The first YMCA opened in 1852 in Manhattan (the mission was to “provide young men new to the city a Christian alternative to the attractions of city life”), and since then, the Y has been an integral part of New York City.
But one in particular, the Vanderbilt YMCA on East 47th Street between Third and Second Avenues, has an interesting name inscribed above the entrance: The Railroad Branch.
The branch was originally established in 1875 “to provide housing for the nation’s railroad men,” states the YMCA’s New York website.
“One of many “Railroad YMCAs” throughout New York City and across the country, the forerunner of the Vanderbilt YMCA was housed in the basement of the New York Rail Station on the site of today’s Grand Central Terminal.”
“These railroad workers found clean overnight accommodations, affordable meals, and an array of programs to occupy and enrich their time between journeys,” explains the website. Among these programs were Sunday church services and a library and reading room.
“Cornelius Vanderbilt, who was the initial branch chairman, personally led Sunday Bible classes for the railroad workers and their families,” according to Y records.
The current building opened in 1932, but it must have been decades since any railroad workers bunked there.
[Second Photo: Grand Central Terminal in 1875]