Our History

E. H. Harriman Founds BCNY

In 1876, philanthropist and entrepreneur E. H. Harriman coined the name and founded the country’s first “Boys’ Club.”  His goal was to get inner-city boys off the streets of the Lower East Side and into a place where they would be safe, learn better manners, and engage in more productive activities.

BCNY founder E. H. Harriman

BCNY founder E. H. Harriman

The original clubhouse, located in the basement of the Wilson Mission School on Avenue A and 8th Street, started with three boys, and daily attendance averaged less than 100 during the first five years.  In 1899, BCNY constructed a new building on 10th Street and Avenue A, where the Harriman Clubhouse still stands.

In 1903, BCNY opened Camp Carey on Long Island, beginning a long-tradition of wilderness programming at the Boys’ Club.  After Camp Carey closed, boys summered at Camp Harriman and later Camp Cromwell.  Today, BCNY has a partnership with the Appalachian Mountain Club, which affords our members a wide range of camping opportunities during the year as well as the summer.

The Need for More Clubhouses

In 1927, seeing the need for services in other neighborhoods, BCNY built a clubhouse in East Harlem, near Jefferson Park.  This clubhouse continues to operate, and is now known as the Elbridge T. Gerry, Jr. Clubhouse after long-time trustee and Harriman descendent Ebby Gerry

In the 1950s, BCNY opened two “Mobile Boys’ Clubs.” One was located at 110th Street and Central Park, and served the growing Puerto Rican community in the area.  The second was on Pitt Street on the Lower East Side, and served the growing southern and West Indian immigrant community.  Both Boys’ Club extensions have since closed, but the memories of their programs live on.

In 1957, BCNY started the vanguard Independent School Placement (ISP) program, which identified high-achieving members and helped usher them into independent boarding and day schools around the country. In its inaugural year, the program placed five members at Phillips Andover, Mount Hermon, Exeter, and Taft.

In the 1991, desiring to serve new boys in a new neighborhood, the Boys’ Club took over a struggling afterschool program in Queens.  The building was in such disrepair, however, that it was torn down, and in 2003 a new state-of-the-art clubhouse was opened, named the Marion McMahon Abbe Clubhouse, after Trustee Elaine Langone’s late mother.

BCNY Today

While our core mission of providing a safe haven from the streets has remained constant, our vision and range of programs have expanded dramatically since our humble beginnings.  We have moved from being simply a refuge from the dangers of urban life to an organization that encourages boys and young men to seek the highest standards of scholarship, moral development, and physical achievement.

Today, BCNY seeks to address the evolving social, emotional, health, creative, educational, and vocational needs of our members in meaningful, lasting ways. In doing so we aspire to become thought leaders in male youth development—a growing field of interest in youth services and one in which we draw from longstanding experience.

Want to learn more about BCNY’s History?

BCNY’s historical records now reside at the  Patricia D. Klingenstein Library at the New-York Historical Society and are open for use by the public. Click here for information about accessing our historical records and archives.

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