Asheville was a little more than a village in 1889, with a population of about 10,000. It had no paved streets, no parks or playgrounds, and not much for young men growing up in the city to do that might not eventually land them into trouble.
A group of upstanding young men, led by R.U. Garrett, had been meeting regularly to talk and pray about the situation. As attendance at their meetings increased, they urged the formation of a local Young Men’s Christian Association.
That fall, at a small but enthusiastic gathering in the Central Methodist Church that was attended by members of all the city’s denominations, our YMCA was born. H.T. Collins was the first president, and rooms were rented in the Harkins Building on Patton Avenue.
Anderson was selected as the first General Secretary (the forerunner of today’s executive director) and arrived in Asheville in October 1889. He set about enlisting the support of the churches, citizens, and the press, who gave the new enterprise their hearty support.
The Women’s Auxiliary was perhaps the most significant group in the early history of the Y, raising funds, furnishing the rooms, and providing music and refreshments for meetings.
By the turn of the century membership was up to 350, and the Board of Directors decided it was time the association should own its own building. In 1901, under the leadership of the new General Secretary, O.B. Van Horn, the YMCA did what had been considered impossible. A building on Haywood Street was purchased, and, by 1909, membership had increased to 658. The Y remained at that location until 1920, when the building was sold to the Citizen Company.
In 1920 the Y purchased a new building on the corner of Woodfin and Broadway, the former home of wealthy landowner Nicholas Woodfin. Built in 1840 and enlarged to twice its original size in 1922, the magnificent Woodfin mansion served as the home of the YMCA for nearly 50 years.
During that time the Y hosted countless programs and personalities. Thousands of servicemen were entertained at the Y during World War II. Y clubs were formed for local schoolchildren in the postwar years. The Good Life Club, directed by Seth Parkinson, survived the Depression and touched the lives of many youngsters. H.S. Chapman presided over the building of an athletic field and tennis courts, and the Market Street branch actively served the African-American community.
The modern facility the Asheville YMCA now occupies just a few yards from its original site didn’t come easily. The rejuvenation of the Asheville association was the dream of Henry Burts, who became the director in 1962. Under his leadership, and with help of men such as Met Poston, Jim Glenn, Foster Aldridge, and many more, the dream was realized in 1970 with the construction of the new facility at a cost of $1 million. In 1986 the Y added a second indoor pool to the facility, and in 1997 it renovated the wellness center and added the Buddy Patton Youth Wing.
The Y also has a program site operating as the Youth Services YMCA on Beaverdam Road, providing child care for school-age children, leadership development, and a wide range of outreach services for at-risk youth. A converted farmhouse houses administrative staff, child care and outreach programs, and the eight-acre plot contains soccer fields, a playground, an outdoor challenge ropes course, and a climbing wall.
In 1998 YMCA volunteers and staff took steps to expand services outside its two facilities. With a desire to be more inclusive of the region, the Board voted to change the corporate name to the YMCA of Western North Carolina and initiated communication to provide services in the surrounding counties.
Under the leadership of current President and CEO Paul Vest and former Board Chair David Newell, the Board of Directors also finalized discussions with Biltmore Farms to construct a new Y in south Buncombe County. The Reuter Family YMCA was made possible by the Janirve Foundation's lead $2 million gift and a successful $6 million capital campaign led by Dr. Keith Black. The facility was named after Jeannette and Irving Reuter, who started the Janirve Foundation.
During this same time, a new YMCA was built in McDowell County. The Corpening Memorial YMCA was made possible thanks to major support from the Maxwell Corpening Jr. Foundation and a $1.5 million capital campaign led by Jed Rankin. The Corpening and Reuter YMCAs opened in March and April of 2003.
In fall 2006 the YMCA of WNC took on the operations of providing school-age child care in all Buncombe County elementary schools. This program opened the door to serving more than 800 families and close to 1,200 children during the school year. This program extends into the summer at several schools.
The Y took steps to address growing obesity concerns among youth and adults in 2009. The Woodfin YMCA opened in north Asheville to reach people seeking healthier lifestyles, relationships and wellness. Strategic efforts were made to design and develop this 15,000 square foot facility. This work was being driven by the Y's involvement nationally with Activate America and Pioneering Healthier Communities.
Many new initiatives were started in 2011. A camp feasibility study was completed to explore options for a possible resident camp in Swain County, partnerships with Shiloh community and ABIPA were set in motion, and LIVESTRONG at the YMCA began providing needed support to local cancer patients and survivors.
In 2012 was an exciting year as the Henderson County YMCA became part of the YMCA of Western North Carolina and changed its name to the Hendersonville Family YMCA. This addition strengthened our impact and ability to serve a larger population.
Our efforts to improve community health and wellness continued in 2014 with the opening of the Fletcher YMCA, later renamed the YMCA at Mission Pardee Health Campus.
Our first overnight camp, YMCA Camp Watia, opened in June 2016. The 900-acre parcel where the camp is located was a gift from the Glass Foundation, with 130 acres devoted to program space and the remaining acreage set aside in a conservation easement. Thanks to the support of generous individual and institutional donors, Camp Watia will serve area youth for years to come.
The association also experienced major growth in 2017. The Asheville YMCA launched a $2.5 million renovation, and a generous lead gift from Jack and Carolyn Ferguson led to the development of the Ferguson Family YMCA in Candler.