A look back: Charlotte’s first YMCA


January 1, 2023

by Sharon Smith

A quick online search shows dozens of fitness studios and gyms from SouthPark to uptown. They’ll be full the next several weeks, following the New Year’s nudge to get active. There’s a place for everyone — from beginners to elite athletes.

We’ve come a long way, baby. In 1888, there was one YMCA building in Charlotte, one of the first in the state. Back then, it was ahead of its time.

During construction, the project at 206 South Tryon St. was described in The Charlotte Observer as “one of the single largest excavations ever made in the city,” with an original project cost estimated at $15,000. It was billed as “the handsomest building in Charlotte,” and construction costs soared to $40,000. Some things don’t change.

There was an effort to persuade the public of its community importance beyond moral and spiritual guidance. “The Young Men’s Christian Association of today where it has the room and conveniences aims to meet the young man, and supply his needs in every phase of life,” an Observer article read in 1887. The writer goes on to mention social rooms “for amusements” and education classes focused on penmanship and bookkeeping. “Is he literary in his taste? The reading room and library supply his wants in that direction.”

Just a few lines mention physical fitness. “Is he inclined to athletics? The gymnasium will furnish advantages in this direction of which, for systematic body building, too much cannot be said in its favor.”

The YMCA moved farther down Tryon Street in 1908, where it stayed until 1960 when it moved to East Morehead Street.  SP

Photograph courtesy The Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library

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