100th Anniversary

Our History

Westfield Area YMCA Celebrates 100 Years of Community Service

In 2023, the Westfield Area YMCA proudly celebrates its 100th anniversary of service to the community. As a nonprofit human service organization, the Y is dedicated to the communities of Westfield, Cranford, Garwood and Mountainside.

But the history of establishing a local YMCA actually began in the 1800s. In fact, there were two prior attempts to form a YMCA. Thanks to strong leadership and the support of the community, the Westfield Area YMCA we know has grown to provide a wide variety of programs and services that reflect and anticipate the ever-changing needs of the community.

 

Early Origins

The first effort began in 1868, when a group of Christian laymen established a YMCA to promote the growth of men under age 40 who were “of good standing of an Evangelical church.” A second attempt began in the 1890s, when a local Y with a recreation center was established for teenage boys in what was known as the Old Gale clubhouse on Elm Street. It was soon disbanded because the building was not sturdy enough to support athletic activity and funds were not available for renovation.

 

The Westfield Area YMCA Begins

The third time was the charm. Descendants of the past Y directors assembled in the early 1920s with a plan to “discourage Westfield boys from hanging out on street corners by providing them with a place for constructive activities.”

In 1923, a Board of Directors and a Board of Trustees were established to oversee development of the present organization marking the formal beginning of today’s Westfield Area YMCA. An annual budget of $5,225 was approved and the Association’s Finance Committee organized a fundraising campaign.  In November 1924, the Board of Directors authorized the purchase of the Trevenen property, formerly the Clark Homestead.  The land was acquired for $18,000, contributed by members of the Board and other supporters.

A memorable ten-day Building Campaign was held in 1927, during which daily fundraiser tallies were recorded on a 60 foot scoreboard, positioned on the south side of the railroad tracks, to be seen by commuters.  The drive netted a total of $304,512! The groundbreaking ceremony was held in 1927 and the cornerstone was laid in 1928. The building opened in 1929 and served 325 members in its first year. The building contained social rooms, a gymnasium, indoor swimming pool, bowling alleys, locker and shower rooms, assembly rooms and a kitchen. There were also 36 dormitory rooms. In 1930, the Board of Directors approved the creation of a provisional Young Women’s Christian Association in Westfield for women and girls.

 

The Great Depression and World War II

The onset of the Great Depression, just one year after the Y’s auspicious beginning, seriously threatened the future of the facility.  Membership renewals and contributions declined, single room occupancy dormitory rooms were vacant, operating deficits piled up, and fundraising efforts failed. The Directors considered closing the building but determined it would be an “irreparable loss” to the community.  They kept it open and ultimately the Y rebounded.

Years later, World War II provided another challenge, as many members and workers were called into service. School teachers and salesmen helped staff the Y and keep it open.  The Y also raised funds for the war effort, and the building served as a casualty station.

 

The 1950s -1970s

In the 1950s, the Westfield Area YMCA boasted 381 clubs, classes, committees, councils, boards and additional groups. The post war boom continued, as the Y mirrored the same remarkable growth in programs and community service that many Y’s achieved nationally.

Day camps were introduced in the 1950s, and in 1955, a group of Westfield Y teens traveled to France to the world’s conference of YMCAs in Paris.

At the time, the Main Facility featured a youth canteen and sponsored social events for young people, while maintaining the Westfield Old Guard for active retired men.  It also offered specialized workshops, such as one developed in cooperation with the Plainfield Y, emphasizing the importance of supervisor competence and human relations in the industrial workplace.

The Wallace Pool opened in 1960. In 1965, the gymnasium was dedicated by Bill Bradley, former Princeton University and Knicks basketball star who later became a United States Senator. In 1968, the Y took swimming on the road with the Westfield “Y” Swimmobile making rounds at local playgrounds.   The 50th anniversary was celebrated in 1973 and the first woman joined the Board of Directors in 1975.

