It was hard to imagine, on the perfect summer Sunday last weekend, that the Snoqualmie Valley YMCA had to delay its grand opening five years ago, due to a major storm that knocked out power to much of the Valley for days.
Instead of the face painters, balloon artists, water slides, activity stations and carnival rides scattered outside of the Y on Snoqualmie Ridge on Sunday, the community center in January, 2012, was surrounded by homes without power, and the sound of emergency generators running nonstop. Instead of opening their doors for a grand opening celebration, the staff opened the doors as an emergency shelter for the community.
Although it lacked the flash and ceremony of a grand opening, the Y’s Jan. 1 opening and its immediate adoption by the community turned out to be more reflective of the organization’s history in Snoqualmie, and its predecessor, Snoqualmie Falls.
Historian Dave Battey, immersed in the history of the Y and Snoqualmie Falls, said the creation of the first community center to serve the workers at Snoqualmie Falls was part of a social experiment.
“Housing for workers was required because most families did not own a car. This need was combined with a social experiment. They would build homes to rent to workers but require that you have a family to qualify for a mill house — thus bringing automatic stability to a job whose reputation spoke of hard working, hard drinking, hard fighting men, who drifted from mill to mill and lumber camp to lumber camp,” he said in a 2001 speech to the Snoqualmie City Council, at a time when the city had no such community center.
The community center that grew up to support some 250 homes was a big success in the community, possibly too much of a success as people began smoking and drinking along with their other leisure activities, Battey said, “So the Young Men’s Christian Association was asked to manage the facility and apply their common sense structure and rules.”
As the town grew, the bunkhouse facility was outgrown. The community center moved into new headquarters in 1924, then burned down in 1930. The building was immediately replaced, an indication of how important the community center had become to Snoqualmie Falls.
The center was previously directed by George Borden and then Harold Keller, who served the center from his appointment after Borden’s departure in 1942, until his retirement in 1966. The community center closed in 1971 and remained so until a group of citizens revived the idea of a community center in 1988, and convinced Weyerhaeuser to make it a priority for the future community of Snoqualmie Ridge.
Planning for the new community center began in 2008, and the YMCA was quickly chosen to operate the center, as it had in the past. Although an economic downturn forced changes to the initial plans, eliminating a swimming pool from the plans and reducing the building size by more than half, the building project proceeded, with a June 9, 2011, ground-breaking.
By 2012, the community center, according to a December, 2012 report from the Washington City/County Management Association, “…in less than a year of being open… is serving more than one-third of the city’s population, both through memberships and non-member activities…. This particular location is being used as a model in many aspects for other YMCA facilities throughout the nation.”
Today, the expansion of the YMCA is a much-discussed topic among city leaders, as well as candidates in the November General Election.
Learn more about the Snoqualmie Valley Community Center at at https://www.seattleymca.org/locations/snoqualmie-valley-ymca.