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  • Courtesy of YMCA of Greater Nashua

    This historic photo shows part of the large crowd that gathered in 1912 to watch President William H. Taft, seen standing at left-center under the American flag, dedicate the cornerstone at the newly-completed front edifice of the former Y building on Temple Street.
  • Telegraph file/Mike Shalhoup

    One of the participants in the September 1964 grand opening ceremony for the "new" Nashua YMCA on Prospect Street examines a cornerstone that was set during construction the previous year.
  • Telegraph file/Mike Shalhoup

    Dignitaries who presided at the "new" Nashua YMCA's September 1964 grand opening ceremonies gathered for this photograph.
  • Courtesy of YMCA of Greater Nashua

    The banner announces the Nashua YMCA's Golden anniversary celebration in 1937. This is what the Temple Street side of the building looked like at the time.

  • Courtesy YMCA of Greater Nashua

    Classic 1950's and early 60's cars lined Temple Street when this photo, showiing the west side of the Nashua YMCA along with the former YWCA headquarters at left.
Saturday, May 14, 2011

Grand history for Nashua Y to continue at new location

Dean Shalhoup

No, I had to assure a couple of (much) younger wiseguy colleagues the other day, I was not there when President Taft came to Nashua to lay the cornerstone and dedicate the majestic new YMCA on Temple Street.

What I do recall, though, is being a kid inside the cavernous brick-faced structure, playing dodgeball and floor hockey on a basement floor so hard, it might as well have been the street, and shoving this big stuffed basketball they called a “medicine ball” across a creaky gymnasium floor.

To generations of Nashuans from the Victorian Era to baby boomers, this was our YMCA, a vision held by founders, benefactors and members alike since Oct. 6, 1887, the day the Nashua chapter of the worldwide Young Men’s Christian Association was organized.

Erected on property purchased through the bequest of Mary P. Nutt in memory of her brother, well-known Nashuan Charles H. Nutt, the Y’s first, and longest, home of its own was created in stages over a dozen years, beginning in 1900.

At first, it operated in a renovated home that came with the property, then added a gymnasium in 1902.

Through scores of programs, thousands of memberships and periodic renovations, the building served the Y for more than six decades. When the Y relocated to Prospect Street in 1964, it was converted to offices and a few short-lived retail outlets before becoming the rooming house it is today.

As for Prospect Street, which many of us boomers still call the “new Y,” it gives way after 47 years to a “new, new Y” and prepares to join 23 Temple St. in the history books.

A week from today, a grand opening will take place at 10 a.m. for Nashua’s newest Y, an energy-efficient and environmentally friendly complex near Stellos Stadium and Conway Ice Arena.

Scheduled dignitaries include retired longtime Y leader Steve Rogers, who came onboard with the opening of Prospect Street, and the colorful Tony Mandravelis, the Y’s longest continuous member with a remarkable 67 years on the rolls.

For those keeping score at home, that’s more than half the Nashua Y’s lifespan.

While at least a couple of the scads of wannabe and would-be U.S. presidents traipsing our first-in-the-nation paradise over the years probably visited a YMCA or two, the biggest moment in at least local Y history has to be the presidential visit on March 19, 1912.

According to a Telegraph account, William Howard Taft arrived at Union Station around 9:50 that morning, shaking hands and greeting onlookers to a robust rendition of “Hail to the Chief” by the Nashua Military Band.

Meeting up with his host, National Republican committeeman F.W. Estabrook, a well-known Nashua businessman, Taft slid his more than ample frame into Estabrook’s car for the short ride to the corner of Temple and Spring streets.

There, after making his way through a throng thousands strong, the larger-than-life Taft said a few words and gave the signal to lower a time capsule, followed by placement of the symbolic granite cornerstone.

Afterward, The Telegraph stated, Taft went to the Colonial Theater. But the dedication must have been his longest event of the day, as just an hour and a half after he arrived, Taft was back at Union Station.

There, as The Telegraph reporter put it, “The Presidential train bore him away to Manchester, his second stop of the day.”

Last week, I knew just whom to call to help me remember my early Y days at both the Temple and Prospect street facilities. Rogers, the lone survivor of the widely recognized and long-serving Rogers-LaRocque-Lewis leadership triumvirate, first came to Nashua in May 1963 and by summertime was its new youth director.

“I’d met with Fred Shaw, Rupert Perkins, Steve Tracey, Charlie Hamblett and a few others,” said Rogers, who came from Belmont, Mass. “Everything was still at Temple Street then.”

Rogers said the first time he saw the Prospect Street facility, it was a vacant lot.

That summer, the board also interviewed James A. Lewis, of Punxsutawney – the northwest Pennsylvania outpost that achieves worldwide fame every Feb. 2. Nicknamed “Rusty,” Lewis would become the Y’s executive director.

Less than a year later, George LaRocque came onboard as the gym director, and the team was in place.

To cover the few months between the March 1963 retirement of Rollie Ure, the Y’s executive director of 16 years, and the hiring of Lewis and Rogers, the board tapped Bill Jones, by then an octogenarian, who headed the Y from 1921-47.

“Bill was an awfully nice guy,” Rogers said. “Had a great sense of humor. … I’m sure he loved coming back for those few months.”

Dean Shalhoup’s column appears Saturdays in The Telegraph. He can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 31, or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com.