyalty to Jesus Christ. From the late 1860s, the Memphis YMCA, like most YMCAs in the South, became inactive due the Civil War and the local Yellow Fever epidemics of the 1870s.
After this period of inactivity, the Memphis YMCA was permanently reorganized in 1883. A room was rented over a store at 303 Main Street, a few simple furnishings acquired, a modest library installed, and the Association was underway. The first officers elected and installed were W. K. Poston, President; Judge T. D. Eldridge, Recording Secretary; W. E. Wells, Corresponding Secretary; S. M. Jobe, Treasurer; and Reverend E. E. Porter, Librarian.
Building Community Downtown
Little is known of the Memphis YMCA between 1883 and 1907 except that dynamic leadership had been provided by John R. Pepper in keeping the Association viable. In 1907 Thomas B. King and John R. Pepper were president and vice-president of the Association respectively. Feeling the need for a greater facility, the YMCA of Memphis conducted a Building Fund Campaign and purchased a building site at the corner of Fourth and Madison for $33,687. Plans were announced to construct a $200,000 seven-story building on the site. Mr. Elias Porter was president by the time the building funds were raised in a whirlwind campaign, a first for Memphis.
The magnificent seven-story structure was completed in 1909 in time for the building’s dedication on October 27, 1909, by United States President William Howard Taft, accompanied by governors from 27 states. Among those present was Governor Patterson of Tennessee, along with most of the city’s 131,105 population, who had gathered to watch the proceedings. Madison Avenue had been paved barely in time for the President’s arrival.
It has been over 160 years since the Memphis YMCA first opened. The first building at 245 Madison Avenue has been open for more than 100 years, serving the youth and adults of Memphis in a variety of ways. Since 1909, our YMCA, like our city, has grown and branched out in many directions. We currently have 10 full facility branches (Church Health YMCA coming soon!) and 3 program branches that serve all ages and segments of our community.