On Friday, March 26, 1909, Munsey Memorial M.E. Church South began a new venture that they named Munsey Club. According to J.O. Lewis, secretary of the city’s Commercial Club, several pieces of workout equipment were acquired. They included popular Whitley exercisers that were attached to the walls at regular intervals, dumbbells, punching bags and Indian clubs.
The latter devices, resembling small wooden polished baseball bats, became popular in ancient times as a way for soldiers to prepare for combat by strengthening their upper torsos. The user held a club in each hand and swung them in a sequence of gracefully coordinated motions.
The entire cement floor basement of the facility was utilized for the club. It was finished in white that included a thick coat of white enamel over the walls, allowing them to be washed frequently. Surprisingly, the club never closed and membership was open to anyone who wished to join.
The organizers planned and executed an informative and entertaining open house program at the church for the more that 300 people who attended. At 7:30 p.m., J.M. Ferguson, president of Munsey Club, called for order and introduced Reverend James A. Ruble, a chaplain at Soldiers Home) who opened with an invocation.
Next came a progression of presenters that included a piano duet by J.A. Cargille (photographer) and Fred Peoples; a recitation by Mrs. W.B. Johnson, who had a reputation as an elocutionist; a solo rendering in “a very sweet voice and manner” by Mrs. Charles R. Cargille (Cargille Art Gallery); a violin piece by Frank Gilmer; a harp and song duet from Masters Charles Broyles and Garnet Vaught; an excellent rendition of “The Bells” by Miss Nugent; quartette singing from Messrs. Charles and Walter Cargille, Joe M. Horton (chief clerk, S&W Railroad) and D.R. Yarborough; an inspiring 10-minute talk from James Robert Gardner (attorney, clerk and master of Chancery Court); and a humorous song adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling poem, “On the Road to Mandalay,” by Arthur Earnest.
The church pastor, Reverend Sidney B. Vaught, brought the meeting to a close with a few final remarks and a plea for donations to purchase furniture and equipment for the new facility. Following Mr. Vaught, Samuel Cole Williams (noted Tennessee historian who donated land and financing for Mayne Williams Public Library) adressed the audience, commending the organization and its potential positive influence on the community. The meeting concluded with a song and a benediction.
Membership quickly grew for the club. Professor Hough immediately acquired a number of pupils for his night school, resulting in the employment of several experienced instructors. The enthusiastic show of approval for the club further resulted in two shower baths being installed and an organized endeavor to collect books for a library. After Mrs. Frank B. St. John (wife of a local real estate agent) was put in charge of the ladies’ branch of the club, a special day was designated for them.
On October 1, 1911, Reverend Vaught preached his farewell sermon, using as his theme, “A Young Man with a Conscience.” He became a financial agent for Emory and Henry College and retired from active service as a minister. During his brief term as Munsey’s pastor, church membership increased by 357 members, bringing the total to 669. The congregation raised $50,000 to pay expenses for a new church edifice costing $45,000.
I have fond memories of swimming in Munsey’s indoor pool in the 1950s (one hour for 50 cent), diving for rubber rings in the deep end, shooting basketball and eating at their snack bar. If anyone knows the dates when the pool was in use at the church, please let me know by e-mail. I suspect it was many years after the club opened.