History

The YMCA has had a rich history in the Roanoke Valley, dating back to 1883—that’s before Roanoke was officially a city.  See how we’ve evolved over the years to serve nearly 1 out of every 9 people in our region.

 

1883 – The first YMCA was organized and housed in a two-story house on what is now the 300 block of Jefferson Street. It was founded to serve the men who worked for the railroad in the community of “Big Lick.”

1914 – The first facility, built specifically to be a YMCA, was opened in 1917 at the corner of 2nd and Church Avenue. It featured the first indoor pool in Roanoke and contained a gymnasium and housing for traveling businessmen. There is a beautiful watercolor painting of this building in the lower level, near the elevator, of the Kirk Family YMCA.

1928 – Roanoke, as most all cities in the South during the first half of the 20th century, was a segregated community. The Y built in 1917 was only open to the white community. Consequently, in 1928, the first African American YMCA was organized in Roanoke and located in a house on Wells Avenue, across the street from the First Baptist Church. It was called the William A. Hunton YMCA, named after the first black Y director in the United States. The first director of the Hunton YMCA was L.A. Lee.

Through the years, the Hunton Y was renamed the YMCA Family Center and today is called the YMCA Express at Gainsboro.  We still celebrate L.A. Lee as the founder of The Father-Son and Family Banquet, the YMCA of Roanoke Valley’s longest-running program.

1958 – After a successful $700,000 capital campaign, the Roanoke Central YMCA moved into a brand new, 72,000 square-foot facility at 425 Church Avenue. Built for men and boys only, it featured a four-lane indoor pool, gymnasium, men’s health club, boy’s department area and two floors of dormitory-style rooms that housed up to 60 men.

1960s – Segregation at YMCAs was ended in 1964, and African Americans in Roanoke were able to use the Central YMCA downtown.  In the late 60s, the YMCA became co-ed, inviting women and girls to join.

1988 – The Family Center and the Central YMCA merged to become the YMCA of Roanoke Valley.

1988 - YMCA Magic Place opened, providing child care after school to 10 children at one site.  Today, through our after school program and summer camps, Magic Place, now known as Y After School/Y Summer serves 900 children from 25 schools at 17 school-based locations in Roanoke City, Salem City and Botetourt County.

1996 – The Salem Family YMCA has its grand opening with 302 members.

2004 – The Kirk Family YMCA, a state-of-the-art, family-friendly facility, opened in September 2004. It was a result of a successful $10.8 million capital campaign, featuring a model public-private partnership with the City of Roanoke. The building consists of 30,000 square feet of new construction and 22,000 square feet of renovations to the former Jefferson High School Gym that the city deeded to the YMCA.

2005 - The Salem Family YMCA completed its expansion that included a new Wellness Center, gymnasium, Child Watch, group exercise studios and a new Teen Center.

2008 – The YMCA Family Center undergoes an extensive renovation and expansion that includes new male and female locker rooms, wellness center and group exercise area. One of the first Green Roofs installed in the Roanoke Valley was a feature of this project. At the ribbon cutting ceremony in September 2008, the official branch name was changed to the Gainsboro Family YMCA.

2011—Due to the overwhelming increase in membership since its opening in 2004, the Kirk Family YMCA significantly expands its space to accommodate more people in the Wellness Center and in its group exercise spaces.  The Y also adds on the Y-Arcade, an interactive exercise gaming experience for the whole family.

2012 – Serving nearly a quarter of Salem residents, the Salem Family YMCA expands its building in order to accommodate even more people.  The space includes an all-new wellness facility and more space for group exercise and youth programs.