Our History | New Jersey

On October 15, 1885, industrialist Samuel Colgate, revivalist Dwight L. Moody, and YMCA professional Sumner F. Dudley convened a group of church leaders to charter a YMCA "for civic and cultural improvements to the Oranges."

This YMCA's first home was a small house on Main Street in Orange next to the North Orange Baptist Church, which was named the Central Branch YMCA. Within two years, a small building was built on the north side of Main Street, and in 1900, an addition was added as it became obvious the small building was no longer meeting the community's needs. The building was completely renovated in 1924 and the Metcalf Natatorium was constructed. Thomas A. Edison, one of our members in the early days, gave this building its electric lights. The Orange facility functioned until 1985 when it was reluctantly closed due to financial and other considerations.

As early as 1890, the Oakwood Branch was organized to meet the needs of the growing urban population in the Oranges. Over the 70 years of Oakwood's service and influence, much of its success can be credited to a long line of dedicated, faithful and unselfish laymen. A few stalwarts who stand out noticeably, and who have made an indelible impression on the lives of others through their contributions of service include Amos Marsh, Rev. James Churchman, William T. Thomas, William H. Christian, Isaiah King, A.E. Rooney, Rev. J. R. Thompson, Dr. William H. Sutherland, H.B. Hipkins, John Farley, Dr. Theodore R. Inge, Dr. Harold Scott, T. Colson Woody, Ernest Young, and Rudolph C. Gill.

In 1932, a modern building was completed on Oakwood Avenue, but in 1949 it suffered a severe setback when an explosion nearly demolished it. The membership dropped and the leadership was discouraged and disorganized. The difficult job of putting together the pieces of a badly battered institution was necessary when Rudolph N. Hawkins was hired as the executive. Under his guidance, the Branch again flourished.

The Oakwood Branch went through another transitional period as an aftermath of the construction of Route 280, which necessitated the razing of the Oakwood building, as well as the Russell Colgate building. To maintain some form of YMCA service to the community, the Association's Board of Directors formed an Extension Community Service Branch, which was given the responsibility of carrying the YMCA services to the community. In addition, they were assigned the task of finding a location, which would be suitable for a new facility in the East Orange area.

The Turrell Fund donated the site of Margaret and Herbert Turrell's homestead on the corner of North Arlington and William Streets in East Orange. The facility, as it was developed, served as a model for the changing philosophy of the YMCA service. In 1978, the East Orange Turrell Branch achieved national prominence by being designated by the National Council of YMCAs as the nation's most outstanding example of a YMCA operated by minorities for underprivileged youth.

In 1973, the YMCA had an opportunity to purchase a garage and parking lot on North Munn Avenue in the back of the East Orange Turrell Center. This lot was operated as a parking facility for a number of years until we raised enough capital to build a gymnasium. With funds contributed by The Turrell Fund and other supporters, a gymnasium was built and dedicated on September 28, 1980. In October 2004, the East Orange YMCA Turrell Teen Center was opened, creating a safe haven for East Orange youth.

In the summer of 1915, the first camp of its kind serving the Orange area was started with a group of fifteen boys who were recruited from the West Orange Chapel of the Central Presbyterian Church. This trial camp began as a two-week experiment. The two donated tents for this first encampment were pitched beside a cottage (which was later the caretaker's cottage) and used as the dining hall.

The Colgate family, having been instrumental supporters throughout our YMCA's history, donated property in Sussex County in 1916 to give this camp a permanent home. This first tract of land, known as the Whittle property, was purchased for the camp by Austen Colgate and consisted of 158 acres. Colgate also donated the money to build the Kittatinny Lodge in 1917. The Turrell Fund, another long-time supporter of the YMCA, provided the financial resources to purchase an additional 100 acres of property in 1971. This property, which today makes up Fairview Lake YMCA, was added to many times over the years, and the Camp is now comprised of 600 acres.

