The Highland Gymnastic Society, originally known as the “Turnverein,” formed in 1853.
“It grew rapidly and was the pride of every member, as the Swiss and Germans that had settled in Highland and the area really believed in the teaching of gymnastics for the development of the body and good schools for the development of the mind.”
The 1853 location was the second floor of the Menz Building, which was at the northwest corner of Broadway and Pine. It is still in use, after three or more additions.
The Turnverein functioned until 1861 and the beginning of the Civil War when nearly all of the younger men of the class enlisted in the U.S. Army.
“In 1866, the society was again organized by Jacob Menz, Louis Kinne and Selmar Pabst, the leading spirits of Highland. Ferdinand Kaltenbacher (1842-1908) was elected the physical instructor.”
Ferdinand Kaltenbacher was the great-grandfather of Eunice Kalterbacher (Mrs. Floyd) Rogier, who supplied the photo of Ferd with this column and will be with the “Turner” information in the new Highland Home Museum, which will hold its grand opening on April 22 and 23. We also have a “Diamond” bat that has been imbedded at the knob, “Turner” and the initials “E.H.” We do know that Edward Hebrank was a member of the Turners, but have no proof that it was his bat. This Turnet bat was donated to the museum by a former Highlander Ron Bleisch, now of Glen Carbon.
“The Turners needed a building of their own, as the society was growing. By October 1869, they had raised the money needed. The contract price was $3,590 by Henry G. Metzger, and he hired as many carpenters as were available. Their permanent building was finished, and on Dec. 26, 1869, the new ‘Turnhalle’ was formerly dedicated. The band played for the parade, which started at Main and Walnut, and they proceeded to the newly built hall, amid ringing of all the school and church bells. Over 700 people attended the dedication program, the Harmonie sang, and Adolph Bandelier made the formal dedication address. Three hundred couples were present for the dance that followed that evening.
“The people of Highland put the Turnhalle (later called, Turner Hall) to good use right away. Everything that called for a few people to gather had to be held there. Previously, the place of general meetings had been in the dance halls of the saloons, but after the building of the Turnhalle, all of that was changed. The first ‘Turnfest’ was held in May 1870. The day events were held at Lindendale Park, and the evening events at the Turnhalle. The weekend events were attended by thousands, many from St. Louis, and Highland became a popular place for such events.”
Highland had a library as early as 1859. The Highland Library Association had with Adolph E. Bandelier as president and trustees were Dr. Frederick Ryhiner, Joseph Suppiger, Solomon Koepfli and John Suppiger, again “the cream of the crop.”
“They collected a very valuable collection, which would answer the needs of pupils, teachers and adults. After the Turnhalle was built, which had included a reading room, the book collection was moved to the hall and maintained there until the Louis Latzer Memorial Public Library was built in 1929 by the Latzer family. The library association also sponsored lectures at the hall during the winter months. The lecturers were professors, Baer and Julius Hammer; doctors, Ryhiner, Suter, Bernays and Halter; plus many other leaders, putting Highland on the map in a literary way.
“The Turner Hall had been a popular place to hold political meetings, because of its capacity and the freedom of conduct that was permitted. Gen. U.S. Grant, when he was running for president of the U.S.A., made his appearance there and made the walls ring with his forensic efforts. In 1912, Teddy Roosevelt, called the ‘Rough Rider’ and the ‘Bull Moose’ because of his service days, was running for president and spoke at the Turner Hall, twice. Both men, Grant and Roosevelt were elected.
“In the late 1870s, an addition was made on the east side of the building. Two bowling alleys were installed, and they were used until 1913. Jacob Janett purchased them and moved them to the west side of his building at Ninth and Walnut.”
In 1937, when the “Centennial History of Highland” was written, the building was called the Albert Kleiner building. Today, it’s called Ninth Street Café.
“Turner Hall was equipped with a kitchen and outfitted for the serving of meals to a great number. During the months when the outdoor Lindendale Park dining room was not available, the Turner Hall would be used several times a year. Later, churches and other buildings had been equipped, so hall usage declined.
“The Gymnastic Society had succeeded in its primary cause of development of the physical health and strength of our young and older people (just as the Korte Recreation Center and other fitness places in Highland do today). Competent instructors had always been in charge and classes for all ages had been regularly organized. They had entered into competition with other St. Louis area turning schools and acquitted themselves with great credit.”
In 1948, the Gymnastic Society voted to disband and give the land and the building to the city of Highland to be used at a later date for a new building, which later became the Weinheimer Community Center.
Quotes from pages 150-155 of “Centennial History of Highland” book.