History of the Y

Historical Sketch of the Merrimack Valley YMCA

In 1865, an Association for young men was formed in Lawrence, only 10 years after Lawrence was incorporated as a town.

In 1876, Charles Wainwright, Paymaster of the Arlington Mills, organized an Association which continues to exist to this day. It was called the Arlington YMCA, and the Arlington Mills erected a building for their use at the corner of Broadway and Park Streets.

On January 1, 1879, a Constitution and a set of By-laws were adopted and the name was changed to the Lawrence Young Men's Christian Association.

On March 25, 1880, the Association was incorporated.

In 1889, a Women's Auxiliary was formed, and for 25 years it was a powerful factor in the social life of the Association. These women, in their enthusiasm, were instrumental in raising the money that made it possible to erect the original building at 40 Lawrence Street, which still stands today.

Summer Camps for the junior membership have been maintained regularly since 1912, and in 1921, the Association purchased the southern end of Bear Island on Lake Winnipesaukee and developed Camp Lawrence.

In 1923, thirty rooms over the gymnasium were added, filling a long-standing void in residence facilities. The YMCA now contained the following facilities: a modern gymnasium with elevated track, a swimming pool, bowling alleys, locker rooms, second floor function and meeting rooms, and a total of 96 residence rooms on the third and fourth floors.

A major step in enlarging the Camping program was taken in 1957, when the Association purchased a 10-acre site on Captain's Pond in Salem, New Hampshire. A permanent day camp program, Camp Otter, was established there and continues to this day.

The final step in the establishment of our current camping program was completed in 1962 with the purchase of Camp Nokomis on Bear Island. The 50-acre site, with over 2,500 feet of shoreline, enabled the Association to add resident camping for girls.

In 1967, with the expressed approval and support of the United Fund, the Lawrence YMCA assumed the responsibility of the operation of the Andover Youth Center on a trial basis for one year. On January 1, 1969, the former Andover Youth Center was granted a charter and became the Andover Branch of the Greater Lawrence YMCA.

In 1973, ground was broken for the construction of the new million dollar Andover-North Andover Branch. This year also saw the beginning of the new wing at the Downtown Lawrence Branch containing a squash court and two four-wall handball-paddleball courts. Also, this year saw the acquisition of a Marina in Meredith, New Hampshire, from which to service our two resident camps on Bear Island in Lake Winnipesaukee.

In 1986, at the 107th Annual Meeting, the membership approved changing the Association's name to the Merrimack Valley Young Men's Christian Association to more adequately describe the geographic service area.

In 1988, 115 former campers and friends of the camps formed the Bear Island Camps Association (BICA) to raise money for scholarships and capital improvements at the resident camps.

In 1989, the Merrimack Valley YMCA took over the operation of the Jewish Community Center in the Tower Hill section of Lawrence to establish permanency to its child care program. Unfortunately, after one year of operation, the YMCA had to close down this project due primarily to the state's inability to maintain the financial support for needy families.

In 1991, a Capital Campaign raised $1.5 million.

Also in 1991, the Youth and Community Branch eliminated all child care programs and returned to improving the performance of the Camping operation. The Branch's name was changed back to Camping Services Branch. The Hamblet Health Club at the Lawrence Branch was eliminated as a premier membership and converted to serving all adult male members.

In 1992, progress was made on the funding package for the Single Room Occupancy (SRO) Project; however, much still needed to be done before construction could begin. In November 1993, the Lawrence Branch completed renovations to the lobby, hallway, pool and fitness center and the addition of $70,000 of new cardiovascular free weight equipment.

The Andover/North Andover Branch initiated a $1.5 million renovation project, which was dedicated in September 1994. These facilities included new child care space, Nautilus cardiovascular, free weight rooms, girls' and boys' locker rooms and a teaching pool, as well as renovation to the lobby, men's and women's locker rooms and existing child care rooms.

SRO renovations were completed in December 1994, and renovations to the membership and program areas of the Lawrence Branch were completed in June 1996. These renovations included new child care space, Nautilus cardiovascular free weight area, women's and girls' locker rooms, community rooms and offices.

