LIMA — In less than a decade of existence, the Turner Hall on South Main Street had been the site of gymnastics and dances, “disgraceful” stage acts and even a prodigious display of rat killing by a dog named Nick.
But it would be hard to top the excitement at the hall on April 25, 1898, almost exactly two years after it had become the armory of Company C of the Ohio National Guard.
War was in the air that spring and the members of Company C, which was formed in 1875, had been nervously awaiting the sound of the fire bell summoning them to the armory. It came the morning of April 25, 1898. After two months of escalating tensions, beginning with the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana harbor, the U.S. was at war with Spain.
“The fire bell dingled the word was passed along the line and in a few minutes nearly every whistle in the city was blaring,” the Lima Daily News reported that Monday. “Thousands of people gathered on the streets to learn the cause of the jollification. The band marched up and down Main Street, playing ‘There’ll Be a Hot Time,’ ‘Marching Through Georgia,’ and other patriotic airs. The drum corps was out and their music stirred up quite a feeling, about three hundred men joined the band in marching up and down Main Street. Spanish flags were burned, cannons were fired.”
The following morning, a crowd estimated at 15,000 lined the streets to give the 85 members of Company C a patriotic sendoff as they marched from the armory to the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne & Chicago station for the train trip to regimental headquarters in Kenton. “Every store along the line of march from the armory on South Main Street to the passenger station was elaborately decorated with flags and bunting in honor of the departing soldiers. Patriotism was displayed on every side.”
Turner Hall, formally known as the Armory-Latisona building, has stood on the west side of the street in the 400 block of South Main Street for more than 125 years. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and for many years housed the law offices of attorney Robert Mihlbaugh.
The building was erected in 1892 to be the home of the Lima Turnverein. The Turnverein were German-American gymnastics associations. Known as Turners, the Turnverein movement arrived in the United States prior to the Civil War. The Lima Turnverein formed at the end of the 1880s and initially met in a former Catholic school house that had been moved to a lot at North Main and Pearl streets.
“The members of the Lima Turnverein will meet at Turner Hall at five o’clock Sunday morning for the purpose of driving out into the country to a suitable grove and there hold a Turnvorth,” the Daily News reported July 11, 1890. “This consists of gymnastic exercises of different kinds and games. No ladies are allowed; as it is not a picnic but an outing for physical culture in the open air … .”
On June 28, 1892, the Turners moved into their new hall, constructed on a lot in the 400 block of South Main Street which the group had purchased a year earlier. “A little more than two years ago, a number of the leading German citizens formed a Turner Society. From that time until the present they met in an ordinary frame building on North Main Street,” the Lima Daily Times wrote, adding that now they were moving into a “magnificent brick structure that cost the princely sum of $12,000.”
In the basement, the newspaper wrote, was the “drill room, where can be found all the paraphernalia necessary for modern physical culture,” while the main hall on the second floor was “a handsome room capable of seating 1,200 … In fact the whole structure is a credit to the town and to the Turners, who number ninety, all of whom are to be congratulated.”
A month after opening the hall, the Lima Turners were showing it off with a Turn Fest involving societies from all over the state. “The Turn Fest begins tomorrow and the weather being favorable, Lima will enjoy a three days celebration that has never been surpassed in the history of the city,” the Daily Times assured its readers. “Preparations are being made today for decoration and tomorrow from nearly every business and residence will be floating flags and banners bearing the inscription ‘Wilkommen,’ ‘Turner,’ ‘Gut Heil,’ etc., and Lima will take on the aspect of ‘a city of pleasure.’”
As the summer of 1892 drew to a close, ads appeared in local newspapers announcing the new Turner Hall was now available for rent “to responsible parties for dances, entertainments, meetings, etc.”
Thus it was that “Nick the Ratter” came to Turner Hall. “About fifty sporting men attended the rat killing at Turner Hall last evening,” the Daily Times wrote Nov. 23, 1892, “About nine o’clock the owner of the dog entered the pit with the canine, which seemed very anxious for the contest, and the fun began. Some of the rats fought desperately. Some of the spectators besides the dog’s owner kept time, and in nine minutes and twenty seconds after the fight commenced every one of the thirty-nine rats lay in the pit with their feet upward.”
A month later, the entertainers were human and, seemingly, caused more concern for the Daily Times, which informed its readers on Dec. 27, 1892, that “brazen women representing the May Davenport Burlesque Company” had accosted men on Main Street and, “with a smile and a wink,” handed each a “suggestive bit of advertising” about their performance at Turner Hall. Police, the reporter added, looked the other way. “For this official protection they treated the police especially nice, each member of the force being presented with a copy of every bill detailing the beauties of the American and French ladies. Several of the force were at the hall to see whether the advertisement told the truth or not.”
Mostly, though, Turner Hall was used for club and lodge meetings, and entertainment decidedly less salacious than that provided by the May Davenport Burlesque Company. Beginning in 1893, the Lima Vaudeville Company was presenting entertainment at the hall. On July 19, 1893, this entertainment included a visit by “Jack Burke, the champion light-weight of the South assisted by the talented soubrette and champion light weight lady boxer of the world, Rose Burke” as well as a “grand wrestling match between Frank Meier and Mike Sullivan.”
In October 1894, the Lima Times-Democrat reported that “for the benefit of lovers of base ball, it has been decided to organize an in-door base ball club, and in all probability the Turner Hall will be engaged for the sport. The game is very interesting and no doubt it will prove a success in Lima.” There is no record the team proved a success — or a reality.
The Lima Turnverein also disappeared from the record by 1896, the year Turner Hall became an armory. “The Turner Hall, or rather the Lima Turnverein building, on south Main street between Eureka street and the river, has been converted into an armory for the Lima City Guards (the forerunner of Company C) and the Second Regiment Drum Corps,” the Times-Democrat reported April 30, 1896.
By the turn of the century, as all things German began to fall out of favor, the building was seldom referred to as Turner Hall. It was the armory.
The Times-Democrat predicted on Nov. 7, 1902, that some “very extensive changes” planned for the armory “will not only make it an ideal drill hall but will also make it one of the best places in the city for social events and entertainments and an excellent home for the young military men of the city ….”
See next week for details on the more-recent history of the hall.
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.