In 1968, the trustees voted to build Laurel Ridge Camp and with that, girls were admitted for the first time as campers. As the association continued to expand the ORYMCA Camp (Orange YMCA) as it was first known, increasingly served youth from beyond the Orange area, as a result, in 1976 its name was changed to Fairview Lake YMCA Camps and Conference Center.

In the early 1980s, Fairview Lake YMCA Camps and Conference Center became a leader in environmental education programming, offering overnight and day trips to schools wishing to complement their classroom-based studies with hands-on experience. Today, they are the largest provider of Environmental Education in the state of New Jersey.

The association’s expansion also meant branching out into more suburban areas, and in 1954, local leadership in Livingston became instrumental in organizing the West Essex YMCA. This suburban Branch utilized many rented facilities to operate Indian Guides and Princesses, Youth Sports, HI-Y and Day Camp programs. Interest was so high by the 1960s that plans began for a full facility YMCA. Utilizing land donated by Alan Sagner and generous donations from Donald R. Baldwin, his family and others, a new facility was dedicated in 1969.

In 1970, a group of parents from South Orange and Maplewood became disturbed about what was occurring in the teen-age world relative to drugs, alcohol and other anti-social behavior. Discovering that the problems that many associate exclusively with the inner cities are also problems of suburbia, they approached the YMCA to see about forming a Branch in their community. A Board of Management was formed, an executive hired, and soon the newly formed South Mountain YMCA was operating programs such as Indian Guides and Princesses, aerobics and youth sports in rented facilities.

In 1976, the YMCA purchased the Sillocks-Miller factory buildings on West Parker Avenue in Maplewood and razed the large factory. The low brick buildings in the back were renovated and used for program rooms and offices. Soon the Branch established a nursery school and daycare center. Property on Jefferson Street behind this building was purchased and an old construction garage was converted to a gymnasium dedicated in 1981 with a house converted to the South Mountain YMCA's office.

The South Mountain YMCA has grown significantly over the years. In June 1999, the South Mountain YMCA formally dedicated a new 18,000 square foot Child Care and Program Center at its Maplewood location,

The Sussex County YMCA began in 1976 as a community outreach program from their sister branch, Fairview Lake YMCA. The programs were a big hit, and by 1980 the Sussex County YMCA received its official charter and the new Y continued their programs in satellite facilities throughout the county. incorporating all preschool through kindergarten Child Care Programs under one roof. Then in September 2003, they expanded their programs by opening a new Full Day Kindergarten program at another location on Valley Street in South Orange.

Then, in 1995 a feasibility study concluded that a full-service YMCA was not only possible, but was actually in very high demand, and so began the YMCA’s planning and fundraising efforts. In May 1999, the Sussex County YMCA celebrated the achievement of raising $1 million towards the new Sussex County YMCA to be built on property donated by Northwest Covenant Hospital in Hardyston Township.

After nearly ten years of planning and a year and a half of construction the Sussex County YMCA, which everyone is familiar with today, opened their doors to an eager Sussex County in January 2005. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of former President & CEO, W. Daniel McCain and Carl “Bud” Luthman from the Sussex County YMCA Board of Managers, the new 32,500 square foot Sussex County YMCA now stands poised as a Branch with great future potential.

In 1993, the YMCA of the Oranges, Maplewood, West Essex, and Sussex County, officially changed its name to the Metropolitan YMCA of the Oranges.

September 2011, after more than a year of fact-finding, due diligence and strategic planning, the YM-YWHA of North Jersey's Board of Directors unanimously approved the plan to partner with the Metropolitan YMCA of the Oranges. The YM-YWHA of North Jersey is now the Wayne YMCA, the newest branch of the Metropolitan YMCA of the Oranges.

What people know today as the Metropolitan YMCA of the Oranges is actually a far cry from our humble beginning over a century ago. Today, the Metropolitan YMCA of the Oranges is the largest association of YMCAs in the state of New Jersey, serving over 181,000 members and program participants annually. A lot has changed in the last 125 years, but one thing remains constant… our mission to strengthen the community.