In Lawrence there were actually three Turn Vereins, one begun in 1853 by Fritz Matthes and Wilhelm Patschkel in the cellar of a house on Union St. Unfortunately, this first effort could not be sustained. Another group came to Lawrence from New York State in 1859 and launched another short-lived program at the corner of Jackson and Common Streets. Finally, through the efforts of Fritz Matthes, a permanent Turn Verein was organized on April 14, 1866. The Lawrence Evening Tribune, on April 17, 1941, stated: “The principal purpose for the existence of the American Turners always has been and is now the development of physically and mentally fit citizens willing and able to support a democracy within a republic.“
Beginning with a leased athletic field, the Turners erected a small structure that was replaced in 1868 by the first Turn Hall, followed in 1872 by a larger facility. Click here for hi-res picture of the first Turn Hall. Unfortunately, the building was short-lived, burning on November 23, 1894. This did not deter the members, however. They constructed a make-shift roof over the cellar and continued their classes, competitions and other activities until the impressive new red brick building was erected. The dedication of the building occurred in June of 1896.
Consistent with their mission, the members conducted athletic programs, specializing in gymnastics. Later they also developed music programs and a Dramatic Society, art and dancing classes. Its educational functions emphasized the importance of a healthy life style to promote happiness and good citizenship. Although developed as a German organization, participants from other ethnic groups were welcome in individual or team sports and in the various classes.
The Lawrence society was prominent in the national organization. Members Julius Laffert and Bruno A. Pietuchoff sat on the executive board of The American Turners for many years. Lawrence's Turn Verein was executive of the district from 1942 to 1952, with Julius Laffert as Chair, followed by John Miller. The national Turner Convention was held in Lawrence in 1948, only the second time it had been held in New England. Athletes from the local Turn Verein also performed well in national tournaments throughout the country.
The changes in Lawrence resulting from the departure of most of the textile mills, Urban Redevelopment, and the consequent exodus of many long time residents took their toll on participation in Turn Verein. The last time Turn Verein was referenced was in the Lawrence City Directories in 1975.