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158 Years of YMCA Records and Documents Find a Home in the UB Archives

Records of the second-oldest "Y" in the U.S. offer a rich historical trove

Release Date: October 21, 2010

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The YMCA's Buffalo Germans played in the 1902 Pan Am Exposition basketball championships, and went on to a 111 straight game winning streak. Photo: Courtesy of the UB Archives.

Buffalo YMCA Michigan Avenue branch Junior Board Dance, circa 1949. Photo: Courtesy of the UB Archives.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- YMCA Buffalo Niagara, the second oldest YMCA branch in the United States, has presented to the University at Buffalo Archives a collection of records and documents dating to its founding in 1852.

The collection includes board and committee meeting notes and minutes, among them handwritten minutes of the first board meeting signed by founder George Perkins, and photographs illustrating the YMCA's operations over a 158-year period. It comprises annual reports, histories, press clippings, scrapbooks and other materials.

John D. Murray, president and CEO of YMCA Buffalo Niagara, says, "While moving our corporate headquarters last year, we found a significant amount of handwritten documentation and many other archive materials, some dating as far back as our organization's founding in 1852.

"We realized that these aging archives have significant connections to not only our YMCA's past, but also to some of Western New York's past as well," he says, "including direct ties to the University at Buffalo at a time when libraries and education served as a key component of YMCA services."

UB Archivist John Edens says he expects that by the end of the year, the collection will be available to the public in the UB Research Room, 420 Capen Hall, North Campus.

"The collection will be of use to anyone conducting research on the history of Buffalo and Niagara Falls," Edens says, "since the commentary contained in the collection addresses many of the issues of concern to the residents of Buffalo and Niagara Falls and their suburbs over the past 13-plus decades."

The collection includes material that documents YMCA activities during the Civil War era, and during World Wars I and II; documentation related to the Great Depression; and evidence of 158 years of programs designed to promote community leadership, physical health, education, character development, spiritual well being, and employable skills in children, adolescents and adult men and women in different economic and social classes.

For instance, there are records of how the YMCA handled housing for many visitors to the Pan American Exposition in 1901 and, over the years, for those traveling through the Niagara Frontier.

The new collection also records the work of the YMCA on behalf of Civil War troops. During the Civil War, the Buffalo branch, along with a number of others, became regional clearinghouses for various activities channeled through the U.S. Christian Commission. The commission was established by the YMCA to promote the spiritual and temporal welfare of soldiers and sailors in the U.S. Army and Navy, and continued to minister to the troops until they were discharged from military service. The war ended in 1865 and the commission was terminated in January 1866.

The YMCA was founded in London, England, in 1844 as a refuge of Bible study and prayer for young men seeking escape from London's hazardous streets; 23 YMCAs were established in England by 1851.

That year, the first U.S. branch of the YMCA was founded in Boston, Mass., and in April 1852, George W. Perkins and several colleagues met in the loft of the old Pearl Street Methodist Church to establish the Buffalo association.

Over the next 40 years, the Buffalo Y held the first international convention of YMCAs (1854); established Camp Weona, a resident camp for youths ages 7 to 14 (1897); founded the Turkey Trot foot race (1895), which remains the oldest consecutively run footrace in North America; established the Equality Club of Buffalo, the oldest service club in the city (1898); and opened or incorporated seven facilities across the Niagara Frontier.

In 1895, the association established the famous "Buffalo Germans" basketball team, which played in the Pan American Exposition and, from 1908 to 1911, set a record of 111 straight wins. It was disbanded in 1925 after compiling a 792-86 record. In 1961, it became one of only six teams inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a whole. The collection contains a scrapbook of photos and news clippings highlighting the team and its accomplishments.

In 1928, the Y also established facilities for "colored" patrons, the Michigan Avenue YMCA (1920-1970), designed by Buffalo's first professional African-American architect, John E. Brent, a founding member of the NAACP, which had its origins in the region's Niagara Movement. UB has held the records of the Michigan Avenue YMCA in its collection for several years.

In 1994, the Buffalo YMCA was renamed the YMCA of Greater Buffalo, and in 2006, when the Niagara Falls branch joined the association, the name was changed to YMCA Buffalo Niagara to reflect, along with a change in logo and focus, its effort to better serve communities in the 21st century.

Membership in YMCA Buffalo Niagara's branches peaked in 2007, and then went down a bit, reflecting national trends. Today, more than 100,000 Western New Yorkers utilize the YMCA every year in some capacity.

Murray says, "Because we do not have the resources to provide the specialized care these valuable historical archives need, we felt it would be a natural fit to donate them to the University at Buffalo, where we know they will be properly preserved and made available to future Y leaders and historical researchers."

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

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