German Americans of Cleveland

Cleveland Press Articles

Turnverein Started Here in 1849

"100 Years of Nationalities in Cleveland"
Sixteenth of a Series
By Theodore Andrica
Cleveland Press, date unknown

Cleveland was the fourth city in America to have a Turnverein. Cincinnati Germans were first, introducing Turnerism in 1848, then came Boston, Philadelphia and Cleveland in 1849 and 1850.

Turnerism, the method of gymnastics established by Frederick Jahn in Germany in 1811, was brought to America by three of his pupils in 1824 but the movement languished for lack of teachers.

The German revolt of 1848 brought to American thousands of desirable emigrants from Germany, among them Frederick Hecker, a leader of the revolt. At Hecker's suggestion his friends in Cincinnati formed the Cincinnati Turngemeinde.

Cincinnati's example was soon followed by Cleveland Germans. Jacob Mueller, Karl Cobelli, Jacob Nix, Jacob Arnold, Dr. Karl Hartman, Otto Weber, A. H. Wagner, Fritz Dexheimer, John Probeck, Karl Behlen, the brothers George, Jacob, Henry and Wilhem Lehr, Maier; Brandt, Rettberg were among the founders of the Cleveland Turnverein in late 1849.

Clear Wooded Area

By the spring of 1850 these and other members of Cleveland Turnverein cleared a wooded section, then outside the city, now the corner of Huron and Ontario, and made it into a Turnplatz.

In 1851 they erected a small frame building, Cleveland's first gymnasium. The building was ill equipped but, nevertheless, was the pride of the membership.

When the Civil War came, virtually all members of the Cleveland Turnverein enlisted and the organization ceased functioning.

After the Civil War, surviving Turner members reorganized the groups and built a new hall on Ohio St. (now Central Ave.). When this was merged with the Germania Hall, the building was sold to St. Anthony's Catholic Church.

On Mar. 24, 1867, several West Side Germans met in the Free German School, Mechanic St. (now W. 38th St.) to discuss the organization of a new Turnverein. At the second meeting, Apr.7, 1867, the Socialer Turnverein was formally established.

Meet in School

Louis Grammes was chosen president and Karl J. Cobelli, secretary. Others active in founding were George Raeder, William Lambinus, Wilhelm Lehr, Friedrich Wenz, Heinrich Walther, Theodore Leutz, Friedrich Lehr, Jacob Schlachter, Hans Walter, William Grothe, Dr. Focke, Julius and Herman Mueller.

The new Socialer Turnverein rented the auditorium and the school yard of the Free German School for $75 per year. In September, 1867, the organization became a full fledged member of the North American Turnerbund.

In 1872 the Socialer Tumverein bought the German School property and spent $7,000 to build a new hall. By 1876 the membership and grown so much that a paid gymnastic teacher was employed. He was John Franz, who received $25 per month for teaching two nights a week.

Get New Building

To accommodate the growing membership, a lot was bought in 1883 at 3919 Lorain Ave., the present site of the organization, and a $13,000 building was erected. This building was destroyed by fire in August, 1889. In its place a larger modern structure was erected costing $56,000. Since then the building has been further modernized and today it serves nearly 1,000 members.

East Side members of the former Cleveland Turnverein on Sept. 7, 1876, organized Germania Turnverein and held their gymnastic exercises in the old Turnhall on Ohio St. (Woodland Ave.) until the building was sold to the Cleveland Catholic diocese in 1887.

Under the leadership of Wilhelm Kaufmann, the new Germania Hall was erected in 1888 at the cost of $65,000 on Erie St. (now E. 2416 E. Ninth St.) near Bolivar Rd. Aiding Kaufmann in the new project were Paul Schneider, Adolf Mayer, Dr. Carl Zapp. Louis Uhl, Christian Schuenpbach, John Franz, Herman Pothmann, C. F. Uhl, John Feil, Dr. B. Frause, Leopold Einstein, Louis Wendorf and A. Ernst.

In 1908 the Germania Tumverein merged with Turnverein Vonvaerts, which was founded on May 18, 1890. The Vonvaerts built its new home in 1893 at Willson Ave. and Harlem St., where the East Side Turners have their home now, 1622 E. 55th St.

Among the early leaders of the Vonvaerts were Otto Neuert, George Ridinger, Franz Pfister, Dr. Robert Fischer, Ernst Miller, Ed Henning, H. Guetterie and A. Doehla.