Exploring Albany's inglorious past and dubious future

The Albany Turn Verein

In my online explorations, I came across an organization of which I’d never heard: The Albany Social Turn-Verein.


The turnverein was a German society formed for social intercourse and physical development. It has an interesting history (see wiki link at the bottom), and formed in Albany around 1853, with 33 members. Because of its affiliation with political movements and parties in Germany, there was initial local resistance to granting them incorporation. Legislators thought the group “infidel, secret, and political.” They finally achieved the legitimacy of incorporation in 1860.

The Turn Verein soon attracted prominent local Germans, and established a base at Schreiber’s Washington Hall on Green Street. They would stage public exhibitions of gymnastic events, hold public picnics, and create “a school for instruction of children in gymnastical exercises.”

Unfortunately, I was unable to find a photo of the Albany organization, but it probably looked much like this 1866 image of the Milwaukee Turnverein

Post-Civil War, the Albany Turn Verein’s masked balls became an annual, highly-anticipated social highlight.

The 1885 ball was described thusly: “The Masque depleted every nation and several unknown shades of humanity. A half dozen Topseys contributed color to the masqueraders and caused much laughter. Representatives from nearly all the singing societies in the city participated. The floor managers wore fools’ caps, of the design by their forefathers in Germany on like occasions.”

In 1883, the Albany Social Turn Verein and a smaller Capital Turn Verein merged into the Albany Turn Verein. In 1896, now with over 100 members, they moved into new headquarters/gymnasium at 41 Hudson Avenue, one floor below the Liederkranz Singing Society.

The Grand Balls stopped, membership declined, and, like many turnvereins around the country, the Albany Turn Verein fizzled away at the turn of the century. As war erupted in 1917, an attempt was made to revive the defunct society in the face of strong anti-German sentiment. As the newspaper accounted:

One of the most important meetings since many years, was held last night in the German hall, in which the “Albany Turnverein” came to life again. Turnvereins are the soul of every community of Germans in Germany and of German speaking Americans in this country. The history of this strong attachment to those institutions and societies goes back to the time when all of Europe was crushed by the French war genius Napoleon. His military glory was achieved not only by his ability, but also, because the others and principally the Germans during the long period of peace and leisure were weakened in body and mind. Before Germany could throw off the French yoke it had to reform, and it began same by that physical exercises and the mental elevation which lays in scientific, educational gymnastics. “The healthy soul in the healthy body” was the slogan and it is up to this day. The Germans succeeded more than a hundred years ago, and whatever the sympathies of any one might be at the present time, nobody will deny that, whether the Germans succeed in this war now or fail, the Germans have shown in the terrible struggle an endurance, an efficiency not to be forgotten in some time to come. “Turnen” made the fighters so efficient, and “Turnen” they did from childhood on and continued it until the great tragedy came. “Turnen” was done in Albany since the city was sought out by the first Germans and the Turnverein went out of existence when politics and quarrels about religion were brought into it. The founders of the present Turnverein seemingly are persons who carry in their personality the assurance that similar causes for disruption will never incur any more and to the great agitation for the creation of the Albany Turnverein, known German Americans offered material and moral support and even ministers of the gospel assisted in calling the meeting last night. It was surprising to see in that meeting that it is not true, that Germans in the second Generation don’t talk German anymore, for about twenty-five young men took part in the discussion, none of them over 30 years old and most of them born here. Gymnastics should be not a German but a National institution, and it will be. The temporary election, until the by-laws will be presented, was extended only to few.

As best I can tell, this meeting failed to reconstitute the Albany Turn Verein.

The Troy Turn Verein persisted until the 1930’s, and the Schenectady organization was still active into the late 1960’s.

For further reading, wikipedia has an excellent history of the movement.

2 Responses to “The Albany Turn Verein”

  1. Roger

    Milwaukee. I guess if you’ve seen one turnverein, you’ve seen them all. 😉 Actually, this is quite cool.


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