English professor T. P. Harrison and a few students formed the Clemson College YMCA in 1894, the second year the school was open. Meetings were held in the college chapel on Sunday evenings and the emphasis was on religious activities, particularly Bible study.
Clemson's first full-time YMCA Secretary was hired in 1905. That same year, the Board of Trustees designated a room in the Barracks as a YMCA recreation and club room and provided some funding.
The Italian Renaissance Revival style YMCA building was designed by Clemson architecture professor Rudolph E. Lee with Shattuck & Hussey of Chicago as consulting architects. Shattuck & Hussey had designed YMCA buildings around the United States and in China. Engineering professor Samuel B. Earle designed the plumbing and heating systems.
The cornerstone was laid during the 1915 commencement week and the building was completed late that year.
The Clemson YMCA building officially opened on January 1, 1916.
The building included several YMCA emblems on the front. The back side, which faced the football field in 1916, featured two tiger heads.
The YMCA building served as a center for both the college and the local community for more than five decades. It was renovated several times as the student and local population grew.
A 1927 renovation included new guest rooms, a new ventilating system for the auditorium, and renovation of the café and dressing rooms. In 1937, the auditorium was enlarged to hold 500 seats and air conditioning was added.
The YMCA was re-dedicated after a major renovation and refurnishing in 1956.
Throughout his career, Holtzendorff was known for his compassionate relationship with the college students, who called him “Mr. Holtzy.” The YMCA building was named for him in 1971.
In addition to the YMCA building on campus, students and community members used the Y cabin on the Seneca River for meetings and events from the 1930s through the 1950s.
Clemson student YMCA members also presented programs at other colleges, churches, high schools and YMCAs. For many years, Clemson YMCA students joined students from other colleges at a week-long summer conference at Blue Ridge Assembly in Black Mountain, North Carolina.
Social and Entertainment
The Clemson YMCA also held dances and provided other entertainment for Clemson students, particularly on weekends.
One of the most popular YMCA activities was the movies shown several days each week in one or both auditoriums. Movie ticket sales helped fund many other YMCA activities.
Sports and Recreation
In addition to recreational sports activities, the YMCA provided Clemson College's first physical education classes, as well as Red Cross swimming and lifesaving classes.
In 1931, Preston Holtzendorff started Clemson's first organized intramural program, designed to "provide wholesome recreation and physical activity for every student."
Within a few years, intramural choices included basketball, boxing, track & field, swimming, bowling, badminton, gymnastics, softball, hiking, ping-pong, handball, volleyball, soccer, tug-o-war, wall scaling, rifle marksmanship, archery, tennis, foul shooting, golf, horseshoes and water basketball.
By the early 1950s, the intramural program focused on seven sports: swimming, volleyball, football, basketball, softball, golf and tennis. The YMCA ran the intramural program until it was transferred to the Athletic Department in 1955.
In addition to intramural sports, the YMCA played a role in several of Clemson's first intercollegiate sports. The basketball team played in the YMCA gym from 1916 until the Fike Field House gym opened in 1930.
Holtzendorff coached tennis and freshman football in the early 1920s. He also started the swimming program and coached it for 27 years, including the 1939 Southern Conference championship team.
The swim team practiced in the YMCA pool until the pool in Fike Recreation Center opened in 1975.
Fred Kirchner, YMCA Director of Intramural Sports, organized and coached Clemson's first intercollegiate soccer team in 1933.
Another way the YMCA served Clemson students was by publishing the annual student handbook from the 1920s to the 1960s. The handbook provided advice and information about academics, rules and regulations, sports, religious organizations and extracurricular activities, including the opportunities provided by joining the YMCA.
“You will enjoy worship, faculty talks, discussions, recreation – all in the informal relaxed atmosphere of a camp setting”
In the 1960s, the Clemson YMCA sponsored a camp for freshmen at Camp Greenville. Like the student handbook, the camp was designed to help prepare new students for college life.