history of Southern District YMCA

Growth and development are not just goals for individuals. Southern District YMCA began as a summer camp and has evolved to offer so much more.

It all began in 1926 when Warren Tucker sold the Rockingham County YMCA 70 acres of land on the shores of Kingston Lake in Kingston, NH. With the construction of a dining hall and eight cabins, the Y developed a permanent summer camp for boys and young men. The site was dedicated to the boyhood of President Abraham Lincoln and, as such, founded YMCA Camp Lincoln.

Through the 1950s, Camp Lincoln offered one-week overnight camping sessions to boys age eight to fifteen years. Each session offered space for 60-80 boys. In the 1960s, camp facilities were expanded to include a beach, ball field, craft center, administration building and 10 new cabins. With the facility expansion, a unique partnership with the state allowed campers with speech and hearing needs to attend camp and participate in specialized activities as well as camp traditions.

In 1974, the Rockingham County YMCA Board of Directors transferred ownership of Camp Lincoln to the New Hampshire YMCA in hopes that a single strong organization would stabilize the camp for the long term. Under this new leadership, camp expanded availability to spring and fall for families and groups. And, environmental education programming began.

YMCA Camp Lincoln welcomed girls and began to offer year round opportunities in 1981. Camp Lincoln’s reputation for nurturing the potential in every child grew. And in 1986, the first after school child care program began. In just a few short years, YMCA School Age Child Care was offered in 10 local elementary schools.

Then, in 1997, the New Hampshire YMCA dissolved and Camp Lincoln became Southern District YMCA/Camp Lincoln, Inc.

In the fall of 2015, Southern District YMCA completed the construction of the Exeter Area YMCA at 56 Linden Street in Exeter. The 33,000 square foot facility immediately became a community center for all ages, abilities and interests, meeting a long identified need.

Today, Southern District YMCA provides opportunities for youth development, healthy living and social responsibility by offering traditional and speciality summer day camps and outdoor education at YMCA Camp Lincoln, before and after school care through YMCA School Age Child Care at 14 regional elementary schools and the Tuck Learning Campus in Exeter, and multi-generational activities at Exeter Area YMCA. 

Throughout its long history, Southern District YMCA has not turned anyone away for their inability to pay. The YMCA is for all, regardless of gender, race, religion or socio-economic background.