Look hard as you drive by the Chase Bank parking lot on Liberty and Richmond Roads in Painesville and you'll notice a lone brown marker on the sidewalk. Drive down Mentor Avenue and you'll come up to a older building at number 933. I've driven past these places an infinite number of times in my life. I even stopped in 933 Mentor twice this year as part of Lake County's 2012 B-Fit Challenge. Like most people, I missed an opportunity to learn about another hidden tidbit in our county's history.
Rabbit Run Theater is celebrating Charles Dickens this summer season. Yes, the same Dickens who visited Ohio, and wrote A Christmas Carol (1843), A Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectations et al. Dickens always wrote about the social inequities of his hometown London. His characters transcended their times and remain vibrant today. London 1844, saw another man, 22 year old George Williams found an organization that also transcends time and crosses all social lines. He named it the YMCA. At first the Young Men's Christian Association sought to unite the different social classes in faith based goals. By December 1851, retired sea captain Thomas Valentine Sullivan branched out the YMCA to the Old South Church in Boston. His goal was to unite the sailors of his era in a fellowship based outlet. 1853 saw a freed slave Anthony Bowen establish a Washington DC YMCA for blacks. San Francisco formed a YMCA in 1875 that was Asian based. The YMCA movement had begun.
The 1860's saw two unique features to the YMCA movement come to be. Housing became available on the property to assist those making the urban trek from rural America. Then in 1869 the first gymnasiums were added to the Y's. William Morgan was the pioneer in this movement. Volleyball got its start in this era of Y-history. 1891 saw a man named James Naismith contribute a peach basket & ball game to the world. His creation - basketball had its early genesis at the Y. George Corsan added swimming to the Y-programs in 1909. Joe Sobek invented racquetball in 1950 and shared it with the YMCA.
The Painesville YMCA (marker #43-6) got its start on December 29, 1866. The site used was the First Baptist Church. Fellowship was the goal. Within two years membership outgrew the church and a new home was secured at 71 Main Street. A third move occurred in 1905 when the YMCA purchased the former Steele Mansion. The Painesville YMCA merged in 1922 with the county YMCA (933 Mentor Avenue). Rebranded nationally as the 'Y' in 2010, the Painesville branch is the second oldest 'Y' in continuous existence in Ohio.
Local history is everywhere. Sometimes it is lost to the annals of time, other times like Fairport's Lighthouse or Garfield's home it remains intact for visitors to see. Sometimes you just drive past it. Our county parks allow one to walk in the footsteps of local history. The Central Y at 933 Mentor Avenue invites you to come and be their guest or to join and experience the fellowship that is now 168 years in the making.