"Wonderful Old Lawrence" by Elfriede Fischer Rowe

War Nerves Blight German Role

     ON THE CORNER OF NINTH AND RHODE ISLAND streets stands a massive stone building that belies its age. It is over 100 years old. A marker set near the top reads:


     For 50 years this building and its Turnverein members, were in their prime, serving the German-American families in the community. Then 1917 and World War I changed everything. Today, after another 50 years, the sturdy, old building is again useful and appreciated. But in another way.

     The Verein in Lawrence was organized in 1857. Their first hall was a large wooden structure at the corner of 10th and New York. The organization was patterned after the Vereins in Germany in some respects. In the old country, they were a political body and the members used physical fitness as a cover-up. Their primary interest was talking politics. In Lawrence, they were organized for physical fitness and sociability. As far as politics was concerned all shades of political opinions seemed to have been represented. Some were Republicans, some Democrats, but no one could recall that there were any Prohibitionists.

     One of the requirements for membership in the Lawrence Verein was that the applicant must have taken out his first papers for citizenship in the United States. From 1857 to 1862, the membership flourished. Then, 1862 found the men enlisting in the Union Army. In fact, all but four members of the original group had enlisted. So the organization was forced to dissolve. In 1866, the society was reorganized and a charter was obtained from the State of Kansas, Jan. 7, 1869.

     The charter showed the signatures of 25 men, among them were S. Steinbring; J. Oesch; P. Preisach; C. J. Walruff, who had a brewery and beer garden near the site of the Lawrence Memorial Hospital; William Zimmerman; F. J. Ecke, who was one of the organizers of the first group in 1857; and J. Planz.

     During the summer of 1869, the present Turner Hall was built at a cost of $5,000, by members of the Turnverein Society. The hall became the social center for the many German families who had migrated to Lawrence. It also served as an employment center.

     Every Saturday, one would find many newcomers from the Fatherland on the steps of the Hall waiting for people to come and offer them jobs. The men were hired for their craftsmanship and the women were placed in homes as maids or housekeeper They became substantial citizens of the community.

     The interior of the stone structure was well planned. On the first floor was a fully equipped gymnasium. Attendance at gym practice was obligatory for all members between the ages of 11 and 30. One of the early "turning masters" was M. Heiman. Otto Rost was turning master around 1907 and on. There was keen rivalry between the gym teams and when competition matches were held, the spectators watched from a balcony at the west end of the building. That balcony is still standing and the sturdy railing looks like it could withstand many more spectators leaning on it.

     There is a stage at the east end of the gymnasium where dramatic productions in German were presented. Adam Rob sign painter and artist, painted all of the scenery.

     The basement was the daily social center. A long bar extending on the north wall dispensed beer on tap for adults and soda pop for children. You could also buy sandwiches. No hard liquor was served. Walnut card tables had slots under the top for beer steins, while you sat in captains chairs and played pinochle or skat or other card games. Two bowling alleys were in use most of the time and children were allowed to use them too The children set up their own pins.

     A door near the east end of the bar led out to the beer garden in back. In warm weather this was a popular spot. It was lighted at night and there was a fence that enclosed it from the public. Sometimes a group of youngsters would go to the "Nickel" picture show in the 700 block of Massachusetts and after the show would walk down to the Hall to join their parent They would come through the gate of the beer garden and knock on the window for the bartender to let them in . . .

     Turner Hall had something to offer all ages. It was a family pleasure center. It was something the children shared with them parents. There were dances and masquerade parties and gymnasium exhibitions and plays. Buch's Orchestra played in the early years for the dances and later, at the demands of the younger generation, Francis Saunders brought his orchestra down on the Santa Fe from Topeka to play the new dance music for the "Bunny Hug" and such "new" dances.

