Lawrence Kansas Turnhalle

900 Rhode Island

We’re walking through Lawrence on a winter afternoon. The sun is warm but the wind is cold, the leaves not quite fallen from the trees. We stop at a building I’ve passed many times but hardly noticed.

It sits at 900 Rhode Island, a quiet brick street with tall trees and old homes, halfway between the shiny new mid-rises off New Hampshire and my brother’s old college house on Vermont (probably the crappiest place I ever set foot inside of in Lawrence).

This is the Turnhalle (say “Turnhalluh”), arguably the oldest community structure in Lawrence. The warm limestone blocks and the blue doors and windows haven’t changed since it was built in 1869. The building was a gathering place for the German-American Turners, or Turnverein.

The community center helped German-Americans integrate into American society while carrying on the traditions, language and customs of their home country. As an editorial in the Lawrence Journal-World tells it, the foremost of these customs were gymnastics and beer drinking. People also gathered here for theater, music, celebrations and social events.

The first World War strained German-American relations. The Turnverein slowly crumbled, and their meeting places across the country fell into disrepair. The Turnhalle is one of the few community buildings left. Recent efforts by the Lawrence Preservation Association to save the structure have been successful. The Turnhalle will be a part of Lawrence for many years to come.

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