The historic Turn Verein Hall was devastated by a fire on Sunday, January 13, 2008. On these pages we document the history of the hall, the German immigrants who built it and its uses over the years. It is a sad loss of an historic building which was used and loved by thousands over its history.
Recent email from Carole Kulzer Brennan dated October 20, 2008:
This is to advise that Turn Verein was originally part of a nationwide organization (still viable) called The American Turners. Additional history information can be obtained at www.americanturners.org
Additionally, Turner societies are located in Adams, Clinton, and Holyoke.
Carole (Kulzer) Brennan
First Vice-President, Los Angeles Turners and District Council Representative to the American Turners
Help us complete the history. If you have memories, stories, photographs please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will add them to these pages.
See a few pictures of Turn Hall and the many people who have assembled there over the years. Do you recognize any of them?
See where Turn Hall is located on Google Map. Turn Hall is in the center of the aerial view. Click on the scale on the left to zoom out and and see where Turn Hall is situated in Lawrence.
See the recent March 2008 article on the Turn Hall in the Northeast Regional Library System (NMRLS) newsletter
Future use of Turn Hall Site
For more information on the history of Turn Hall:
The Turnverein (meaning a union for practicing gymnastics) movement originated in Germany in 1811 as one nationalistic response to the War of Liberation against Napoleon, fostering rigorous exercise among boys and young men to produce a healthy body and to enable the citizenry to protect the nation. The idea of Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, the movement evolved to embrace democratic principles. Suffering repression in its early decades, it eventually became absorbed within the State. It was the Turnverein movement was responsible for the development of much gymnastic equipment in use today.
Three students of Jahn came to the U.S. in the 1820s and began to develop physical training programs in Massachusetts. Dr. Karl Beck established a Boys School in Northampton, also creating a gymnasium and writing an English language version of the Manual of Jahn's Turnerism. Dr. Karl Follen introduced gymnastics at Harvard. Dr. Franz Lieber established a swimming school in Boston and conducted physical training in the gymnasium established by Follen. By the late 1840s, other German immigrants to the United States were establishing Turn Verein societies in cities and towns where they settled. In addition to gymnastics, they fostered many athletic activities, eventually including ninepin bowling, which led to its ubiquitous presence throughout the country. They also embraced theater and music, general social interaction and civic involvement.
All of the societies in the United States are organized within the American Turners (formerly The American Turnerbund). Individual societies participate in regional Tournaments of American Turners and in an annual National Tournament. In a 1938 pamphlet describing the movement, the author states: “It is the principal duty of our Societies to provide courses in physical training for youth and adults, and also to promote their intellectual growth and moral character through special schools, instructive lectures and stimulative debates.” Elsewhere: “Believing in the United States as a democracy in a republic, established upon the principles of freedom and equality, dedicated to justice and humanity, we recognize in the harmonious education of body and mind the most important factor to preserve and perfect such a democracy.” The Turners believed that behavior should be based on reason and knowledge. They were adamant that religion and government should be absolutely separate. Of course, reflecting changing social expectations, the Turners also evolved to include girls and women and people of other ethnic groups and colors.
In Lawrence there were actually three Turn Vereins, one begun in 1853 by Fritz Matthes and Wilhelm Patschkel in the cellar of a house on Union St. Unfortunately, this first effort could not be sustained. Another group came to Lawrence from New York State in 1859 and launched another short-lived program at the corner of Jackson and Common Streets. Finally, through the efforts of Fritz Matthes, a permanent Turn Verein was organized on April 14, 1866. The Lawrence Evening Tribune, on April 17, 1941, stated: “The principal purpose for the existence of the American Turners always has been and is now the development of physically and mentally fit citizens willing and able to support a democracy within a republic.“
Beginning with a leased athletic field, the Turners erected a small structure that was replaced in 1868 by the first Turn Hall, followed in 1872 by a larger facility. Click here for hi-res picture of the first Turn Hall. Unfortunately, the building was short-lived, burning on November 23, 1894. This did not deter the members, however. They constructed a make-shift roof over the cellar and continued their classes, competitions and other activities until the impressive new red brick building was erected. The dedication of the building occurred in June of 1896.
Consistent with their mission, the members conducted athletic programs, specializing in gymnastics. Later they also developed music programs and a Dramatic Society, art and dancing classes. Its educational functions emphasized the importance of a healthy life style to promote happiness and good citizenship. Although developed as a German organization, participants from other ethnic groups were welcome in individual or team sports and in the various classes.