     Elaborate costumes for the masquerades kept the dressmaker busy. Years later, on many rainy days, those costumes were dug out of camel-back trunks in the attic, for play. Wedding anniversaries were celebrated at the hall, and if it was a 25th, the Society presented the couple with a silver service. The dances always started with a Grand March and all its intricate patterns of marching were performed. Regardless of age, the children were

page 122

encouraged to participate and dance. They were treated as adults by their elders and the men would bow and ask for a dance. The smaller tots were put to bed in a room off the gymnasium where a "baby sitter" (an unheard of title then) watched over them. Some slept on gym pads spread out in back of the stage, while others slept on two chairs shoved together. On many of the nights of the family parties, William Reinisch (later our fire chief) would lead the singing by lifting his stein and the children would join in singing the old German drinking songs. At Christmas time, "Tannenbaum" was the favorite.

     The annual Christmas tree party stands out. Tickets were sold for 25 cents for a drawing present from the tree. The gifts were donated by the merchants. Your ticket bore a number to be matched with one on the tree. A tree reaching to near the top of the ceiling was on the floor close to the stage. While "Tannenbaum" was being sung, Santa would appear in an opening in the ceiling above the stage and come down hand over hand on a rope to dispense more gifts from the tree.

     It was no chore for Santa to come down in that fashion. All the men were experienced gymnasts.

     In the heydey of the Turnverein, names of the members were: Adam Rohe, Kasold, Zimmerman, Gerhardt, Marks, Berger, Achning, Ernst, Barteldes, Graeber, Ketels, Urlaub, Fischer, Wilhelmi, Lahrman, Gnefkow, Thudium, Schleifer, Steinbring, Poehler, Smithmeyer, Jaedicke, Broemelsick, Willman, Wiedeman, Niemeyer, Hartig, Bell, Buch, Hetzel, Buermann, Reinisch, Lucken, Broeker and many more. As you read those names, you recall the many merchants whose names can still be seen on buildings on Massachusetts. They contributed to and stabilized the major part of the economy in Lawrence in those early years.

     One day, word reached Lawrence, that Carry Nation was due to make a visit. Great preparations were made at Turner Hall for her reception should she invade their privacy with her hatchet to destroy their beer bar. A garden hose was attached near the bar. It was planned when she approached the bar, the bartender would turn on the hose full force and drench her. Fortunately for all concerned, when she arrived in Lawrence, Turner Hall was not on her itinerary. World War I changed things drastically for the Verein. There was so much anti-feeling against the German-American in Lawrence, the organization felt forced to disband and close the building. This more or less came to a head by the death of William Wiedemann, the owner of the popular Wiedemann's candy and ice cream store.

     After the war, things started up again, but the hall never regained its popularity. In 1938 the building was sold to Philip Ernst. The society retained a small lodge room, but Ernst leased

page 123

the rest of the building to the Rumsey Vehicle Company where toys were manufactured for a short time. The national Guard' then used it until their Armory was built. Next, the Salvation Army maintained an outlet store for several years.

     Finally, the building was "discovered" by Ed Down, who saw its possibilities for his line of audio business.

     Since 1965, Down has been renovating the interior. The walls and ceiling have been covered with plastic to keep out a dust. Not only is something of Old Lawrence being preserved but bits of old KU as well. When you enter the building on East Ninth, which is now the "front door," you walk through a four-foot doorway. The wooden steps to the basement are flanked by low stone wall made from stone taken from old Frazer Hall. The foot of the stairs on each side is a bronze newel light lined in colored glass.

     These lights came out of Blake Hall. On this floor, which is considered the first floor, is all of the studio equipment for cutting records. On the second floor, which was the gym floor with its 18-foot ceiling, is used as an echo chamber.

     Young people are once more enjoying it. A basketball net has been installed at the west end below the balcony. This makes a good practice court for the 6th grader in the family, and his friends. Some of the other town youths hold dances there an the stage holds the band.

     So, once again Turner Hall is being used for youth, must music and exercise and from all visible appearances, is good for at least another 100 years.

Printed in Journal-World April 28, 1971

Previous     Next     Contents