The newly installed YMCA sign
Photo by Carrie Kulinski
(Young Men's Christian Association)
of Northern Rock County
Story by Teresa Nguyen
It takes many caring people to make all the great things happen at our Y. Each of our volunteer board members shares their time, energy, and focus on strengthening our communities through helping kids reach their potential, encouraging healthy living for all ages, and giving back to our neighbors. ~ YMCA of Northern Rock County Board
The YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association) was the most important organization of young, Christian men during the late 1800s. The organization arrived from England to the shores of New England even before the Civil War.
The group was formed to bring social services to young men flocking to urban areas for work. It served as an important social welfare organization in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
1870 - The YMCA movement reached Wisconsin. Urban-area YMCA's were non-denominational organizations trying to meet the needs of youth through social action.
1892 - Several prominent businessmen in Janesville established the city's formal YMCA organization in the city. Its first activity was fundraising for a YMCA building.
1893 - Building began for the YMCA at 402 West Milwaukee Street.
1895 – The stately building was finally completed! This new YMCA building was three stories tall, constructed of red brick with a limestone foundation and limestone accents. The interior featured a large lobby and reading room, a large gymnasium, a swimming pool, 40 dormitory rooms, and a three-lane bowling alley! The building attracted new members to the YMCA.
1899 - The Gideon Bible organization was founded at the Janesville YMCA by Janesville resident, John H. Nicholson, and a Beloit man. This group has been distributing Bibles to hotel rooms around the world, and it continues to distribute them to this day.
1912 - The Janesville YMCA began a campaign to raise $15,000 to remodel their building on West Milwaukee Street.
The original YMCA building in Janesville built in 1895
It is located at 402 West Milwaukee Street
1914 - The YMCA remodeling was completed.
1924 - The organization had grown over the decades and it began fundraising for a new building to accommodate a growing Janesville population approaching 19,000.
1925 - Work on the new building at 54 S. Franklin Street began. The YMCA put its old building up for sale.
1926 - The building at 54 S. Franklin St. was completed. The four-story building was constructed with Mediterranean Revival details and a large, spacious interior.
The YMCA at 54 S. Franklin St. in Janesville, WI
1928 - The original YMCA building was used by the Elks Club and later used by others. Decades later it became the Hammond Organ Studios, where people could take organ lessons.
This first YMCA building at 402 W. Milwaukee St. has been remodeled, but much of the building's historic appearance still exists today.
1930s - The new YMCA struggled under its building debt during the Depression.
1942 - The YMCA Celebrated its Golden Anniversary.
Post WWII - The YMCA bounced back with much activity by social and political organizations.
The old YMCA building as it is today on W. Milwaukee St. in Janesville, WI - Photo by Gloria Hushka
1950s - A landmark, vertical, neon “YMCA” sign was installed.
1969 - The YMCA remodeled its building and constructed a large addition for recreational programs. By this time, the YMCA had changed its emphasis to a public recreational facility, which rivaled the best private health clubs of larger cities. It housed an Olympic-sized swimming pool, exercise rooms, and handball courts!
1999 - The YMCA joined with the Janesville Boys & Girls Club to add a new facility to the old building, which now serves members of both groups.
2013 - The new Parker YMCA facility in Milton opened its doors. The Parker Y includes a full-service preschool and daycare service, a gymnasium, youth activity center, community rooms, a fitness center and three acres of irrigated athletic fields.
2020 - In March of 2020, both the YMCA downtown and the Parker YMCA had to close their doors due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
2021 - Summer programs are back open! Also this year, a new YMCA sign was added to the side of the YMCA building in downtown Janesville.
Over the decades the YMCA in downtown Janesville has added 2 pools, 3 gymnasiums, saunas, a whirlpool, racquetball/handball courts, a Family/Youth Fitness Center, personal training and over 60 Group Exercise Classes per week! Classes including ZUMBA, Water Fitness, Indoor Cycling, Yoga and more!
A statement on the YMCA website from the current Board of Directors reads:
"It takes many caring people to make all the great things happen at our Y. Each of our volunteer board members shares their time, energy, and focus on strengthening our communities through helping kids reach their potential, encouraging healthy living for all ages, and giving back to our neighbors."
Yoga classes continue! Visit the Mari Margaret Yoga Facebook page for class updates.
The Y has certainly changed its focus over the years from serving young Christian men resettling in urban areas to serving all folks in our area. The Y’s wonderful, state-of-the-art recreational facilities continue make the YMCA a vital organization for our community!
Mary Margaret Yoga