To the casual passer-by, the bank parking lot at Church Street and Court streets in downtown Frederick may not engender much excitement.
This was not always the case, however, as this site was once a hub of activity that Fredericktonians of a certain age may remember with fondness, as the site of Frederick County’s first YMCA.
Frederick County’s YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) was organized in 1858, and first met in a small room in the Etchison building on South Market Street and later in the Evangelical Reformed Church parsonage. In 1906, members of the local “Y” general committee decided to build a permanent home for the organization. A subcommittee, which was composed of Hammond Urner, Grayson Bower, and Charles Wertheimer, was formed out of this group to raise money to secure a site in the city. At a meeting in Kemp Hall, the committee indicated that they were interested in buying the Park Hotel that then stood at West Church and North Court. But were unable to secure an option for the property. Fortunately, two members of the Y’s general committee had purchased the Park Hotel themselves for $13,000 and “held it subject to the wishes of the committee.” With that bit of welcome news, the committee decided to move forward with acquiring the site from these gentlemen. More than $60,000 was raised by the community for the purchase and construction of what was to be Frederick County’s first YMCA. Taking inflation into account, that is more than $1.5 million in today’s money.
The YMCA building was finished in 1907, utilizing classical revival design elements. Situated prominently on the corner at three stories in height and resting on a high basement, the H-shaped building was constructed primarily of “thin white brick” framed by buff-colored sandstone quoins, the high basement executed in a contrasting rusticated red sandstone on the street-side facades. The roofs of each of the two end sections of the H-shaped building were hipped, while the center bay was described as a steep A-frame construction, clad with slate shingles, pierced by tall chimneys and round dormer windows. Masonry ornamentation that greatly enlivened the facade in part consisted of a 13-layer brick belt course on the first story, lozenges inset within the segmental arches above the double-hung windows on the second story, and a decorative egg-and-dart motif that framed the cornice just below the roofline.
A widely attended reception was held on New Year’s Day 1908 to show off the new YMCA, which boasted a cafe, gym, indoor track, pool, game room, weight room, reading room, two regulation-sized bowling alleys, and a 200-seat auditorium. There were also 22 rooms available to rent to young men, eight private bathrooms, and one general bathroom on the third floor. Female members of the community were allowed use of the recreational facilities on one day a week. On Friday nights, high school students were known to hold rollicking dances to music from a jukebox.
This building served the community from its official opening in 1908 until 1966, when the Y moved its operations to its current home on North Market Street. Thereafter the building served as offices, lastly as the home of Frederick County’s Department of Social Services. The building sadly caught fire and burned down on Dec. 6, 1974, causing more than $1 million in damage. Ladder trucks from Hagerstown and Rockville were called in to assist city and county fire companies. Their tenacious efforts resulted in minimal damage to neighboring properties, including the Masonic Temple next door, although the old Y was a total loss.
In September 2000, three commemorative plaques were placed on the site, memorializing the old Y, and honoring Alvin G. Quinn, the Y’s longtime leader, and his assistant, Mary M. Motter.
Send your questions and comments to PreservationMatters@cityoffrederickmd.gov.