Historical Timeline of the Meeting Waters YMCA

(Thanks to Shirley Fletcher, former Administrative Assistant (1971-2001), for compiling much of this information.)

Beautifully preserved, handwritten notes from 1895 tell a powerful story of volunteer initiative. The first entry reads, "The first meeting for the purpose of considering the question of a Young Men's Christian Association for Bellows Falls was held on April 10 (1895)." On September 2, 1895, our Articles of Incorporation and By-Laws were approved by nearly 100 volunteers. The Bellows Falls YMCA had been founded.

Now known as the Meeting Waters YMCA, we are now in our third century of meeting community needs. Here are a few highlights from our rich history:

  • Between 1895 and 1910, the Bellows Falls YMCA created a variety of programs to meet community needs--job-training, photography, Bible Studies, as well as social and recreational needs. Check out a vintage newspaper we created for our 120th anniversary celebration in 2015.
  • In 1914, the Bellows Falls YMCA reorganized through an affiliation with Vermont Academy in Saxtons River.
  • In 1915, the Bellows Falls YMCA Service Fraternity undertook projects at Kurn Hattin School.
  • Also in 1915, the Brattleboro Boy Scout Troop began under the sponsorship of the Bellows Falls YMCA.
  • In 1922, General Secretary (now known as Executive Director) B.E. Merriam was sent to Russia to develop YMCAs in that country.
  • The Great Depression forced the closing of the Bellows Falls YMCA.
  • In 1961, the renamed Fall Mountain YMCA was organized through the leadership of Paul Brandon and the local Jaycees.
  • In 1964, Alan Halberg was hired as General Secretary, a position he previously held at the Middleboro (MA) YMCA.
  • The first day camp was held on a farm in North Westminster in 1965.
  • In 1969, the Fall Mountain YMCA was gifted with a house on Hapgood Street in Bellows Falls.
  • By 1970, the Fall Mountain YMCA was also running teen drop-in centers in Walpole, Westminster and Putney.
  • In November of 1971, the Fall Mountain YMCA purchased a facility at 66 Atkinson Street for the purpose of starting the Rockingham YMCA Community and Youth Center.
  • In 1974, a storefront branch of the Fall Mountain YMCA was opened in Springfield.
  • A campaign to raise $75,000 to purchase land in Springfield went over its goal in May of 1985.
  • The Fall Mountain YMCA purchased the Bryant property, known as Meeting Waters Farm, in December of 1985.
  • In 1986, Lewis Day Camp, named after the late Samuel A Lewis, owner of Robertson Paper Company, was built. A pavilion was erected and named in honor of the late firefighter Terry Brown.
  • In 1987, the name of the association was changed to Meeting Waters YMCA to recognize and honor the contributions and legacy of William J Bryant.
  • Lewis Day Camp opened in Springfield in June of 1987.
  • In 1989, the Meeting Waters YMCA purchased Childspace Child Care Center.
  • A 25'x'75 in-ground teaching pool was built at Lewis Day Camp in 1994.
  • In 1998, new co-Directors Susan Fortier and Steve Fortier created Y-ASPIRE. By the fall of 1999, it was serving youth and families in three communities from five sites, making MWYMCA the largest provider of state-licensed school-age child care in southeastern VT. Today, Y-ASPIRE serves more than 150 children from eight communities from seven different sites (six in VT, one in NH).
  • In 2000, leveraging Sue and Steve's backgrounds in teen leadership development, we developed a Leader-in-Training program for 14 and 15 year-olds.
  • In 2001, we developed a Snow Day Program in Brattleboro in response to concerns expressed by HR directors from several large area corporations about high employee absences on days when schools were closed for bad weather.
  • Also in 2001, to better support our staff and customers in the Brattleboro area, we opened a satellite office in the Marlboro College Graduate Center.
  • In 2002, we took over from a bankrupt non-profit a Child Care Transportation Program in Brattleboro. CCTP picks up over two dozen children per day from their high-risk home environment and dropped them off at a state-licensed early learning, child care or Head Start program. The program operated until June of 2015 when the state discontinued all local specialized services transportation contracts statewide.
  • In 2006, in partnership with Fall Mountain Regional High School, we started a local YMCA Youth & Government program. Founded in 1948, Y&G is a year-long civics and government experience where students research, develop, write, present and defend bills in the same way that state government does. For the first five years of the FM program, our contingent was the largest in the state. 
  • In 2009, Meeting Waters YMCA convened the Healthy Communities Coalition of Windham County, which was later that year chosen as one of 20 Y-led community health initiatives to be part of Pioneering Healthier Communities--a partnership between the CDC and YMCA of the USA. In 2011, HCC was selected by these two organizations as one of four "model success stories" of healthy communities efforts nationwide.
  • In 2010, as part of a rebranding effort throughout the YMCA movement in America, the name of our camp program was changed to Y Day Camp while the name of the camp facility remained as Lewis Day Camp.
  • In 2013, our Y Day Camp became a Summer Food Program site through a partnership with the Springfield Family Center, the regional hub for the SFP. By being a Summer Food Program site, all campers are eligible for a free lunch that meets our stringent healthy eating standards.
  • Also in 2013, we launched the Y Diabetes Prevention Program in partnership with Brattleboro Memorial Hospital and Springfield Health Center. YDPP is an evidence-based program for people diagnosed with pre-diabetes.
  • In 2015, Meeting Waters YMCA was recognized as one of 18 YMCAs in the country named "HEPA Champions" for our 100% commitment and compliance with YMCA of the USA's Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Standards for after-school programs. Our Program Director, staff training processes, communications tools, purchasing practices and more are available to Ys across the country to support their adoption and implementation throughout the movement.
  • Also in 2015, we donated our Atkinson Street facility to the Bellows Falls Cultural Preservation Project, a non-profit that came into existence because of our donation. Our Board of Directors and staff had determined that it was no longer responsible to spend donated and granted funds for the operation, upkeep and renovations of a facility that no longer served our needs or mission. We relocated our administrative office to downtown Bellows Falls.
  • For more than 15 years now, we have maintained a few leadership roles as both the largest provider of school-age child care in southeastern VT (and, we believe, second largest to Greater Burlington YMCA in the state) and the largest employer of teens and young adults in the non-profit sector in our service area.
  • As has been a trait of our organization since it's founding in 1895, we continue to be responsive to community needs, developing programs, services, and partnerships where our mission and resources add value to strengthening the foundations of community through youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.


National History

Boston sea captain and missionary Thomas Sullivan was inspired by the stories of the YMCA in England, founded seven years earlier. With six colleagues, he called the first meeting in Boston, and on December 29, 1851, the YMCA began at the Old South Church. By 1855 there were 50 YMCAs in America. By 1900 this number had grown to 1,379, including the Bellows Falls YMCA.

One out of three Americans reports being a YMCA member at some point in life. YMCAs invented basketball (1891) and volleyball (1895). YMCAs pioneered camping (1885), public libraries (1852), night schools (1878) and teaching English as a second language (1856). YMCAs introduced the world's first indoor pool (1885) and group swim lessons (1907). YMCAs offered after-school childcare long before "latchkey kids" had been given a name.

In its first 150 years, the YMCA movement brought about staff training and certification and awarding educational scholarships to war veterans, a practice the US government adopted with its GI Bill. The Boy Scouts of America, Camp Fire Girls, the Negro National Baseball League, the Gideons, Toastmasters, racquetball and Father?s Day all got their starts at YMCAs. The YMCA helped found the United Service Organization (USO), and the Peace Corps was patterned after YMCA World Services.

Read more about the history of the YMCA.