An Enduring Legacy

The McKim Center has served the people of Jonestown and greater Baltimore for nearly 200 years. What began as Baltimore’s first free school in 1821, over the years expanded and evolved to include a night school for young men, an alternative school for youth who had a difficult time in public school, a community outreach center, and a recreational center. Throughout its many manifestations, one focus remained: service to community. This then, is the story of The McKim Center.

John McKim was a successful Baltimore merchant in the 18th and 19th centuries. Inspired by the testimonies of his Quaker faith, John McKim had a dream to establish a free school in Baltimore that would be open to all children, regardless of denomination or background. He gave detailed instructions to his sons, Isaac and William, who fulfilled John’s dream and established the McKim Free School in 1821. Construction of the main school building – the iconic Greco-Doric structure still standing at the corner of Baltimore and Aisquith Streets – was completed in 1835. During the first half of the 19th century the school flourished, primarily educating the children of the neighborhood’s diverse immigrant population.

John McKim

In the latter half of the 19th century, as both the Baltimore City school and parochial school systems took root and began to flourish, filling many of the educational needs that McKim first addressed, McKim progressively transitioned to fulfilling the other educational needs of the local community. In 1880, McKim opened a free night school for boys and men, who were otherwise at risk of becoming juvenile delinquents or criminals, thereby redirecting their paths to more productive and positive outcomes. In 1891, the McKim Free Kindergarten was also established.

During the early 20th century, McKim’s role in the community continued to evolve and expand. Because McKim served so many needs in the community, in 1924 it changed its name from The McKim Free School to the McKim Community Center. Unfortunately, the stock market crash just a few years later, took an extra toll on the poor, immigrant population of Jonestown and, by extension, the McKim Center. In addition, after more than a hundred years in existence, the McKim buildings had fallen into disrepair. By the end of the 1940’s, the night school and kindergarten had closed, but the Center had been refurbished and began its focus on youth and other community programs.

Though not a faith-based organization, over the centuries, the McKim Center was faithfully served by both the local Religious Society of Friends in Baltimore (the Quakers) and by the leadership and congregation of the Second Presbyterian Church of Baltimore, all of whom were called to the very kind of community work and community building that McKim embraced. Thanks to these and other partners, the McKim Center was not only physically refurbished, but continued to evolve and expand its programs and services to community. During the latter half of the 20th century partnership programs have included Boys Haven, which offered housing and social support to young men; various youth programs, scout meetings, choir groups, and more. In the 1950’s, the McKim Wrestling Club was established.

In 1975, Dwight Warren, an alumnus of McKim, was appointed Executive Director of McKim and still serves to this day. During his illustrious tenure, Dwight Warren has overseen the expansion and success of its athletic, after-school, and community programs, as well as the establishment of its summer camp.

For nearly two hundred years, the McKim Center has made a real difference in the lives of thousands of Baltimoreans. It has left its mark on countless impressionable young people and provided for them the structure and foundation to flourish into productive adults who will leave their own positive mark on the world. And it has done all this in the service of one guiding principle: to build strong community.