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History of Washington’s Y. M. C. A.
BY JOHN CLAGETT PROCTOR. THERE arc religious and semi-religious organizations in this city which, from the day of their inception, have re flected credit upon the people of the District of Columbia, but none more so than has the Young Men's Chris tian Association, begun here 80 years ago. To become and remain a successful organiza tion, as has this well known body, the founders themselves must be given credit for having been men of sterling worth, determined, sin cere and enthusiastic, ar.d those who later took up the work, and who carried it on to this day. as being up-builders and character builders of the highest types. True, the names o 1 many of the latter class —the more recent workers in this organization —are familiar to the present generation, in cluding as it does many of our foremost citizens, such as John B. Lamer and William Knowles Cooper, both of whom passed away recently. But of the earlier m:n, those who put the as sociation on its feet and kept it going steadily forward even in its struggling day, perhaps not so much is known, and, indeed, in some cases, a few might almost b? o-gotlon. for the old saying, "Our of sight, out of mind"—unfortu nate as wc frequently flr.d it—applies here as it does in thousands of other cate1-. And so the writer in this story plans to revive sem? of the rarlied local history of this notable organiza tion. In writing history, one can make his woik easy or hard, depending upon the character of work he wishes to p.oduee, or has the time to devote to it. He may adopt sketches writ ten by others, without cheeking up. or seek original and undeniably authentic sources. If he adopts the former course, he may get by; if he pursues the latter, he at least will know whereof he speaks, and not bo hke some one who tells us in a document recently published by Congress that the old Ford Theater in Tenth street was formerly a theater, when it only occupies the site of on?, or another re.ent pub lic document that tills us that Gen. Forest was wounded in the Battle of Germantown and lost a leg at Brandywine, a thing almost im possible to believe. The Batile of Brandywine occurred September 11. 1777. ar.d that of Ger mantown October 4 following, and surely the general would not have been permitted to en gage in battle again 23 days after losing a limb. IN order to get at the early facts of the as I sociation. the writer took th* straight and narrow path—even though it c'id take more time—and hied himself to the Library of Cong ress where he sought out the National Intelli gencer. In the issue of June 9 1852. he found what was probably the first public reference to the forming of the "Y" in this city. It said: "NOTICE—The young men of the dif ferent Protestant denominations in this city, and all others interested in the ob ject proposed, are most earnestly re quested to meet at the Masonic Hall, cor ner of E and Tenth str.eLs, this evening. 8th instant, at 8 o'clock, to take Into on sideration a plan for organizing a Young Men's Christian Association.” That the meeting was held as announced, we find by the same paper, two days later, which gives an account for that time, but which is not half full enough today to please the members of this organigation. which lost many of its records through a disastrous fire. The write-up in 1852 said: "Pursuant to a call given through the vari ous pulpits of the city and the public press a meeting of the young m:-n of the different Protestant denominations, and others interested in the organization of a Washington Young Men's Christian Association, was held at the Masonic hall, corner of E and Tenth streets, on Wednesday evening the 9th Instant, at 8 o'clock, and organized by the election of Judge T J. Johnston as chairman, and W. C. Lang don as secretary. "The meeting having been opened with prayer by the Rev. Mr. Nourse, the chair stated its objects and the designs with which it had been called. At the request of Mr. Dummer, Mr. Langdon submitted a statement of the steps which had already been taken and the encouragement which had been given by the different clergymen consulted. “A preamble and resolutions submitted by Mr. Duncan, after some amendments and de bate, In which Rev. Mr. Noble, Dr. L. D. Johnson, Messrs. Dummer. Spurrier, Lawrence. Langdon, Miller. Davis. Lane. Rothwell and others took part, were adopted, as follows: “ Whereas the young men of Washington, present or represented at this meeting, are deeply sensible of the necessity for the organ ization and successful practical operation of a Young Mens Christian Union Association for purposes of mental, moral and religious im provement: Therefore it is “ ’Resolved, That the meeting appoint a com mittee. to consist of one member from each denomination here represented, whose duty it shall be to prepare and report to a subsequent meeting a constitution and by-laws for the organization and government of such an asso ciation. ” 'Resolved also. That those persons present who intend to become members of the associa tion be requested to leave their names with the secretary.’ • 'A THIRD resolution, requesting the chair to appoint a committee of three persons to prepare and publish in the city papers an address to the young men of Washington, and of the union, calling their attention to and defining the objects of this association and soliciting their countenance and co-operation, was. on motion of the Rev. Dr. Junkin, laid on the table. "After some remarks from Mr. Lawrence and others, the meeting elected the foliowring, nominated by their respective denominations, as the committee on the constitution and by laws : "W c. Langdon, from the Protestant Epis copal Church. » Incidents Connected With Founding of Organi zation Recalled—Various Homes Occupied. Rosters ofOfficers and Members. Losses by Flames. Home of Young Men's Christian Association, formerly the If ashington Club, anti later the Chamberlin Chib. Destroyed by fire July 24, 1895; resloreil. and again destroyed by fire January 2, 1898. "Jame* N. Davis, from the Methodist Church. "Judge T. J. Johnson, from the Presbyterian Church. New School. "Edward Myers, from the Presbyterian Church, O. S. ‘‘William Q Force from the Baptist Church. "A. G. Brown, from the Methodist Episcopal Church South. "Dr. L. D. Johnson, from the Methodist Protestant Church. “It was moved that the committee be author ised to receive additions from denominations not represented at this meeting, but. after a discussion between Rev. Dr. Junkin. Drs. Linds ly and Johnson. Messrs. Roth well. Sexton. My ers, Spurrier. Langdon. Duncan. Zevelev and Davis, the motion was withdrawn. "On motion of the Rev. Dr. Junkin it was “ Resolved. That persons not here present wishing to become members of tills association be requested to leave their names with the secretary between this and the next meeting. " Ordered. That the Committee on the Con stitution and By-Laws be empowered to call tiie adjourned meeting of this association as soon as it may be ready to report. “ Ordered also. That the proceedings of this meeting be published in such of the city papers as will give them insertion.’ "In pursuance of the second resolution about --* 35 or 40 gentlemen came forward and enrolled themselves, and the meeting adjourned. WM CHAUNCEY LANGDON. Secretary.” The comm,tier provided tor by the foregoing resolution 'to prepare and report to a subse quent meeting a constitution and bv-laws” seems to have performed its duty promptly. OF interest is the account of the beginning of the association given by W H H. Smith, In which he says: "In April. 1852. Rev, Clement M Butler, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church of this city, placed a copy of the constitution in the hands of William Chauncev Langdon and Thomas Duncan young teachers in his Sunday school, to oonskier whether such an organization might not be effected here. These two young men discussed the matter with their mutual friend, William J. Rhees of the Baptist Church, who lived In the same house with Mr. Duncan, and he entered into the plan with great enthusiasm. Theae three men. only about 21 years old. and employed in the governmental service, met in Mr. Rhees' room on F street between Twelfth and Tlrteenth. and there made arrangements for a public call to propose a definite organ isation. "It seems that Mr. Duncan had previously been considering the Idea of attempting such Birthplace of the Young Mens Christian Association, the old Medical College Building which stood at the northeast comer of Tenth and E streets northwest. an organization here, and credit Is to be given him for taking the first steps for the formation of the Washington Association. He. however, left the city in October, 1852. and the details of establishing the association devolved upon rj* srs. Langdon and Rhees. ably a sisted by Messrs. Z. Richards and M H. Miller.” Mr. Smith further tells us that at the pre liminary meeting of June 9. s xty persons were in attendance in the room occupied by the " ‘Central Academy' of Rev. James Nourse.” and that ‘‘35 or 40 persons came forward and enrolled as members, the numb r tying in creased to 92 members within a w<ek or so thereafter.” Also, from Mr. Smith we find that the first 12 members who signed the c nsll.ution did so in the following order: Thomas Duncan, W. C. Langdon. John C. Whitwell, J. T. Coch ran. A. G. Carothers, Zalmon