The Lawrence society was prominent in the national organization. Members Julius Laffert and Bruno A. Pietuchoff sat on the executive board of The American Turners for many years. Lawrence's Turn Verein was executive of the district from 1942 to 1952, with Julius Laffert as Chair, followed by John Miller. The national Turner Convention was held in Lawrence in 1948, only the second time it had been held in New England. Athletes from the local Turn Verein also performed well in national tournaments throughout the country.
The changes in Lawrence resulting from the departure of most of the textile mills, Urban Redevelopment, and the consequent exodus of many long time residents took their toll on participation in Turn Verein. The last time Turn Verein was referenced was in the Lawrence City Directories in 1975.
We were saddened to learn of the fire on Sunday, January 13, 2008, which destroyed the 101 year old Turn Verein building. The German Turn Verein society, dedicated to physical training, has its local roots in the earliest years of the establishment of Lawrence.
Turn Hall was a magnificent building, particularly inside. Because of the diversity of activities and events it had to embrace, the building featured a gymnasium that could accommodate gymnastics, volleyball and other sports. There was an ornately crafted bar with openings looking down on two ninepin bowling alleys. A dance hall was included on the third floor. It featured a stage for performances. In addition to performances by Turners, the Garrett Players performed there as well. The room was decorated with numerous murals.
Ann Marie (Kopacz) Meile and her family actually lived in the building from 1959 to 1963 and later next door. In her oral history she describes the interior and the events that occurred there. Shortly we will feature excerpts from her oral history.
The following are memories of the Turn Verein Hall, either drawn from the collections of the Lawrence History Center, or contributed by the community for this exhibit:
Ann Marie (Kopacz) Meile and her family actually lived in the building from 1959 to 1963 and later next door.
Joan Kelley, the LHC Oral Historian writes:The workmanship in that building was magnificent. Fortunately we have Ann Marie Meile's oral history. Her parents ran the bar, and at one point the growing family lived in the building. The children even put the baby on the dumbwaiter at one point! Ann Marie's mother lives next door now.
In her oral history Ann Marie describes the interior and the events that occurred there. (The oral history is about a 1 hour long mp3. You can download it to your PC or mp3 player, usually by right-clicking on the link and selecting 'save target as...". Your browser may be setup so it streams to it before it has downloaded just by clicking on the link, but you'll have more control over playback, pausing, etc. if you download to your PC and then play the file. It's a 13MB file, so it could take a while to download.)
The Eagle-Tribune has recently published a story by Mark Vogler, who interviews Ann Marie Meile and her mother, Marilyn Kopacz. They talk about the Turn Hall's impact on the life of their family.
From Anne Marie ( Kopacz) Meile
Thank you for including this link on your web site. I hope you will get even more photos & memories from former Turners for your archives. The pictures you posted are great. Some I had never seen before, but I do recognize people in others. I spotted my mother, Marilyn Schneider Kopacz, my sister, Jacquie Kopacz Chamberlain, my grandfather, Herman Schneider - all in gymnastic pics. I believe I also saw a former gym instructor, "Chip" Scionti on the parallel bars. He was also in gym class with my Mom. Harry Hall is in the Board of Directors pics and a number of other photos too. So many of the indoor pictures show the building as it was when we lived there. All that was gone way before the fire. I am so glad you have the pictures to share with us all.
May 21, 2008
Dear Barbara and Pat,
I found a few of our family pictures from the Turn Hall.
1. AnnMarie & Jacquie playing on parallel bars at Mom's gym class-circa 1954
2. AnnMarie, Jacquie, Catherine, Ramona - circa 1959
3. Jacquie & Ramona at flagpole in front yard - June 1960
4. All members of the Kopacz family who lived in Turn Hall - Taken at front stairs
Raymond, Andrew, Marilyn, AnnMarie, Jacqueline, Ramona, Catherine - May 1962
Do you know how long you will keep the Turn Verein memorabilia on exhibit? I would like to bring my Mom in when you break it down so she can look through the books. I believe she would be in some of the pictures in them and she could ID some others.
Do you know when Mr. Alfred Kayworth plans to come in to visit? My Mom knew him & was in gym at the same time he was. We would like to try to stop in when he is there to say hello if possible.