 

The 1980s and 1990s

Westfield Area YMCA child care programs began and grew during this time.  The Y opened its first preschool class in 1982, after school programs began in 1983, and the first full-day child care class started in 1987 with 16 children.  In 1991, the Westfield Area YMCA entered into an agreement with the First Baptist Church and renovations were made to the facility now known as the Early Learning Center YMCA to grow the program and add infant/toddler care.

Consolidation with the YWCA in 1985 made the Clark Street facility equally used by men, women and children.  Single room occupancy facilities, available since 1929, were phased out by the early 1990s with a fitness studio, the Weldon Room, opening in that space in 1993.

 

The 2000s-2010s

In 2003, the Flyers Track Club launched joining the well-established Devilfish swim team as opportunities for developmental and competitive sports.

The Robert and Virginia Bauer Family Branch YMCA opened in 2005 in the former Christian Science Church.  This facility includes preschool classrooms, a multi-purpose room, conservatory and lounge for programs.  A child care location first opened in Garwood in 2009 and programs were held at the Cranford Community Center.

7th grade was seen as a pivotal time in which teens start setting future social, health and wellness habits and behaviors.  The Westfield Area YMCA began offering the popular 7th Grade Initiative program in 2010.

2011 marked the first year of the “Delay the Disease” exercise program, which addresses symptoms and issues associated with Parkinson’s disease.

Camp and school age child care programs launched in Mountainside schools in 2011.  Camp offerings continued to expand offering traditional, sports, STEAM, and leadership camps for ages 3-15. The Garwood Family Center YMCA opened in 2012 at a former elementary school to provide full day and half day child care, school age child care and summer day camp.

In 2014, the Westfield Area Y commemorated completion of the first phase of a multi-year capital improvement project focused on ADA-accessibility and infrastructure enhancements at the Main Y. This included a new entry ramp, a new elevator, relocation and renovation of the Fitness Express Center, new restrooms and modernized classrooms. By 2019, new racquetball courts and the Glasser Foundation Lounge opened, and renovations to the Strength Training Room, Cardio Room and Free Weight Room were completed.The Westfield Area YMCA has maintained a number of international partners through the years. In 2017, the newest YMCA in the world, YMCA of the Cayman Islands, became an international partner. The Y also continues to support the Phayao Center of the Bangkok YMCA. Past partnerships include the Sunrise YMCA of Russia and Brasilia YMCA of Brazil.

The Y began offering Pickleball, ahead of the curve of the sport’s increasing popularity in 2018. The Achievers program, which serves diverse high school students in Union County, celebrated its 20th anniversary the same year.

 

2020 – Today

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the world, and close to home.  The Y was forced to shut its doors on March 16, 2020 and was not permitted to reopen for three months. Over the next year, the Y slowly brought back programs and memberships while adhering to CDC, state and local health and safety regulations and guidelines. The Y pivoted to offer remote, hybrid and virtual options for everything from child care to fitness classes.

The Main Y Lobby renovation was completed in 2021. Construction of the new Family Locker Rooms will be completed in 2023 and will serve families and those with special needs.

In 2022, Pioneer camp began in Cranford. The partnership with the Township of Cranford expands in 2023 with plans for the YMCA to renovate and expand services by running the indoor pool & wellness center, a new multipurpose space and multiple programs including swim lessons. A new Cranford Kindergarten Wraparound program is launching in September 2023 at the Walnut Avenue Community Center.

Through the years, the Westfield Area YMCA has evolved to meet the needs of each new generation. Financial assistance is available to those who live or work in Westfield, Cranford, Garwood or Mountainside and are experiencing a bona fide financial hardship, ensuring that no one is turned away due to an inability to pay for Y programs and memberships. Programs continue to cultivate honesty and respect as they emphasize the importance of responsibility and caring for entire families.  The Westfield Area YMCA enhances the quality of life in the community through comprehensive facilities and offerings for youth, teens, adults, families and seniors including child care, aquatics, wellness, sports, and social and recreational programs. Congratulations to the Westfield Area YMCA on its first 100 years of impact strengthening the foundations of our community through youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.