The Turn Verein

The Rock Island Turn Verein, or the Turner Society, as it is commonly styled, is one of the best known and most substantial organizations in the city. Its origin dates back to April 16, 1857, when it was known as the Turn Gemeinde. It was incorporated in 1869. During the time that has intervened there has been but one real crisis in its affairs. That was happily tided over and since that time its growth has been steady and sufficient. John Imber, a shoemaker, upon coming to this city during the fifties, began agitating the question of such an organization among the German residents. He aroused about twenty-five of his fellow countrymen and the society was formed. Julius Mosenfelder, the grocer, was the first president, John Wright, who was once employed in the mechanical department of The Argus, was the first secretary, and Mr. Imber the first turnwort, or leader of the classes in physical culture. At first the society had no building in which to meet, but the lot at the northeast corner of Twenty-first Street and Sixth Avenue was bought and fenced in and the exercises were held in the open air during the first season. Rooms on the second floor of a building on Market Square, back of the Bengston Block, were then leased for a couple of years. Here the first dramatic undertakings were put on in the Winter of 1858-59. The next meeting place was in a building which occupied the site of the new Hotel Harms. After a few years another change was made to the Empire Hall, as it was then known, located over 1506 Second Avenue. The lot now owned by the society, and occupied by its present quarters on the south side of Third Avenue west of Sixteenth Street, was acquired in 1866. The wooden building, known as Turner Hall, had been in use as the church of the Episcopal congregation of the city, being abandoned upon the erection of the church now occupied. The brick gymnasium in the rear of the hall was put up about fifteen years ago at a cost of $2,000, and the brick structure which now constitutes the main building was put up nine years ago at a cost of $14,000. The property of the society is now valued at $35,000. It was in 1859 that the membership was reduced, through a schism, to nine, but it has grown since till at the present time it numbers 1,000. There is also a Ladies’ Turner Society, with thirty-five members, that is maintained as an auxiliary to the main society. The quarters are provided, in addition to the hall and a well equipped gymnasium, with nicely furnished club rooms, including a library of seven hundred volumes of works in German and English.

Source: Historic Rock Island County, pub. Kramer & Company, Rock Island, Illinois, 1908

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