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Guide to the Young Men's Christian Association of La Crosse Records, 1883-1980 (bulk 1883-1974) MSS 023

Guide to the Young Men's Christian Association of La Crosse Records, 1883-1980 (bulk 1883-1974)

MSS 023

Summary Information

Records of a La Crosse, Wisconsin, men's organization, mainly 1883-1974. The organization is also known locally by the name "Family Y," and its membership is open to men and women. The original purpose of the association was to "promote the mental, moral, social, and physical good of the young men" of La Crosse and its vicinity. Religious education also played a large role. Today's programming is geared toward family activities and physical exercise.

Materials include board minutes, 1883-1954; photographs, 1926-1980; and scrapbooks, 1942-1974. Newsletters and photographs are also included from two YMCA clubs: the Central High School "Hi-Ys", 1959-1966; and the Men's Y-Club, 1938-1954.
Collection Title
Young Men's Christian Association of La Crosse Records
Date of Materials [bulk]
Bulk, 1883-1974
Date of Materials [inclusive]
Young Men's Christian Association (La Crosse, Wis.).
Call Number
MSS 023
2.4 cubic feet
Physical Description
4 archives boxes, 1 records center carton
Language of Materials
La Crosse Public Library Archives

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], Young Men's Christian Association of La Crosse Records, MSS 023, La Crosse Public Library Archives, La Crosse, WI

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Historical Note

The La Crosse, Wisconsin, chapter of the Young Men's Christian Association (Y.M.C.A.) began on the evening of April 10, 1883, in the old Light Guard Hall in downtown La Crosse. E.E. Bentley served as the first board president until 1885. W.E. Lewis, secretary of the state Y.M.C.A., spoke that evening of the future of the local group and the benefits membership could provide.

Twenty-six charter members signed the preamble. Well-known and influential men of La Crosse constituted the majority of the first membership list. Among them were: E.B. Magill, Louis B. Colman, George Burton, John M. Holley, H.B. Smith Sr. & Jr., George McMillan, H.I. Bliss, E.D. Loomis, and Henry A. Salzer. The main purpose of the association was to "promote the mental, moral, social, and physical good of the young men" of La Crosse and its vicinity.

The constitution and by-laws were adopted April 20. Meetings of the general membership and board of directors were held quarterly in various churches around the city. The association also rented the third floor of Rodolph's block (southwest corner of 3rd and Main streets) for $10 a month. Gymnasium space was located on the first floor of the Neuman building.

By May 1884, the end of the first year of existence, the membership had grown to 304, a newsletter was circulating among members, and a general secretary, M.B. Williams, had been hired to oversee the daily operations. By September of that same year, more space was required to accommodate the programs, activities, and growing number of Y.M.C.A. participants. Rooms were rented in the Calahan block (near 5th and Main streets). In 1889 a piece of gym equipment (or "appliance" as it was called) was purchased for $25 and a bass viol for $15 for one of the Y.M.C.A.'s interest groups or clubs. This space sufficed until 1895 when the association purchased the Scandia building on King St. for $13,000. Later, this building became the Labor Temple. The space was remodeled to provide a gym, bowling alleys, baths, a reading room, club and game rooms at a cost of $5000. It also was equipped with a large auditorium.

One of the biggest events in the 110 year history of the group was the dedication on September 17, 1909, of the new Y.M.C.A. building on Main and 7th streets. George W. Burton was the building committee chairman and a former Yale University classmate of then U.S. President William Howard Taft. At Burton's request, Taft agreed to give the keynote address at the dedication. Over 20,000 people came to hear Taft deliver his speech. The building itself was made possible through a donation of $25,000 by W.W. Cargill, $5000 from the Hixon Co., and $60,000 from private citizens. It served the Y.M.C.A. from 1909-1960 when a joint Y.M.-Y.W.C.A. facility was constructed at West Ave. & Main St. in 1969. The old Y.M. building was purchased by Western Wisconsin Technical Institute in 1970.

In 1885 a north side branch of the "Y" was opened at 815 Rose St. through the financial generosity of the railroads. G.H. Timmings was appointed assistant secretary in charge. He later became general secretary of the chapter in 1896. In April 1893, the separate north side branch voted to become a department of the south side association.

