History of the YMI

  • Young Men's Institute jazz band, c. 1900

    Young Men’s Institute jazz band, c. 1900

    Courtesy of Black Highlander Collection 381, UNC-Asheville

  • Interior of the YMI drug store, c. 1890s

    Interior of the YMI drug store, c. 1890s

    Courtesy of Black Highlander Collection 381, UNC-Asheville

  • The YMI building at completion in 1893

    The YMI building at completion in 1893

    Courtesy of the Biltmore Estate

  • Children looking at the window display when the YMI was the Colored Public Library

    Children looking at the window display when the YMI was the Colored Public Library

    Courtesy of Pack Memorial Library, NC Collection

  • Education-Coalition

    The YMI jazz band directed by Gary Bradley warms the crowd in 2007

    Courtesy of Debbie Chase-Jennings

George W. Vanderbilt Photo Courtesy of Pack Memorial Library, NC Collection

George W. Vanderbilt

Photo Courtesy of Pack Memorial Library, NC Collection

Today, the Young Men’s Institute (YMI) is arguably one of the nation’s oldest African American institutions in America. Mr. Isaac Dickson and Dr. Stephens approached George Vanderbilt in 1892 to provide an institution for the black construction workers employed at the Biltmore Estate to improve the moral fiber of the black male through education focusing on social, cultural, business and religious life. Vanderbilt agreed. His decision to finance and construct the $32,000 building was both deliberate and humanitarian. Construction began in 1892 and completed in 1893. The 18,000 sq ft. three story pebble dash and brick building was designed by Richard Sharp Smith, a native of England who served as resident and supervising architect for the Biltmore Estate under architect Richard Morris Hunt. The YMI provided night school for adults, a day school and kindergarten, Sunday School, bath facility and a library. It had a gymnasium, doctor’s office, drugstore, reading and meeting rooms, sleeping rooms and a swimming pool.

1906 YMI Board of Directors

The 1906 YMI Board of Directors

Courtesy of NC Division of Archives and History

Originally the YMI flourished which is possibly due to the requirement that African American workers from the Biltmore House were required to purchase a membership in the institute. As the workload decreased, unemployment for the men caused financial difficulties for the YMI. Vanderbilt was ready to sell. Though a tremendous struggle, the YMI Board of directors raised enough money to pay $10,000 in six months to purchase the YMI from George Vanderbilt in 1905. In 1906, the YMI established it’s first board of directors.

Over a century later,the YMI continues to be a preferred location for events, exhibitions, meeting place and business location for several local businesses.

The YMI has achieved National, State and local recognition as an historic icon.