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Vanderbilt YMCA records

Identifier: Y.GNY.30


The Vanderbilt branch of the YMCA of Greater New York collection includes anniversary programs and other materials from celebrations of the 50th, 75th, 100th and other anniversaries. The collection also contains Board of Managers minutes, program and event brochures, information about the history of the Railroad Branch and its relationship to the various railroads, including the New York Central Railroad, the Long Island Rail Road, and the Pennsylvania Railroad. The collection also contains information about the closing of the branch in Pennsylvania Station, financial reports, memos, publications, programs, Board of Managers minutes, legal opinions and annual reports.


  • 1877-2016
  • Majority of material found within ( 1896-1980s).


Use of Materials:

This collection is protected by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). It is the user's responsibility to verify copyright, ownership, and to obtain all the necessary permissions prior to the reproduction, publication, or other use of any portion of these materials.


The Vanderbilt branch of the YMCA of Greater New York was established in 1875 as the Railroad branch of the YMCA of the City of New York. Also known as the Grand Central Branch, it was started with the support and encouragement of New York Central Railroad chairman Cornelius Vanderbilt II. First located in the basement of Grand Central Depot, the Railroad Branch existed to improve and elevate the rapidly growing number of men working on the nation's railways who passed through New York City. Although the Grand Central branch was initially intended to be used by the employees of the New York Central Railroad, it became a place where in-transit railroad men from around the country would go. At first, the branch offered Sunday services, a library and reading room, and occasional programs and entertainment. Cornelius Vanderbilt, who was the initial branch chairman, personally led Sunday Bible classes for the railroad workers and their families. The name of the branch changed to Vanderbilt YMCA in 1972 in recognition of the role played by the Vanderbilt family throughout the branch's history.

The first secretary, Orlin R. Stockwell, visited the sick and talked with men in engine houses and cabooses. The personal touch offered by Stockwell was one of the many reasons for the popularity of the YMCA among railroad men, and additional railroad Y locations were established in short order: the 30th Street Depot, 72nd Street Roundhouse, Weehawken, New Durham and Mott Haven. All of these locations were collectively known as the Railroad Branch.

In 1886, Mr. Vanderbilt engineered the purchase of land and the construction of a building at the corner of Madison Avenue and 45th Street. Growth in membership and use resulted in a project to double the building's capacity in 1893. By 1912, the railroads had other uses for the site, and plans began for a new building, this one on the east side of Park Avenue between 49th and 50th Street. The old site is the current location of the Roosevelt Hotel, which replaced the YMCA building on that block. The new building, dedicated in 1914, was quickly outgrown, and once again commercial interests, this time in the form of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, made their interest in the land known. The new building was demolished 15 years after it opened.

A third building, still in use, was constructed in 1931, opening on January 1, 1932. The building, on East 47th Street, was ten stories high and included a swimming pool, eight bowling alleys, a billiard room, a barber shop, tailor shop and laundry. It also boasted a pipe organ, a chapel, a roof garden and a 24-hour dining room to cater to the needs of traveling men. Guest rooms occupied eight stories.

Although Grand Central was the first railroad branch, others soon followed -- Penn Station in 1879 and the Long Island Rail Road in 1891. In 1891, the Long Island Rail Road Company provided rooms for the YMCA and continued to do so after fire destroyed the first location. The first replacement building was erected in 1895 at the corner of Borden and West Avenues in Queens. In 1908, the railroad joined with philanthropist Mrs. Russell Sage, who gave funds and land for the construction of a new building, which opened in 1908. This building was condemned in 1933 and the branch moved to the Jamaica station. Railroad work in Queens ended in 1949.

Penn Station YMCA opened in 1879 with the support of the Pennsylvania Railroad. In the early years of the 20th century, the accommodations provided for railroad workers were said to be luxurious. However, by the 1970s the facilities were found to be inadequate. ConRail and Amtrak declined to renew their contracts with the YMCA, and the branch operation at Penn Station ceased in 1979.

Today, the Vanderbilt Y is the only reminder of the important work with railroad men performed by the YMCA in New York City. It operates as a hotel, a fitness center with two pools and a very popular child care center.

(Information taken from The YMCA at 150: A History of the YMCA of Greater New York, 1852-2002by Pamela Bayless, and from the Vanderbilt YMCA records)


11.5 Cubic Feet (24 boxes)

Language of Materials



Collected brochures, programs, governing documents, minutes and reports from the Vanderbilt Branch YMCA and other railroad branches.

Physical Location

See Detailed Description section for box listing.

Processing Information:

Processed by: Louise Merriam, March 2012.

Catalog Record ID number: 6311492
An Inventory of Its Records
Finding aid prepared by Louise Merriam.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Collecting Area Details

Contact The Kautz Family YMCA Archives Collecting Area