Specialized activities for boys under 15 years of age began shortly after the group's formation. One of the clubs was called the Red Triangle and started in 1919. Boys aged ten and eleven were invited to join. The high schools also had "Hi-Y" groups. Students ran the meeting with the help of an advisor. In 1934, when much of the Y.M.'s programming had been reduced because of the Depression, 117 high school boys still belonged to Hi-Y clubs. Their motto was "clean speech, clean scholarship, clean athletics and clean living." In 1934, there were 15 boys' clubs led by businessmen, teachers, and pastors.

Another popular activity of the Y.M.C.A. was Camp Bradfield. Through the generosity of Dr. and Mrs. J.A.L. Bradfield, the 150 acre site of the camp was made possible. It is located eight miles north of Black River Falls, Wisconsin, and opened in 1930. The camp equipment was purchased with funds donated by many civic organizations. In 1937 over 110 boys from the La Crosse Y.M.C.A. used the camp; 60 boys from the Winona, Minnesota, Y.M.C.A.; more than 25O Girl Scouts; and 86 young people on a Bible conference.

The Men's Y Club was formed in 1937 with 18 charter members. It began as a group of young Y.M.C.A. businessmen interested in serving the men and boys of the community through the Y.M. Other physical activities offered were gymnastics, handball, volleyball, badminton, boxing, wrestling, basketball, swimming, and social events. The association also was a charter member of the Community Chest organization, a forerunner of the United Way.

After World War II, the Y.M. embarked on a rehabilitation project of its physical facilities. In 1966, a building fund campaign was launched to raise money for a joint Y.M.-Y.W.C.A. building. The United Way (then called the United Fund) urged the Y.M. and Y.W. to join forces and share a physical facility rather than launch two separate capital fund drives. The groups would share physical facilities but maintain separate programs and identities. Kenneth Dahl was elected general chairman of the $1.25 million fund drive. The joint committee decided to build on the current Y.W. site at 1140 Main Street.

In 1967 the Elsie Gile Scott mansion on the corner of West Ave. and Main St., the Y.W.C.A. residence, was razed. Construction began on the new building early in 1968. A.C. Menke was appointed building committee chairman. The new joint facility opened November 20, 1969, at a cost of $1.7 million.

The new 70,000-square-foot building included a double-court gym, an Olympic-size swimming pool, locker rooms, showers, three handball courts, workout rooms, "women's health club," "men's athletic club", game room, a multi-purpose room, four meeting rooms, a play-school, nursery, hobby room and offices.

The combined membership of the Y.M. and Y.W. in 1969 was approximately 2000. By 1972, that figure had increased dramatically, so more land adjacent to the joint facility was purchased. One house was demolished and one home and two duplexes were retained as rental property. Construction of an 11,200-square-foot addition was completed in 1976 at a cost of $362,000. This fund drive was appropriately called "The Second Mile Drive."

The addition included space for three more handball courts, a multipurpose studio, and a dirt floor running track. A women's physical fitness center had to be cut from the plans because of high construction costs.

In 1980 a task force was created to serve as a long range planning committee for both groups. Members of both the Y.M. and Y.W. and others unaffiliated with either group made up the task force. The group recommended that one joint board of the Y.M. and Y.W. control all money and property of the two groups. Separate directors would continue to be responsible for their group but that co-ed activities, fundraising and membership would be the responsibility of each.

In 1983 the idea of a "Family Y" was publicly discussed in newspaper articles between members of the Y.M. and Y.W.C.A. The Y.W.C.A. felt that a merger would result in a power struggle to control expansion plans and goals of the combined agency. The Y.M. board accepted the plan but the Y.W. rejected the idea.

A new joint operating agreement was reached in late 1984 to make better use of the crowded physical facilities. Some programs, such as Special Olympics, fitness programs and social dance classes, began to be offered jointly.

In early 1987 feuding between the two organizations again occupied local newspaper headlines. The Y.M.C.A. announced a name change on January 5, 1987, to the La Crosse Family Y. Membership was opened to women and girls as well as men and boys either as a family or as individuals. This structure had been encouraged by the national Y.M.C.A. governing body as early as 1976. The Y.W.C.A. felt the name change was a "deliberate attempt to confuse the public," and voiced concern over competition for membership of women and girls. Before the change, both groups honored the others' members into their programs without charging non-member fees for classes. When the Y.M.C.A. shifted its focus to the family, this situation changed.