In May 1995, a Strategic Planning Process was initiated, bringing together 60 volunteers and staff representatives from all Branches and Corporate Boards, as well as leaders from the community. After six months of intense committee work, a Strategic Plan was adopted by the Corporate Board of Directors in November 1995. This Strategic Plan became the blueprint of our work for the next two years. In January and February 1998, the Strategic Plan was reviewed and evaluated as to what had been accomplished during the past two years and what needed to be addressed during the next two years. In March 1998, a two-year Strategic Plan was adopted that would take the organization to the year 2000.

In 1994, 1995, 1996, and 1997, the Camping Services Branch was able to address many needed repairs to the Bear Island and Camp Otter camping facilities, including new cabins, basketball courts, senior unit, new boat and wells. In 1997, the Camping operation embarked on a Strategic Planning Process and Facility Study to address the future needs of camp.

In 1999 the Merrimack Valley YMCA explored a merger with the Northeast Family YMCA (Haverhill) and the Lowell YMCA. Although the merger did not come to fruition, it laid the groundwork for future discussion.

Also in 1999, the Board of Directors and Board of Trustees commissioned the staff to begin planning for a future Capital Campaign. During the following 18 month period, a Community Needs Assessment was conducted with interviews of 120 community-minded people. This Community Needs Assessment helped identify the needs that the YMCA could address with future renovation/expansion of facilities.

In 2000 a Feasibility Study was conducted. Interviews were held with 60 community, civic, corporate leaders and philanthropists. The Feasibility Study tested the ability of the YMCA to raise $12 million for facility renovation and expansion. The results showed that approximately $6 million could be raised.

In June of 2000 the Boards of Directors and Trustees approved a Capital Campaign to commence in January 2001 and the hiring of Hiller Associates as the Capital Campaign Consultants. In September 2000 a Pre-Campaign Steering Committee was formed to identify the most critical needs and the projects needed to address these needs.

By July 2000, the Pre-Campaign Steering Committee presented the results of their work to the Boards of Directors and Trustees and recommended award of the projects for a $6 million campaign.

Early in 2001, the Campaign Cabinet was formed with Fred Shaheen as Chair and Cliff Howe as Vice Chair.

Intensive fundraising for the Capital Campaign continued from 2001 through 2003.

In August 2002, ground was broken at the site of the former Stephen Barker School in Methuen for the new Methuen YMCA.

The Methuen Branch of the Merrimack Valley YMCA opened its doors on September 7, 2003. This new program center is located at 129 Haverhill Street, Methuen.

On September 14, 2004, ground was broken for the new Family Aquatic Center at the Lawrence Branch. This addition featured a 6-lane, 25-yard indoor heated swimming pool, replacing the 90+ year old swimming pool located in the lower level of the YMCA.

On February 15, 2006, the Lawrence Branch held its grand opening ceremony, officially cutting the ribbon and opening the Family Aquatic Center.

The Lawrence YMCA Preschool Centers received NAEYC accreditation.

In 2009, a pre-campaign initiative and feasability study for an Andover/North Andover YMCA expansion took place.

In 2011, the Andover/North Andover YMCA began the exploration process for expansion of their branch. 

In 2013, Merrimack Valley YMCA established management of Corporate Wellness Centers at Philips Medical and Pfizer locations.

The Merrimack Valley YMCA Corporate Board of Directors formally voted to approve the master plan for the expansion of the Andover/North Andover YMCA.

The Andover/North Andover YMCA Preschool Centers received NAEYC accreditation.

On Friday, March 28, 2014, the Andover/North Andover YMCA broke ground on a $23 million expansion which will effectively double the existing space, meeting both the current and the anticipated future needs of the community.

The second Music Clubhouse was created in in the Methuen YMCA.

On Tuesday, June 9, 2015, the Andover/North Andover YMCA held its Grand Opening Ceremony for its new Childcare Center.

Phase 1 of the Lawrence YMCA Master Plan was completed for future childcare renovation and expansion.

On April 21, 2016, the Andover/North Andover YMCA expansion was completed and the branch celebrated its grand opening.

Today, the Merrimack Valley YMCA has an operating budget of $16 million with membership in excess of 7,000 units and program participation of over 30,000.  The Merrimack Valley YMCA branch operations consists of The Andover/North Andover YMCA, Camping Services Branch, Lawrence YMCA, Methuen YMCA, Housing and Community Services (SRO).