Springfield’s first Y.M.C.A. was built in 1901, and was located at the corner of St. Louis Street and Jefferson Avenue. (Courtesy of the Springfield-Greene County Library District)
The year was 1888 when Springfield’s first YMCA came to be — but it wasn’t until around 10 years later when its first building was complete. Until that time, the organization operated in space in other buildings around the square.
The Y’s first Springfield facility, located at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and St. Louis Street, ready for occupancy in May 1901. Shortly prior to its completion, it was described by the Springfield Republican as “one of the finest structures in the state.” However, money was a problem: Just before it opened, a public push was made to raise the remaining funds — and even appealed to the women, who weren’t allowed at the Y in those days.
“Any mother with boys growing up knows the fierce temptation to which they are exposed and hail with delight a fine Y.M.C.A. building which can be a safeguard for young manhood,” reported the Springfield Republican in May 1901. “It is hoped that every lady in the city will feel like having some money in this fine building.”
However, despite pleas for funding, folks were already talking about erecting another YMCA. The second one, however, wasn’t to fill the same need as the under-construction facility. Instead, it was supposed to be “Frisco YMCA,” geared toward giving men working on the railroad a clean, wholesome place to stay while away from home.
“It is recognized that a tired man will not go over to St. Louis street for a bath and any counter-attraction to Commercial street saloons must not be farther away than they are,” wrote the Republican on May 12, 1901, which also noted that the Frisco promised to build its next “railroad Y.M.C.A.” in Springfield.
For whatever reason, that didn’t end up happening. The newly constructed Y.M.C.A. facility couldn’t be used for that purpose anyway (regardless of its distance from Commercial Street) because it wasn’t built with sleeping rooms. Instead, it contained a gym, library and showers.
Unfortunately, that building wasn’t used for very long. In 1910, it burned to the ground. Leaders quickly decided not to rebuild on the same site; instead, they purchased property at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Pershing Street.
The “new” Y.M.C.A. building was complete in 1913.
(Courtesy of the SGCLD)
Construction started in 1911 on the facility, which today is known as the Ward Downtown YMCA. Among other perks, the new facility had 71 sleeping rooms, a gym, a swimming pool, a cafeteria and an auditorium.
Many changes have occurred since then, including the merger with the across-the-street Y.W.C.A. in 1982, the construction of the Pat Jones YMCA on Republic Road, and the expansion in other local communities — but the “downtown Y” has continued providing recreation and education to local kids that entire time.
A group class, circa 1914. (Courtesy of the Ozarks Regional YMCA)
The Ward Downtown YMCA today
Want to know more?
Contact the Ozarks Regional YMCA via their website.