The Railroad’s paternal role for the Proctor community came in multiple forms, but the most tangible was a YMCA, the existence of which comes as a surprise to many current Proctor residents.
The first conception of the Railway YMCA was published in the Duluth, Missabe and Northern’s annual report in 1900. In the report, William J. Olcott wrote, “…It is for the best interest of the [DM&N] to have sober, efficient, and industrious men. Conditions at Proctor are not attractive, to say the least. The men do not feel that the place is permanent, and therefore hesitate to invest any money in the place.” Also noting that the only places for relaxation or amusement in the Village were saloons, Olcott proposed the best means to counteract the influence of these “degrading resorts” was for the DM&N to establish a YMCA in Proctor.
Olcott became president of the DM&N in 1901, and plans for a YMCA quickly took form. In 1903, the building was constructed on the corner of W. 2nd Street and N. 6th Avenue and opened for use. A review of the facility was published in the Duluth News Tribune, which provided a glimpse of the space as a whole: “The railroad YMCA is right up to the minute and gives the young men of Proctor all the advantages of the ‘Y’ bowling alleys, billiard rooms, reading rooms, game rooms, a complete gymnasium, show baths, etc.” Features not listed in the article, but important parts of the facility, include a library, a handball court, and outdoor fields.
Of course, the YMCA became a community asset, especially on the west side of Proctor. With recreational facilities and meeting spaces, the building held west side sports leagues, but also played an instrumental part in the history of Immanuel Lutheran Church, which was located a half-block away. In 1917, the first services for Immanuel Lutheran were held at the YMCA, and when the church decided to rebuild in 1936, services and meetings were once again held in the YMCA building.
Through the years, the YMCA became only one of many services the Railroad would provide to its off-duty workers in Proctor; an employees’ association helped pay for athletic fields, parks, the golf course, a summer camp for DM&N workers’ children, travel vouchers, and more. But the YMCA would always be the first.
After nearly 60 years of presence in the community, the YMCA building burned down in 1965. At the time (and since 1940), it was owned and operated as a private apartment complex. The loss was estimated at $40,000.