Richards. Thomas Brooks, A. H. Lawrence. William J Rhet-s C. W. Schreiner, A. B. Johnson and William Five. The first regular offl’ers, elect'd July 9 were Alexander H. Lawrence, president; William Jones Rhees. recording se retary: William Chnuncey Langdon, corresponding secretary, and Mitchel H. Miller, tier urer. On D cember 14, 1852. Zalmon Richards was made presi dent, Dr. James S. M-.Kie. D • Ri-hard H. Coolidge, William B. Waugh and William Q. Force, vice presid nts, and A L. E i wards, librarian; Messrs. Rhees, Langaon and Miller being re-elected. For a while the association met wheie it was organized, and then, on October 7, mevtd into the Fowler Building, on the can s de of Sev enth street between D and E stre ts. I 1TTLE is known of the Seventh .street build ing, but the place of the association's birth, at Tenth and E streets, was known as the Medical Building, located on the corner where now,- as the Potomac E'ectri - Power Co. Budd ing. The old building stood th re for many years and was a landmark, bting from 184>; to 1855 known as Masonic Hall, wiiee met the Grand Lodge and seven of the subordinate lodges. It was in a historic spot, in the same block with the Ford Theater Bui’ding. where Lincoln was shot April 14. 1865. and diaeonally across the street from the house in which the great emancipator died the following day On the E street side it was also oppos te the house at 918 E street where one - lived James Bu h anan. The old building stood until 10 or 15 years ago. when It gave wav to a gasoline station and more recently to the present struc ture. From the Fowler Building the association seems to have moved ti the corner o: Penn sylvania avenue and T.nl'r street subsequent to 1855, and on November 22. 1858 moved into larger quarters in the Parker Build.ng. on the south side of Pennsylvania av»hue between Sixth and Seventh streets, whi-h was no doubt recently removed with the other buildings in that block. In 1865 it was back again on Seventh street, next dror to Odd Fellows Hal — a few doors from its former home in this block. On January 15, 1867. it moved to quarters over Metaerotts buiidini. 925 Pennsylvania avenue, and bv the following year had mo\ed to 313 Pennsylvania avenue (old numberingi, and here the association remained until it mo\ed into its new home at the northeast corner of Ninth and D streets northwest, best known to the early resident as Lincoln Hall and Grand Army Hall, shortly after it was completed. May 26 1869. Though the association had at one time nego tiated for the purchase of the old Ford Theater Building, on Tenth street, and the Brady gym nasium building, on the south side of Louisiana avenue between Ninth and Tenth streets, yet Its efforts in these directions apparently came to naught, for on Sept'-mber 16. 1867. we find it making a contract for the erection of the Ninth and D streets building, the corner stone of which was laid on November 27 of that year. This was a fine building for its day and oc cupied a spacious piece of ground which had - previously been occupied for a long time by the pretentious home of Hudson Taylor, one of Washington's early book sellers. The house stood back from the street, we are told and ‘ had quite a large garden with some fine old trees growing on it," one of which, a beautiful ash. w£s sold to Samuel Kirby when the grounds were being cleared. Being a cabinet maker. Mr. Kirby made the wood into furni ture. kiRS. JENNIE TREE RIVES, who was the Ivl daughter of Lambert Tree, for a long time chief clerk of the city post office, writing, in 1900. of this neighborhood where she had ; pent her girlhood days, tells-us: “Next to Hudson Taylor's, on Ninth street, stood an old three or four story brick house, the windows heavily barred with iron bars. When my father came here, in 1820. this house was used as a slave pen. He has often seen the Negroes standing at the windows looking out Into the street and waiting to be sold South. • • • At the northwest comer of Ninth and D streets- stood the house and grounds of Thomas Don oho. Next to that, on Ninth street, was Dr. Blanchard's office. Mr. Galt's house stood next, and then came my father's house, Lambert Tree, now Silverberg’a picture store. Mrs. Murray and her daughter. Miss Mary Murray, a quite noted music teacher, lived on the north of us. Then there were several houses with entrances below the street. You had to go down several steps to get into them. Boyd's hardware and Purcell's book store occupy the old site.” Mr. Donoho's house, which stood at the northwest comer of Ninth and D streets north west. Is recorded as being a beautiful cottage, "with its attractive garden of old-fashioned flowers.” Here now is old Seaton Hall, for