Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.



Demolition crew finds time capsule in YWCA building

Want to see a history buff's eyes light up? Mention the words "time capsule." Even though the former home of the Grand Forks YWCA, which has stood at 121 N. Fifth St. for 60 years, succumbs to the wrecking ball this week, local historians are thr...

Cory Lien
Cory Lien (left) with the Grand Forks Historic Preservation Commission, and Grand Forks School District Business Manager Bill Hutchison examine the contents of a time capsule removed from the cornerstone of the old YWCA in Grand Forks. The old YWCA is being demolished to make way for a parking lot for Central High School. Herald photo by John Stennes.

Want to see a history buff's eyes light up? Mention the words "time capsule."

Even though the former home of the Grand Forks YWCA, which has stood at 121 N. Fifth St. for 60 years, succumbs to the wrecking ball this week, local historians are thrilled to have found a time capsule tucked inside the building's cornerstone.

Its contents are in good -- if aromatic -- condition.

"The box is in good shape, even still has the copper color," said Cory Lien, a member of the Grand Forks Historic Preservation Commission who was instrumental in salvaging the artifact.

Contents included editions of Herald newspapers that describe the groundbreaking in July 1951 and the laying of the cornerstone in September 1951, pictures, a handwritten list of the bricklayers and a 1949 brochure used to raise nearly $300,000 for the building.


The construction of the YWCA was a triumph for women and girls of the time. Men and boys had had their YMCA since 1886, but the brochure said women and girls had struggled 46 years for a similar recreational facility.

"The proposed YWCA will provide what thousands of Grand Forks girls have been denied!" the brochure declared.

By the mid-1960s, the two organizations merged into what eventually became the Y Family Center that serves all members of the community, said Y Associate Director Bob McWilliams.

The YWCA building was eventually sold and served as a community center for a time. After the last developer gave up on it for lack of adequate parking, the Grand Forks School District bought it and nearby property with plans to raze both this week to make room for parking for Central High School.

Historic register

For many years, Lien said he drove by the YWCA building on his way to work, and wondered whether the cornerstone contained a time capsule.

When he learned the building was scheduled for demolition, he contacted Historic Preservation Commission director Peg O'Leary. She alerted the company charged with demolition to check for and recover the time capsule.

"It's not every day you get to find a cornerstone with a time capsule in it," Lien said. "I was pretty happy."


The time capsule must have been lodged high enough to elude water from the Flood of 1997, said School District Business Manager Bill Hutchison.

"We hate to see buildings come down but, since it was coming down, it's nice to use the

pieces from it," said O'Leary. "The building has received a good deal of attention and several people have made serious attempts to salvage it, but those efforts didn't work out.

"There's not much that's original on the inside of it anymore."

The YWCA is listed on the National Register of Historic Places but that doesn't

necessarily protect it from demolition, she said. "Restriction comes about if federal funds are involved."

Women rallied

Before the North Fifth Street building was constructed, the YWCA was headquartered in a house at 311 N. Fourth St. that was donated by James Dinnie, a cement contractor who, with his brother, built several buildings in downtown Grand Forks, Lien said.


The 1949 brochure lamented that, at the house, "activities for young girls must be conducted in a makeshift basement room, little better than an ordinary cellar."

A statement written by Mrs. Erich Selke, wife of a UND professor, reflected the sentiments of some of the women from the era. It was titled "FOR MEN ONLY!"

"What the men thought Grand Forks needed, Grand Forks got!" she wrote. "Remember how the YMCA became the splendid institution it is today? The men wanted it and the women worked side by side with them to get it."

"Patiently and with all-abiding faith, the women of the Grand Forks area have waited -- waited for nearly 50 years," she wrote. "But believe it or not, boys, OUR TURN HAS COME AT LAST."

The brochure said the new building would be an improvement on the old and will provide adequate character building, homemaking programs and wholesome recreation activities for the girls and women of this area."

Blocks saved

Besides the time capsule, preservationists also saved the black granite blocks from over the main entrance. It's etched with the letters "YMCA" and spans ten feet wide.

The blocks will find a new home probably in the lobby of the Y Family Center at North Seventh Street and University Avenue as part of the center's $3 million renovation project, said McWilliams.


"It's something neat to have, just to show the tradition of the Y in Grand Forks," he said.

"It's a wonderful thing for them," said Lien, "a nice remembrance to show how women were very involved in the building at that time.

"Preserving the history and heritage of Grand Forks really means a lot. We lost so much in the Flood of '97, it's nice to save as much as we can."

Reach Knudson at (701) 780-1107; (800) 477-6572, ext. 107; or send e-mail to pknudson@gfherald.com .

Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at pknudson@gfherald.com or (701) 780-1107.
What To Read Next
Get Local