From its conceptual origins in the 1920s and the formal establishment of the Forrest Neighborhood House in the 1930s, the LeMoyne Community Center enjoys a truly extraordinary history. It is a story of compassion and devotion – in service of the goals of inspiring our youth, strengthening family life, and developing better neighborhoods.
by the Washington County Historical Society
The site of our present facility was a portion of land owned by local carriage maker Robert R. Forrest. Mr. Forrest was very progressive for his time and opened his property for the benefit and usage of the local children living in the area. Later in life, he would begin to distribute gift bags filled with cookies, candies, and fruits to all local children on Christmas Day. Mr. Forrest continued this practice over a 50 year period until his death. His family reported that in his final years he would prepare, with their help, over 400 bags. No child who came to his give away was ever turned away regardless of their age.
In the 1920’s, Reuben W. Wasler, Jr , who was one of Washington County’s first police officers of color, began gathering children for recreation and classes in the Wright Memorial Church.
1930 saw the birth of the Neighborhood House Association, which was formed by the local Daughters of Current Events Club. The association modeled their programs after the settlement houses founded in London, England, and which later spread to the United States to serve those affected by the poverty and over-crowding in industrialized cities.
In 1938 the Neighborhood House Association purchased the Forrest House from the estate of Robert R. Forrest. On December 11, 1938, the Robert Forrest Settlement House was dedicated.
I939 saw the formation of the First Community Council and an interracial Board was selected. This council, under the administration of the Neighborhood House Association, would guide the center and its programs until 1970.
1943 was the year Miss Pearl Harris began teaching the younger children of the community to help prepare them for kindergarten. Ms. Pearl, as she was affectionately known, had a profound influence on hundreds of children who, as older adults, remembered her unique teaching style with love and affection. Ms. Pearl, a Washington native would set the foundation for the center’s commitment to educate and support the children of the community and their families.
In 1950 a pool for the use of the Black Community was installed at the property, as the Washington Park pool was segregated for whites only.
By 1952 a Kitchen had been added to the property and the site became known as the Lemoyne Community Center. The Lemoyne name was chosen in honor of Dr. Francis Julius Lemoyne who was a local physician, builder of the first Crematory in the United States, founder of Washington’s first public library, and a very active abolitionist . His home, located on East Maiden Street in downtown Washington, was a refuge for runaway slaves on the Underground Railway, and remains as a museum.
In 1955 The Neighborhood House Association linked the programs of the Brownson House and the Lemoyne Community Center. Together, local residents and Washington Steel Founder T.S. Fitch, who was at that time Chairman of the Neighborhood House Association, worked tirelessly to build a gymnasium on our present site. The new facility was dedicated in November of 1956 with baseball’s famous Jackie Robinson participating in the opening ceremony.
Through the early 1990s our Center flourished with programming for children and adults. Some of the programming included Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, a Gospel Choir, an award winning Drill team, multiple outstanding, champion sports teams. However, starting in the late 1990s disrepair and difficulties struck. The center reached its lowest point in 2004 when a fire caused by arson erupted in the gym and brought serious damage. From then the center was closed to all activity until 2007.
In 2007 numerous members of the community, including Ricardo Bryant, Quinn Law, Nettie Brent Robinson and Joyce D. Ellis, rallied to revitalize the center. Joyce Ellis would go on to become the Executive Director and served our center and the community until her passing in December of 2020.
Under Joyce’s tenure the center once again served the Washington Community. Some of her outstanding accomplishments were a broadening of the center’s recognition throughout Washington county and beyond. In 2010 she was able to secure a grant from the Redevelopment Authority of Washington County to expand our Center with a classroom and space for a separate Head Start program now run by Blueprints. Joyce pioneered the Nutrafit Feeding Program which provide summer lunches to hundreds of children throughout Washington County and setup our Center as a distribution site for the local Food Bank.
Many served alongside Joyce, including Ms. Linda Harris. Ms. Harris came to our Center at the start of today’s revitalization in 2008; serving as a President on our Board of Directors, a community volunteer, and from 2013-2020 as the Director of Education. In 2021 Linda was named Executive Director.
Together Joyce and Linda formed the Camp Challenge and the Homework & More Programs. Ms. Linda brought the beloved American Girl Book Club to the girls of the center. This program included a year-long study of an American Girl Historical doll, funding raising, presentation of a student preformed play and an all-expenses paid trip for the students to the parts of the country they had studied that school year.
Today the future of the Lemoyne Community Center is bright. The programs it has sustained, the new and exciting programming to come, The Food Bank distribution, the Nutrafit Program, and the complete renovation of our gym, all point to many years continued service and care for all members of our community.
The Center is a beacon for our community, leading a collaborated effort by the citizens of Washington County to make a difference through caring and sharing! United under the ideal that each one of us can make a difference!
“MY HUMANITY IS BOUND UP IN YOURS, FOR WE CAN ONLY BE HUMAN TOGETHER.”
The Lemoyne Community Center is developing, shaping, defining, and stabilizing our community with education, arts, health, and recreational programs.