Buffalo, New York
The YMCA, an international Christian services organization, has been active in the United States since its founding in the mid-19th century. Of the thousands of branches in America, the oldest and most historic branch still in existence is in Buffalo, New York. Dating from the 1850s, the Buffalo YMCA was the second to be founded, and it is an important historic landmark in the city. It was the site of the first Turkey Trot, an annual fundraising raise that is still run every Thanksgiving.
The Young Men’s Christian Association was founded in 1844 London as an institution with the mission to offer an alternative to the rough streets for boys and young men. In 1851 the first branch of the YMCA in the United States was established in Boston, Massachusetts. The next year, George Perkins founded the second branch on Pearl Street in Buffalo, New York.
Dozens, and eventually hundreds, of additional branches followed in the ensuing decades. But the Buffalo branch was one of the most prominent from the outset. In 1854, the YMCA held its first annual convention, not in London or Boston, but in Buffalo. The Buffalo YMCA became an integral part of the downtown community during the latter half of the 19th century.
In 1895, the Buffalo YMCA hosted the inaugural Turkey Trot, a five mile race held on Thanksgiving Day as a fundraiser for the organization. This tradition quickly spread to other YMCAs, and has since become an institution in and of itself. The Turkey Trot has been run every year since. Over the last few years it has drawn over ten thousand runners annually.
By the turn of the century, the Buffalo YMCA had grown so large that a new facility was needed. In 1902, the new building was completed. It remained in use until the 1980s, and is now the oldest of the large-scale, purpose built YMCA buildings still standing in the United States. Although the YMCA Central Building is now a privately owned commercial building, it is now an historic landmark as well as one of Buffalo’s most beautiful buildings.
The YMCA Central Building was, at the time of its construction, one of Buffalo’s architectural showpieces. A relative skyscraper at the turn of the century, this Renaissance-style building included a large residential dormitory, extensive activity facilities and a restaurant on the top floor. Unfortunately, while the building exterior maintains its magnificent original appearance, the interior has long since been gutted and is now home to office and commercial space.
In 2010, the archives of the Buffalo YMCA, the oldest complete archives of the organization in the United States, were transferred to the University of Buffalo, where they are partially available for review. The Buffalo Turkey Trot, still going strong after more than a century, still runs every year down Delaware Avenue, a block west of the YMCA Central Building.
The YMCA Central Building is now known as the Olympic Towers. It is located in downtown Buffalo at the junction of Mohawk and Pearl Street, close to where the original facility once stood. The exterior of the building is obviously accessible for viewing, as is the atrium which is open during business hours. The rest of the building is unfortunately not open to the public. Web: www.buffaloplace.com (official website of Olympic Towers).
Although the YMCA Central Building is no longer in use, the Delaware YMCA, opened in 1927, is one of the oldest YMCAs still in operation and is just a few blocks away. Camp Weona, located outside of Buffalo in Gainesville, was opened in 1897 and is one of the oldest YMCA camps in operation.