Probably few people know the story of Gallatin’s city hall and what is hidden in the former Y.M.C.A. building’s cornerstone, bearing the name Y.M.C.A., the emblem of the Y.M.C.A., and the dates 1887 and 1908.
On Oct. 5, 1908, the same day as the dedication of Gallatin’s new courthouse, the cornerstone was laid for the building. In spite of a two hour rain, both events went very smoothly. Another highlight of the day was having Judge William Taft, Republican presidential candidate, give a speech. He was transported to and from the depot by automobile, which alone was very exciting for many people since it was the first, or one of the few times they had seen an automobile in operation. An estimated 20,000 to 25,000 people from miles around gathered in Gallatin, making it the largest crowd the town had seen since the lynching of Jump and Smith in 1886.
The seed for the new Y.M.C.A. building was sown shortly after the organization of the fellowship in 1887. There seemed to be very little interest in this organization and it was kept alive by a few faithful members, but hadn’t accomplished what it should have. The early efforts to create a fund for the maintenance and equipment of the organization resulted in an annual membership fee of $6 at first, but in 1890 this was reduced to $2, and later the fee was dropped altogether. Although the association’s membership wasn’t large, it was to reach a good many of all classes of men and boys, young and old, of the town in different periods.
In 1889, which was the second anniversary of the Gallatin Y.M.C.A., 40 delegations representing six associations met and the subject of erecting a building for the association was discussed. Not long after, a two story brick building was purchased from E.M. Mann for $1,600.
The upper floor was converted into the Y.M.C.A. Auditorium Reading room. Previously, the first floor of this building had been used for the Gallatin post office, and even with this new purchase, continued to be used, and the rental fee applied to payment of the association’s debt for the building. The incoming rental fee allowed the debt to be reduced until little was owed on it. In time, the post office was moved to a new location, and the association’s debt paid off. The mortgage was burned at a public meeting held in the Christian Church.
The usefulness of the association had been curtailed by the fact that it didn’t have room in the building for the equipment of a gymnasium and for the educational and practical work necessary to make it fulfill a real mission as Y.M.C.A. This inspired President C.L. Knauer to build up a county Y.M.C.A. work in Missouri, commencing in Gallatin. He offered the Gallatin Y.M.C.A. a lot across the street south from the Christian Church and also $600 in cash, if the organization would raise the funds necessary to erect and equip a modern Y.M.C.A. structure on it. The offer was accepted, the old building sold, and the balance of the money necessary, a total of about $7,000, was raised.
In 1908, after a lapse of time, the new building was nearing completion approximately three weeks ahead of its targeted completion date of Nov. 1. At this time, the organization of boys numbered 110, but there seemed to be little interest among the boys n the organization. It was hoped that this building would promote interest and a new goal of 200 would be reached.
At the cornerstone laying of the new Y.M.C.A. building (Gallatin’s present city hall), the ceremonies were conducted by the Masonic Order, with Gov. A.M.. Dockery acting as grand master. Following the Masonic ceremonies, a short address was delivered by State Secretary Banks, in which he stated something of the plan or account of the Gallatin Y.M.C.A., since its organization and its plan to make a county organization here. He was followed by Rollin J. Britton, a man well-versed in Daviess County history.
The cornerstone was pushed in a niche in the almost completed building. It displayed the Y.M.C.A. emblem, being a circle representing the unity of the world; inside the circle a triangle, with its three sides inscribed with the words, body, mind, spirit, typifying the three-fold nature of man; inside the triangle an open Bible bearing the reference John 17:21, and the whole having as a background the Greek letters for the word Christ. Several articles were placed in a box and placed in the cornerstone, among which were an Oxford Bible, a copy of the Oct. 1 issue of the Gallatin Democrat, the Oct. 2 issue of the North Missourian, the Daviess County Telephone Directory, pictures of the founders of the organization, a written story of the organization, etc., for the benefit of those who might tear the building down in later years. At this time it was predicted the building would be completed in approximately 30 days and the building dedication would take place around that time.
The new $6,000 building, free of debt, was made of three stories of cement blocks with a basement with an eight foot ceiling having four feet out of the ground; the next story, or main floor, had a ceiling 12 feet high, and the third story was 10 feet high. The heating plant, storage room for fuel, tub and shower baths and lockers for clothing were located in the basement. The main floor was to be completely furnished as a kitchen.
With the facilities, the stage, and the kitchen, a place was provided for all home talent entertainment, lectures, banquets, dinners and receptions. The remaining space in that part of the building contained a 29 x 42 foot area to be used as a gymnasium with complete equipment, for gymnastics and indoor games. The building was to be open every day and night during the week except Sunday when it was open only in the afternoons. There were to be religious meetings for the boys and the men addressed by local and foreign talent. In addition, there were to be classes for the study of English, Bible and missions, as well as practical subjects and music. Gymnastic classes were to be held three times during the day. The daily and denominational papers and the standard magazines were to be kept in the reading room and library.
The object of all the phases of the work was for the association to have the opportunity to serve the men and boys physically, mentally and spiritually and thus develop a full-rounded manhood. It was hoped the building would be the headquarters for all work and workers in the county.
Unfortunately, the work of the Y.M.C.A. came to a halt when Gallatin couldn’t support its activities, maybe due to the lack of tax money due to the Depression. We do know it closed in this era when many banks and businesses were closing their doors and going out of business. In 1929, the building became the new home of the city hall.
— written by Wilbur Bush, September, 2005,
published in the Gallatin North Missourian 10-12-05