Sorry I haven't found more pictures, but the family one is really good. Great job on the web site and exhibit. Hope you are all well. I am still downsizing, but hope to stop in again soon.
Memory from Ellen Stahle Meuse, Bodega Bay, California
Memories - I was very sorry to see the devastation of the fire. My whole family has very happy memories of our youth at Turn Hall, especially my parent’s generation who are now dwindling, unfortunately. Here are some of mine:
I remember a very large horse chestnut tree in the back yard - peeling the green jackets to reveal shiny brown chestnuts -(that’s what little kids remember!)
My older brothers (Billy and Charlie) used to set pins in the bowling alley downstairs while I busily dug coke bottle caps out of the coke machine (that’s what little kids do!)
When I was bored, waiting for my father’s card game to finish, I’d hang by my knees from the horizontal brass bars that stuck out from the front of the bar – coming perilously close to the spittoons that sat on the floor in front of the bar.
To make my waiting less painful, my father would occasionally buy me a glass of orange crush and a bag of Royal Feast potato chips – I can still remember the wonderful combination of flavors!
Gymnastically, I was so young, that I never got to use much of the equipment other than the rings, trapeze and the ladder – you know - the one that pulled out of the wall. We’d walk up the rungs, standing erect and then turn around and slide down the side. Great fun! But – in an exhibition, when the boys’ class formed a big human pyramid, my father had me climb to the top and hang by my knees from the extended arms of the two boys on top! It must have been all that practice doing knee hangs in the bar!
Yes – fond memories of a wonderful era where TV, computers, cell phones and play stations did not compete for real physical activity and obesity was unheard of among kids!
Marie DeLuca Parker sent us these pictures from the Turn Hall in the early 50s.
Here are some snapshots of Turn Hall events that were sent to us by Ms. Reinhold. Recognize anyone?:
Memory from:Paul Roeger, Bel Air Maryland
It was really strange to hear about the fire that destroyed one of my childhood haunts. I live in Maryland and I had just purchased an old program of the Turn Hall Follies from 1937 the week before on eBay.
My father & uncle were members of the Turn Verein and Turner Tigers in the 1950's and 60's. My cousins and I spent many a Saturday afternoon there playing in the gyms with all the equipment, including fencing swords (naughty, naughty), bowling, and having a great time outdoors among the giant chestnut trees behind the hall. For a little boy, the Turn Hall was an overwhelming experience. It was so, so big with many floors and rooms. The Turn Hall had many activities for youth, but one of my clearest memories was the Easter egg hunt and party at which I was picked "king of the bunny rabbits" and won a 3 foot tall stuffed rabbit, dressed in a tux and top hat.
As a collector, I'd sure like to know what happed to the carved mascot of the Turner Tigers (see your photos). When I was was real young, it scared the heck out of me.
I am an 88-year-old former Turn Hall gymnast whose life path was drastically altered by my association with the Turn Hall beginning in 1929. Gymnastic skills acquired at the Turn Hall Gym led to a scholarship to the Turner Gymnastic Normal College in Indianapolis, Indiana which in turn led to a four year college degree in physical education at Indiana University where I earned my letter as a spring board diver.
My youthful experiences growing up in Lawrence during the depression years are described in my book.....Ïceman to the Internet: which covers the 80-plus years that include horse-drawn-ice wagon deliveries to our house on Saxonia Avenue and including my experiences in WW-11, my 16 years travel in South America and the Caribbean and my late life career as author of three books listed on Amazon.com.
I spend my summers at Big Island Pond in Derry, NH at a cabin on Escumbuit Island. Sometime in late May I will visit your historical association.
Were it not for my fortuitous association with the Turn Hall, I would be long gone from this world. When I graduated from Methuen High School back in 1938 my uncle got me a job loading wool into wool carding machines in a room clouded by flying wool dust. Had I stayed there I would be long gone from emphysema like my card-room-boss uncle!!!
Wlipamkanna (May your journey go well)
Alfred E Kayworth
Legends of the Pond
The Scalp Hunters
Iceman to the Internet
The following pictures show Turn Hall as it stands today. It's sad to see a building with such a glorious past, which provided so many great memories for so many people now destroyed by fire. But, we can be thankful that some of these memories have been captured and saved for posterity. Please contact the Lawrence History Center at email@example.com if you have memories you'd like to share.