In 1989, the Y.M.C.A. was given full sponsorship of the La Crosse County Big Brother-Big Sister program, a social project funded heavily by the United Way. Another social program the Y.M.C.A. began operating was a day care at Summit Elementary School in 1990.

On September 15, 1992, the Y.W.C.A. moved out of the joint facility, selling its half of the building and equipment to the Y.M.C.A. for $535,000. The Y.W. decided the costs of maintaining the building and equipment were too great, and that the group wanted to pursue other goals than physical fitness.

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Scope and Contents

Although the Y.M.C.A. materials span 1883-1980, the written documentation is thorough only from 1883-1958.

The Y.M.C.A. series includes annual reports (1889-1898), board minutes (1883-1954), general newsletters (1884-1888), camp newsletters (1930, 1935, 1938), photographs (1926-1980), and scrapbooks (1942-1974). The photographs are organized into these subject categories: camp, events, and programs. Camp photographs are mainly images of Camp Bradfield, a Y.M.C.A. camp just north of near Black River Falls, Wisconsin. The events include the popular Youth-in-Government yearly program in Madison, Wisconsin. The programs are subdivided: basketball, soccer, team portraits, water sports, and other. Not all images are dated. The scrapbooks are newspaper clippings mainly referring to Y.M.C.A. programs and activities.

The Y.M.C.A. Clubs series includes loose scrapbook material, newsletters and photographs of the Central High School "Hi-Y" boys group (1959-1966), and the Men's Y Club (1938-1954).

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The Young Man's Christian Association of La Crosse Records are arranged in two series: Young Men's Christian Asssociation (Y.M.C.A.), and Y.M.C.A. Clubs.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

La Crosse Public Library Archives 1993 January

800 Main St.
La Crosse, Wisconsin, 54601
(608) 789-7136

Access to Materials

Materials in this collection are available for patron use.

Acquisitions Information

Donated by Robert Huff, Director, Y.M.C.A., March 1992.

(Accession No. 1992.002)

Processing Information

Processed by Anita Taylor Doering, January 1993.

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Related Materials

Related Materials

(MSS 024)
 Young Women's Christian Association of La Crosse Records
(Clipping file)
 La Crosse--Organizations--Y.M.C.A.
(Clipping file)
 La Crosse--Celebrity Visits--Taft, William Howard
(Clipping file)
 La Crosse--Biography--Cargill, William W.
(Clipping file)
 La Crosse--Biography--Bradfield, J.A.L.

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Controlled Access Headings

Corporate Name(s)

  • Young Men's Christian Association (La Crosse, Wis.).


  • Men--Societies and clubs--Wisconsin

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OCLC Number


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Collection Inventory

 (Series 1) Young Men's Christian Association (Y.M.C.A.), 1883-1980 


Annual reports, 1889-1898 


Board minutes 

Box Folder


1 1-5


2 1-2


Box Folder

General, 1884-1888 

2 3

Camp Bradfield, 1930-1938 

2 4




Box Folder


2 5-7


3 1

Slides, 1926-1961 

3 2
Box Folder

Day camp, 1960s-1970s 

3 3

Other, 1960s (?) 

3 4


Box Folder

Youth in Government, 1960s-1970s 

3 5

Other, undated 

3 6
Box Folder

Facility, 1947-1969 

3 7

Personnel, undated 

3 8


Box Folder

Basketball, undated 

3 9

Soccer, 1979-1980 

3 10

Team portraits, undated 

3 11

Water sports, undated 

3 12

Other, undated 

3 13

Scrapbooks, 1942-1974 


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 (Series 2) Y.M.C.A. Clubs, 1938-1966 

 (Subseries 2.1) Central High School "Hi-Y" Boys Group, 1959-1966 

Box Folder

Loose scrapbook material, 1960-1966 

4 1

Photographs, 1959-1962 

4 2

 (Subseries 2.2) Men's Y-Club, 1938-1954 

Box Folder

Loose scrapbook materials, 1938-1950 

4 3

Newsletters, 1938-1954 

4 4

Photographs, undated 

4 5

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