Turner Hall: Memories for all the five senses
A fire destroyed Turned Hall Sunday night, but fond memories of that place span generations and reach back for more than a century. Turner Hall and the organization that built it have been a part of the history and culture of Fredericksburg almost from the beginning.
Turn Vereins began in Germany. They were athletic clubs, but they had a loftier purpose. Their aim was to make the world a better place.
The Germans took a holistic approach to society. They believed that a balance of work and fun produced well-rounded people and a healthy society. And they were proactive. Their communities established organizations that promoted those beliefs.
Like their counterparts in Germany, the founders of the Fredericksburg Social Turn Verein understood that healthy and happy people make good citizens. The purpose of the organization, according to its constitution, was “to help make its members physically strong and physically clean; men without prejudice and filled with good will and understanding toward their fellow man.”
Our modern world could certainly use a lot more of that.
The Fredericksburg Turn Verein began modestly as a gymnastics school and a 9 pin bowling alley on March 12, 1871. Later it sponsored a fire brigade that became the city’s Volunteer Fire Department. Originally for men, the women soon joined. The Turn Verein is one of the city’s oldest continuing institutions.
The Fredericksburg Turn Verein constructed the Turner Hall on Travis Street as a place to bring people together. Members used the building for bowling tournaments, dances, banquets, wedding receptions, bridge tournaments, family reunions, political debates, masked balls, holiday celebrations and Quinceaneras. In the 1950s and ’60s the high school held the junior-senior prom in the Turner Hall.
Members played pinochle once a month on Sunday afternoons. They played skat – a German card game with three players and many variations.
In the 1920s citizens held dances to benefit the local polo team. Before television, people gathered at Turner Hall on the second Tuesday in November every four years to hear the results of the presidential election.
There was a time when the four bowling lanes at Turner Hall were the most popular places in town. There were men’s leagues, women’s leagues, mixed leagues, and a waiting list to get in. There were no automatic pin setters. Young people set the pins by hand, just like their fathers, and their grandfathers before them.
Just about everyone who grew up in Fredericksburg has a memory of Turner Hall. It was a fun place for all ages.
“The Turner Hall was a family place,” Frances Hartmann recalled. “Couples brought their children. The kids played in part of the building, and the adults played in another part. There was something for everyone.”
The building wasn’t fancy. The bathrooms were the size of a broom closet. In the summer the ceiling fans spun frantically trying to help the air-conditioner keep temperatures at a comfortable level. The efforts weren’t always successful.
But the place had character that comes from years of use and being touched by human hands. The scent of Lysol never quite covered up the faint smell of stale beer and cigarette smoke. There were the sounds of pans clanging in the kitchen and pins rattling in the bowling alley. The building was filled with laughter. There were bowlers and card players talking trash in several languages. The old wooden dance floor was the best in town.
The Turner Hall was a place of excitement and romance. There are married couples in town who remember their first date at Turner Hall over 60 years ago.
Fredericksburg was fortunate to have a place like Turner Hall. It served its grand purpose.
There is already talk of rebuilding it, and I hope that happens. But it won’t be the same. At least not until the smell of stale beer has soaked in and the new building has a century or two of wear by new generations of human hands.