For over 150 years, the Scott County Family YMCA has been bringing together volunteer leaders from all walks of life to share opportunity and to extend programs and services to every man, woman, child and family in our community. Looking through the historical prism of YMCA services and programs is a lesson in our community’s caring response to our dynamic world.
The YMCA movement began in 1844 in response to the explosion of a new urban culture in London, England. Sensing a growing need, a young store clerk named George Williams began the Young Men’s Christian Association and used the bible as a means for young men to come together to discuss life, meaning and each of their individual, God-given purposes.
The movement that Williams founded in England made its way to North America in 1851, landing first in Boston and Montreal. Following the tradition soon established by the National YMCA, the Davenport YMCA was chartered on October 18, 1858 and was guided by a four-fold purpose: “The improvement of the spiritual, mental, social and physical condition of young men.”
Charter members of the Davenport YMCA held meetings at the Methodist church located on 5th and Brady Streets and concentrated primarily on social and religious work. Around this time, the Civil War was affecting every aspect of life throughout North America and the work of the National YMCA reflected the needs of the nation. Although many YMCAs during this period (including Davenport’s Y) nearly shrunk out of existence, the spirit of the YMCA work remained intact. In fact, the national YMCA formed the U.S. Christian Commission to assist the troops and prisoners of war and President Abraham Lincoln (who had dangled his legs over the edge of the Rock Island Bridge just a few years prior as he defended the Railroad Bridge Company in its famous court case against the Effie Afton steamboat) was an advocate of this program.
For over a decade the Davenport YMCA operated out of various rented facilities—including an office and a reading room on Brady Street—all of which were meager at best. However, along with growing innovation in urban America (the telephone, light bulb and camera were all new concepts at the time), the YMCA grew in membership as well. In different leased spaces along Brady Street, men gathered to play sports and games during the day and attend YMCA-sponsored worship services on Sunday. Nationally, the YMCA adopted a symbol and philosophy that remain today: a red triangle, symbolizing the unity of Spirit, Mind and Body.
As industry developed, so did the skill-set needed by the American citizenry. At the turn of the century, over 200 men attended Davenport YMCA-sponsored evening draft courses to learn the trades that would build our American infrastructure. Retail shops were opening and clerks were trained at the YMCA, as were foreign-born residents learning to speak English. When the radio became a regular part of life, students learned their intricacies at the Y. And when automobiles rolled onto the scene, local leaders, including the Iowa National Bank, Joe R. Lane and C.G. Von Maur, partnered with local automobile dealers and parts distributors to fund and facilitate the Davenport Automotive School in the YMCA. Even in its infancy, the YMCA in Scott County encouraged a shared response to community needs.
By 1907, the YMCA was struggling for space. In response, lumberman Edward S. Crossett created a $50,000, 30-day challenge grant and the 40,000 residents of Davenport responded by raising $110,000 for a new facility. On Labor Day, 1909, the YMCA’s first building opened on Harrison and 4th Street in downtown Davenport.
In 1918, what is now known as YMCA Camp Abe Lincoln began as an outdoor camping program near Maquoketa, Iowa. Beginning in 1924, the young campers constructed tents, hiked and fished near Buffalo, Iowa, before moving to the current location and building permanent cabins and trails in 1934. A swimming pool was added to Camp Abe Lincoln in 1936.
During World War II, the YMCA worked to develop the United Service Organization. The altered homestead required women to play a more active role in the workplace and the YMCA developed child-care programs to meet the new demand. The YMCA became a place where people could relax, read the newspaper, learn, play, compete and understand their spirituality. The local YMCA hosted national volleyball tournaments, as the national Y movement created games like basketball and racquetball, and developed the first indoor swimming facilities.
The Davenport YM and YWCA (the national YMCA organization opened to women and girls in 1962) found themselves in a similar position in the early 1960s—both were in need of a new building. The Davenport community decided to merge the efforts and in 1964 the organization welcomed 37,000 visitors to the new Davenport “Y”, something that The Daily Times called a “‘Cornerstone’ for a New Age.” The building was made possible through the work of more than 2,000 volunteers and 6,000 donors. The dedication ceremony was presided over by Mrs. R.W. Tucker, past president of the YWCA, and Edward E. Nicholson, past president of the YMCA. John Burrows, chairman of the YM-YWCA Building Corp. presented keys to a group of youth leaders. “The most compelling reason why a new, large YM-YWCA building is needed,” said Burrows, “is to give more boys, girls, men and women an opportunity to participate in a wholesome recreational and social program…to channel vigorous energies into constructive character building activities.”
After the merger, which was the fifth of its kind in the United States, expansion and renovation marked a period of growth for Davenport and the Scott County Family Y. In 1970, a $700,000 capital campaign helped add a new women's fitness center, an indoor jogging track and additional racquetball courts. It was also around this time that two separate fundraising programs raised 1.5 million dollars to convert Camp Abe Lincoln into a year-round facility and construct the Lincoln Lodge.
Youth Sports programs began to take off in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Boys and girls of all ages and backgrounds participated in gymnastics, volleyball, wresting, badminton, swimming, dance, archery, cross country and track and field. Around the same time, a boom in science and nutrition led the YMCA to teach and promote weight lifting, aerobics, personal training and a vast program of physical fitness.
In 1988, a long-range strategic planning process was initiated to re-affirm the mission of the Scott County Family Y, strengthen the functional relationships between operating units, assess current programs and services, define directional goals and objective for the 1990s and determine facility location and requirements for the future.
With the new century came a period of phenomenal growth for the Scott County Family Y. Beginning in 2000, leaders of the Y began work with other community leaders to achieve nationally recognized growth through partnership. A collaboration with the Davenport Community School District built the North and West YMCAs as additions to the existing high schools. This resulted in a pool and more gym space for the schools, and new wellness facilities for the entire community.
With a strong track record of collaboration and an incredible amount of community momentum, the YMCA and Genesis Health System developed a concept for a shared-use facility in Bettendorf. Opening the Bettendorf Family YMCA in 2004 satisfied the needs of Genesis' cardiac rehab programming, while delivering a health and wellness facility to eastern Scott County.
The success of the YMCA in Scott County has been a source for leadership and consultation by other communities in the Midwest. Just north of Scott County, the residents of Maquoketa, Iowa had been working for nearly seven years on a community fitness center. After appealing to the YMCA for assistance, a joint partnership was developed and the Maquoketa Area YMCA opened in 2007. In addition, the YMCA Child Care and Family Services branch, the largest child care provider in Scott County, is a facility made possible in collaboration with Palmer College.