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German Immigrant Ancestors
in Syracuse and Onondaga County, New York

Syracuse Turn-Verein

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What Was The Turn-Verein? A National Overview

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

The 1848 revolution that drove so many German-speaking expatriates to America also resulted in the genesis of the German-American Turn-Verein, or Turner movement. The immigrants, wishing to recreate the gymnastic clubs of their homeland, founded new counterparts in the U.S. to continue and promote their physical education endeavors, while also seeking to preserve traditional German customs, language and celebrations in their new country.

In its early days in the United States the Turn-verein was a radical movement whose principles and aims were comparable with those of German freethinkers' societies. Antislavery, antiprohibition, and anti-nativism were basic principles of the Turner movement in America. The Turn-Verein was devoted to the Bill of Rights, advocated free public education and the complete separation of church and state, supported concerts, lectures, and theater, urged legislation for the worker and the farmer, and were opposed to the dogmas of all churches. It invited conflicts in ideas, confident that a better America would emerge therefrom.

Across America, from Seattle to the Bronx, the Turn-Verein groups offered congenial gathering places for German-style physical fitness regimes, along with ethnic solidarity and support in assimilating the old and new cultures.

See Annette R. Hofmann's excellent historical article, "150 years of Turnerism in the United States".

See also "Background of the Turners" and why they fought in the American Civil War at Gary Kappesser's website, "A Regimental History of the Twentieth Regiment, New York State Volunteer Infantry (Turnschützenregiment; The United Turner Rifles), 1861 - 1863" compiled from original sources.

The Syracuse Turn-Verein

The book Geschichte der Deutschen in Syracuse und Onondaga County (1897) offers these historical narratives regarding the Syracuse Turn-Verein:

Here is an 1894 newspaper article describing the 25th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone of the Syracuse Turn Hall.

The information that follows below is taken from the book Fest-Ausgabe zur Fünfzigjährigen Jubelfeier der Gründung des Syracuse Turn-Verein, 1854-1904, und des Dreikigsten Bezirks-Turnfestes vom West-New York Turnbezirk, abgehalten vom 2ten bis 5ten Juli 1904, in Syracuse, N.Y., copyright 1904 by Wilhelm Schmidt, Pinzer-Union Publishing Co., Syracuse. (Subtitle: "Fünfzig Jahre Deutschen Strebens"). This roughly translates as: "Commemorative Publication of the Fifty-Year Jubilee of the Syracuse Turn-Verein, 1854-1904, and the district celebration held from the 2nd to the 5th of July 1904 (Fifty Years of German Striving)."

Many thanks to Diana Hall and Jen Baldwin who so generously donated the use of their copy of this book for this website. Original copies of the book may be found at: the Onondaga County Public Library, The Galleries of Syracuse, 447 South Salina Street, Syracuse, NY 13202; Telephone: 315-435-1800;

From the book:
Selected Photos Selected Pages Selected Advertisements

Here follows the only English-language portion of the book:

For Our English-Speaking Members. [pp. 181-182]:

This brief sketch of the Syracuse Turn Verein, in English, is for the benefit of those of our English speaking Turn brothers who are not capable of reading the type of Gutenberg. We print this in the hope that the reader will be forced to the conclusion that it will be well to read our entire book, in order to accomplish which, it will be necessary to study German, and that acting upon the desire, a German instructor will be engaged and that beautiful language mastered and the contents of our book devoured without the assistance of an interpreter.

The Syracuse Turn-Verein was organized on the 15th day of May, 1854, in the basement of the then so-called Shakespeare Hall, which was situated upon the site of the present Bastable Block. Shortly after, Jacob Amos, father of our honored ex-mayor Jacob Amos, invited the young society to quarters in the Amos hotel, which then as to-day is located at the corner of North Salina and Noxon streets. From there the Verein moved into Ackerman's hall on North Salina street, between the then called Lock street and Butternut street; and from there into Maas' hall, which was situated over the present store of The H. E. Hessler Hardware Company. In 1858 the Verein erected and moved into its first building, of small dimensions, upon one of the Freeoff lots, near the top of the hill on the easterly side of Pond street, between Park and Carbon streets, where it remained until 1863 when it moved into the larger and more centrally located building at the westerly corner of Lodi and John streets, which building still stands. In 1866, mostly through the efforts of Jacob and Benedict Haberle, the old Center House property of one hundred seventeen feet front on North Salina street, being the property whereon Turn Hall now stands, was purchased for the sum of five thousand dollars, the Haberle brothers refusing to take one cent profit. The Center House, which for years had been a landmark, and which derived its name from its central location between the villages of Salina and Syracuse, was doomed, not only as a hostelry, but as a Turn Hall, for during the night of December 26th, 1867, it burned to the ground and the Turn Verein was homeless for the next two years, its temporary quarters being at "Papa" Woese's, corner Park and Butternut streets.

On March 3rd, 1869, it was decided to rebuild on a large scale and on July 4th of that year, the corner stone of the present building was laid. The building was under roof by September 14th when the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Alexander von Humboldt was celebrated. The building was completed by December 26th, 1869, and the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of the German poet Ernst Moritz Arndt, the author of, "Was ist des Deutschen Vaterland," was celebrated in royal German fashion.

The Verein was prosperous and growing until the dark financial days of the panic of 1873, which among others caused the failure of the "People's Bank" and brought distress to many, including the Turn Verein, the bankrupt bank holding a mortgage of ten thousand dollars on the Verein property. It seemed nigh impossible to secure a new loan, money being scarce. It was in this distressing situation that brothers Benedict Haberle, Henry Genzel, Christian Freeoff and others came to the rescue and saved the society from ruin and it was soon again in a flourishing condition, gaining friends and members and the universal esteem of the citizens of Syracuse.

The Verein is now making preparations for the celebration of the fiftieth aniversary of its existence. The celebration will be held in connection with the Bezirks-Turnfest; Turners from every section of the Empire State will be present. Preparations are being made for the greatest and grandest Fourth of July celebration Syracuse ever had. In the meantime let us shout with one acclaim:

"Long live the Turn-Verein of Syracuse."

Selected Photos from the book:
Selected Pages from the book:
Selected Ad Pages from the book:

Contributions, comments, corrections are welcomed! Anyone who can already read the "beautiful" old German "Gutenberg" type and would like to volunteer some translating for posting on this website will be credited here (and rewarded with the warm glow that comes from furthering German/American historical research). Email me.

Email messages:

Sender: Dick Cook
Dates: 28 November 2002 and 20 April 2003

Info I have now is that the Turn Hall at 619 No. Salina St. burned about 1952 (and most of their records were lost at that time). It has since been rebuilt (at the same location). My dad was a weekend bartender there in the 1930's and 1940's and I worked there as a pin boy and busboy when I was going to high school. Members George L. Cook and John A. Cook were my uncles and H. (Herb) Cook was my dad.

Webpage for the Syracuse Turners:

Pages of a membership list from the Turners, date unknown (but singed by the 1952 fire):
Colby - Cramer
Flock - Friedman