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The Turn Verein in Morgantown’s Sunnyside neighborhood was constructed in 1898 as an athletic club and community center for German immigrants. These organizations were established in Germany and across the United States, especially after their members were exiled from Germany following the Revolution of 1848. A number of Germans came to Morgantown through the thriving glass industry at the turn of the twentieth century. The Turn Verein organization likely dismantled around 1920, when other organizations used the building as a gymnasium until 1969. The building was demolished in the 1980s to build apartments for student renters at West Virginia University.


  • The only known image of the German Turn Verein on McLane Avenue. Photo courtesy of the West Virginia and Regional History Center, WVU Libraries.

Turn Vereins were athletic clubs established in the mid-nineteenth century as part of the Turner movement in Germany. Many members of the Turner movement, called “Turners,” participated in the German Revolution of 1848, a failed attempt to unify the German states. Following the Revolution, the liberal Turners were exiled from Germany and many fled to the United States, where Germans had been immigrating for employment opportunities throughout the nineteenth century. The phrase “Turn Verein” comes from the German turnen, meaning “to practice gymnastics,” and verein, meaning “club or union.”1 

Morgantown’s Turn Verein organization was established on May 13, 1897.2 Turn Vereins sought “to encourage athletics and good fellowship,” but developed into “a place to hold dances, have union meetings, and to have a drink.”3 With an established charter, the organization took the next step to construct a physical space. A July 24, 1897 issue of the New Dominion newspaper reported that “Employees of the Seneca Glass Company” planned to construct “a two-story clubhouse with a gymnasium and dancing hall.”4 A “grand ball” in May 1898 indicated that the “Turn Verein Club House was formally opened.”5

Germans were among the most skilled glassworkers immigrating from Europe. Earning higher wages than their unskilled coworkers, German glassworkers could afford modestly better housing arrangements and had the means to establish civic organizations like the Turn Verein, along with churches and local festivals. The Seneca Glass Company was inextricably linked to the Turn Verein, as the founders of the Seneca Glass Company were members and incorporators of the Turn Verein. The relationship between the company and organization clearly spoke to the influence of the German community in the area.6 

City directories from 1901 through 1920-1921 listed monthly “first Tuesday meetings” at 487 McLane Avenue, but after 1925 it was unmentioned.7 In the 1941 city directory, 487 McLane Avenue reappeared but as “St. Francis Gymnasium,” an affiliate of St. Francis Catholic Church, also on McLane Avenue.8 All the lots owned by the Turn Verein Concordia were sold to the United Investment Company on November 4, 1919, indicating that the organization had declined.9 The likely cause of the decline of the organization fit well within the national context isolationism and anti-German sentiment. On January 16, 1939, all lots were sold to “Rt. Reverend J.J. Swint, D. D. Bishop of Wheeling, West Virginia.”10

The “gymnasium” remained in use through 1969 when it was sold to Dr. Ralph P. Scumaci.11 The sale of lot numbers 6, 7, and 8 indicated that the former Turn Verein remained intact during its use as a gymnasium. The deconstruction of the wooden Turn Verein likely occurred during Dan L. Sheaver III and Dan L. Sheaver IV’s ownership of the property. After purchasing the property on October 23, 1986, Sheaver III and Sheaver IV enacted a “general partnership with Aerostar Apartments,” becoming a part of the larger trend of the conversion of historic buildings to current student housing.12 Today there are two rental apartment buildings at 419 and 423 McLane Avenue that occupy an overlap of the lots. 

1. Mary Lou LeCompte, “Handbook of Texas Online: Turnverein Movement,” Texas State Historical Association, (accessed October 29, 2013) http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/vnt02. 

2. “Abstracts of Corporations,” in Session Laws: West Virginia, (West Virginia: 1899), 189. 

3. Wallace Venable and Norma Jean Venable, Around Morgantown, (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2007) 113.; Earl L. Core, The Monongalia Story: A Bicentennial History, Volume IV: Industrialization (Parsons, WV: McClain Printing Company, 1982), 225. 

4. Core, The Monongalia Story, Volume IV, 225. 

5. Ibid., 237. 

6. Ken Fones-Wolf, Industry, Labor and Political Economy in Appalachia, 1890-1930s. (University of Illinois Press, 2007), 30-46.

7. Morgantown City Directory (Morgantown, WV: R.L. Polk & Co. Publishers, 1922-23), 104.; Morgantown City Directory (Morgantown, WV: R.L. Polk & Co., 1925). 

8. Morgantown City Directory (Morgantown, WV: R.L. Polk & Co. Publishers, 1941), 456. 

9. Deeds of Sale, United Insurance Company to Rt. Reverend J.J. Swint, November 4, 1919, Monongalia County, West Virginia, Deed Book 161, 183, Office of the Monongalia County Clerk, Morgantown, West Virginia. 

10. Deeds of Sale, United Insurance Company to Rt. Reverend J.J. Swint, January 16, 1939, Monongalia County, West Virginia, Book 297, Page 288, Office of the Monongalia County Clerk, Morgantown, West Virginia. 

12. Deeds of Sale from Most Reverend Joseph J. Hodges to Ralph P. Scumaci, October 1, 1969, Monongalia County, West Virginia, Book 691, Page 321, Office of the Monongalia County Clerk, Morgantown, West Virginia. 

12. Deeds of Sale, Ralph P. Scumaci and Margerite Scumaci, October 23, 1986, Monongalia County, West Virginia, book 951, Page 168, Office of the Monongalia County Clerk, Morgantown, West Virginia.; Deeds of Sale, Dan L. Sheaver III and Dan L. Sheaver IV to Lebanon LLC, December 6, 1997, Monongalia County, West Virginia, Book 1155, Page 447, Office of the Monongalia County Clerk, Morgantown, West Virginia.  

Images:

“Turnverein Concordia, Morgantown, W. Va.” Glass plate negative. West Virginia and Regional History Center at West Virginia University Libraries. West Virginia History OnView. Accessed January 2018. http://wvhistoryonview.org/catalog/wvulibraries:50512

Research compiled by Gabby Hornbeck. Edited by Elizabeth Satterfield and Pamela Curtin.