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The historic Turn Verein Hall was devastated by a fire on Sunday, January 13, 2008.  German immigrants built it and it is a sad loss of an historic building which was used and loved by thousands over its history.

International Origins

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.

United States Origins

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.

Description of the Hall

On Sunday, January 13, 2008, fire 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.

Turn Hall... Today

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.