July 14, 1888: Duluth’s Germans dedicate Turner Hall

On this day in Duluth in 1888, Duluth’s German’s dedicated their brand new Turner Hall at 601 East Third Street. Most city’s in America had their own Turner Hall at the time, a gathering place for members of the local Turnverein Society. The Turners were founded in Germany in 1811 by a group of men who believed physical exercise, especially gymnastics, would instill a sense of patriotism, citizenship and culture. They called themselves Turnvereins from turen (“to practice gymnastics”) and verein (“club”) and soon became known as the “Turners.” Many of them fought on the losing side of the 1848 revolution in Germany and fled to the U.S. and formed Turnverein Societies and built “Turner Halls,” which featured gymnasiums for exercise as well as auditoriums for dramatic and musical presentations. In America, Turnverein Societies attempted to preserve German language and culture in their adopted homeland. Duluth’s Turnverein Society first organized in 1873 by a group led by Charles Winckler and C. William Berkelman. They built their first hall at 308 East Superior Street, location of Carmody Irish Pub today, but that building was destroyed in the same 1886 fire that destroyed grain elevators A and Q.  The 1888 building was designed by architect and Turner Oliver Traphagen. The opening celebration was attended by Turners from across the state, but it did not go off without a hiccup: the gas company had failed to connect lines to the building, so oil lamps and candles had to be employed. After Reinhard’s orchestra performed, Mayor John Sutphin gave a speech, followed by another talk by local Turnverein president Dr. Hugo Speier. There were of course gymnastics demonstrations, and the celebration continued the next day with a picnic and an evening performance. Two years later, fire destroyed the building. Read the entire history of Duluth’s Turner Society here.

Duluth’s second Turner Hall stood at 601 East Third Street for just two years before it was consumed by fire. Another Turner Hall was built on the same spot and stood until the mid 1960s. (Image: Duluth Public Library)