Photo by Dave Warner – The Women’s Christian Association, located at 534 Garden Street in Little Falls.

Story by Mena Cerone and Pat Rockwell

WCA Formally Opened
Over 500 people of the City were in attendance
Escort for the visitors provided by the Girl Scouts
Much enthusiasm manifested over the furnishings and arrangements

This proud headline appeared in the local newspaper 100 years ago announcing the official opening and dedication of the Women’s Christian Association. On November 22, 1920, the doors were opened to the public from 4 o’clock until 10 o’clock, and what followed far exceeded expectations. Over 500 people braved the inclement weather “both overhead and underfoot” to view the restorations and improvements to this historical home which was now the permanent residence for the WCA.

Visitors were escorted by the Girl Scouts in full regalia and Mrs. George Hardin Smith, a board member. Mrs. Loomis Burrell was the chairman of the entertainment committee which made the arrangements for this successful event held in memory of Anne Louise Burrell, a pioneer who worked for the welfare and interests of women. Loomis, David, and Elizabeth Burrell gave the building to the people of Little Falls in their sister’s memory and made all this possible. The Burrell family also donated $12,000 as well for renovations. In today’s valuation, it would be well over $ 163,000.

Centrally located, the building sits on the corner of Jackson and Garden Streets and has 200 years of a long and noteworthy history. This beautiful Federal-style home was built in 1827 by Judge Nathanial Benton. Benton was county judge, state senator, NY Secretary of State, President of the Herkimer County Bank, and the first President of Little Falls. In 1856, he authored a seminal book of the history of Herkimer County containing first-hand interviews with the few remaining veterans who served in the Revolutionary War. He died on June 19, 1869.

Historically, the WCA sponsored many events for the young women of Little Falls in which to participate. Girl Scout Day Camp was held at the summer home of Mr. and Mrs. Loomis Burrell at Spruce Lake. Other activities included:

  • fashion shows featuring clothing from E. Cramer and Sons and Newman furriers in Utica.
  • a popular nursery school, girl scouts, brownies, swimming classes, tennis lessons.
  • Teas and Talks with guest speaker, Mrs. Kasner, the local physical education teacher, talking about good posture and exercise.
  • The Mothers Club, bridge lessons, bazaars, holiday parties, bowling teams, a teen program sponsoring babysitting services, and a sewing group. The list goes on…

Today, the WCA serves the community as a meeting house for local organizations including the LF Historical Society, Daughters of the American Revolution, a bridge club, and Fortnightly. Private bedrooms and bedroom suites are available by the month or for short stays for working or retired women.

Presently there are 11 women serving on the Board with one paid employee who oversees the upkeep of the house. The Board of Directors has the fiduciary responsibility for maintaining and preserving the character of this historic building while insuring the intended purpose of the house. Part of the mission is to promote the intellectual and social development of women. In 1983, the Board first recognized women for their service to this community. In 2004, the tradition continued with the Women of Distinction breakfast held at the Travel Lodge. The money raised goes into a scholarship fund awarded to a deserving female senior planning to further her education.

As originally stated 100 years ago, “It is a fine thing for the city of Little Falls to have such a splendid W.C.A. home as that which the local organization now possesses and the promoters deserve the gratitude not only of the membership which is directly served but of the community as a whole. The formal opening of the building adds another to the many civic advantages which Little Falls enjoys and which are superior to those of most cities of its size.”

Mena Cerone and Pat Rockwell are members of the Little Falls Historical Society.