Turner Movement


The Turner movement originated in the early 1800s in Germany as part of an effort to liberate the German states from Napoleon's rule. It combined "patriotic and liberal principles with an emphasis on physical training."

The French Revolution of 1848 prompted many German speaking expatriates to immigrate to America and also resulted in the organization of the German-American Turn Verein, also known as the Turner movement. Once they arrived in the U.S., the German's wanted to create the same gymnastic clubs they had in their homeland so they founded their counterparts in order to promote German physical education goals, while at the same time, preserving traditional customs, languages and celebrations.

In the early days in the U.S., the Turn Verein was considered a radical movement whose principles and goals were similar with those of German "'freethinkers' societies."

Some of the basic principles of the group included anti-slavery, anti-prohibition and anti-nativism. The group was devoted to the Bill of Rights and advocated free public education and separation of church and state. They also supported cultural events such as concerts, lectures and the theater and urged legislation to protect the American worker, in particular the farmer. Turn Verein were opposed to the "dogmas" of all churches.


Syracuse Chapter

Grand Columbus Celebration - Syracuse Turn Verein at Turn Hall. September 29, 1892


Turn Hall - Home of the Turn Verein at 619 North Salina Street. November 26, 1893

The society offered "congenial gathering places" for Germans across the country as well as physical fitness regimes and support for Germans to assimulate their old culture with their new way of life in America.

The Turn Verein was organized in Syracuse on May 15, 1854. At that time, there were fewer than 20 members and they were disciples of Jahn, the founder of the German system of gymnastics. The Turners held their first meeting in a cottage on Pearl Street. Peter Baumgrass of Chicago, an artist, was the first president.

The local chapter relocated to the rear of the Union office on North Salina Street where there was a vacant lot. In 1860, the building burned and the Turners lost all their property. The society had reached a membership of 150 before the fire, however, was reduced to 20. A lot was purchased on Pond Street and the Turners erected a one-story building where they remained until 1863. At that time the club moved to the corner of Lodi and John streets where they constructed the Turn Hall.

Boyd's Syracuse City Directory in 1879 referred to the club as Scheutzen Verein. Meetings were held the first Thursday of each month at 175 North Salina Street. President of the organization was B. Haberle and J. Brilbeck was vice-president while Florian Singer was secretary. The position of captain was held by J. Graassman and J. Mantel was treasurer.

During late August 1882, the Turners State Convention was held in Syracuse with the local Turn Verein as the "entertaining society."

By February 1893, the "athletic school" of the Turners was the oldest in the city and the apparatus was "much worse for the wear." The classes comprised 50 men and 250 boys and girls and the increase in attendance was so rapid that year that new quarters were necessary.

Soon after, the members of the Turn Verein adopted a resolution to remodel the "gymnasium department." A committee was appointed and granted the power to buy additional apparatus and supplies in order to make the gymnasium "second rate to none" in the city. Bathrooms, which had long been lacking, were also installed, "much to the delight of the members."

Professor Carl Grosse was hired as the physical instructor of the school in 1893 and under his direction "many remarkable athletes" were developed. He was born in Leipaic, Germany in 1853 and from early boyhood showed a natural ability for gymnastics.

Almost as soon as a child can walk it goes into one of the classes of the Turn Verein, and the North side abounds in athletic youngsters as sturdy and healthy as wholesome surroundings and sensible habits can make them. - Syracuse Herald, October 1899.

The Turners were intertwined into all aspects of German-American life in Syracuse. The festival of Gemuetlichkeit, conducted by the Turn Verein, was celebrated by early German's as a highlight during Thanksgiving.


Civil War

During the Civil War, from 1861 to 1863, many German immigrants in New York State served in the Twentieth Regiment, New York State Volunteer Infantry which was also known as Turnschützenregiment; The United Turner Rifles.


List of previous Turner Sites:

May 15, 1854 Shakespeare Hall (Bastable Block) present site of State Tower Bldg.
1854 - 1856 Amos Hotel, Noxon St. (Herald Place) and North Salina St.
1856 - 1857 Ackerman's Hall; Salina St. between Lock St. and Butternut St.
1857 - 1858 Mass Hall, 512-516 North Salina St., over Howard Hessler's Hardware Store
1858 - 1863 Eastside of Pond St., between Park and Carbon Sts. Bought lot for $1.00. Destroyed by fire 1863.
1863 - 1864 Corner of John and Lodi Sts. Sold to the city in 1865 for $1,500.

Presidents of the Society

Frank W. Traugott, president of the Turn Verein in Syracuse, New York in 1910

The organization was founded on May 15, 1854 and the first president was Peter Baumgrass. On January 15, 1937, Syracuse Mayor Rolland B. Marvin honored the Turn Verein and stated they were "one of the greatest organizations this city has ever known." He declared the club a "real asset" to Syracuse and said "the whole city is proud of it."

An InfoWorks design Copyright © 2005 - 2018 Last modified: February 10, 2018