(venue) La Bahia Turn Verein Dance Hall

Location: 
550 Highway 237
77835 Burton , TX
US

Forty-eight German settlers living in the vicinity of Burton, Washington County, Texas organized the La Bahia Turn Verein on July 5, 1879.  In the statutes they adopted that day, they declared their purpose to be physical and spiritual development of their members and the promotion of social life.  The original statutes were naturally in German as that was the regular language of the organizing members.  The statutes apparently were not translated into English until 1955.  Membership requirements, duties, and privileges as well as duties of directors and officers, rules of conduct, meeting dates, the order of business, and provisions for dissolution of the organization were all spelled out in the statutes.  German was identified as the official language. Just when this changed is not known, but English was apparently first identified as the official language in the 1985 revision of the statutes.

The organization existed without a charter and without facilities until 1884.  In June 24, 1884, the La Bahia Turn Verein purchased three acres of land from August and Amoelia Seibel for $90.  This land fronts on present day Texas Highway 237.  Immediately thereafter G.F. Christek constructed the first hall on that land. This building was destroyed by fire on November 3, 1887.  A second hall was built that same year. It burned October 12, 1901.  The present hall was constructed in 1902 and has been increased in size and modified on several occasions as the number of members and people attending functions increased.  Additions have been made to both sides and the back of the 1902 building, and two connected structures and two separate buildings have been added to the grounds.  Dates of these additions and structures are not known.  The additions to the sides increased the size of the dance floor while that to the rear added toilet facilities and a raised bandstand. One connected structure contains a large dining hall.  One separate structure was originally a beer stand.  A large barbeque pit extends off to one side.  The other smaller structure near the front corner of the main hall was used as both a soda water stand and a bingo stand.  Now all drinks are sold inside the main hall.

According to a longtime member of the La Bahia Turn Verein, the 1902 hall was originally unheated.  During dances there was one or more fires outside where the men could warm themselves between dances or during intermissions.  Women and children apparently kept warm as well as they could inside the hall.  Some time during the 1940s butane heaters were installed and are still present today, but are seldom used since few functions are held in the hall during cold weather.

Illumination was originally provided by opening sections of the exterior wall during the day and by gas or kerosene lanterns at night.  During the early 1930s, the Verein acquired a Delco battery light system.  After the development of rural electrical cooperatives in the 1940s made electricity readily and economically available, the hall was connected to that service.

Ventilation and cooling was possible through the opened sections of the exterior wall and three large louvers at the front of the building.  Once economical electricity became available fans were installed.  Several small fans and one large one provide a modest circulation of air in the hall today, but most of it comes from the open doors and open sections in the walls.

All of these features were and still are representative of the many such halls which once dotted the landscape of this area of Central Texas and of the few that are still standing.  In a very few instances dropped ceilings and air conditioning have been installed.

On January 16, 1929 the La Bahia Turn Verein purchased an additional three acres of land from Miss Enna Hinze for $495.  Thus land seems to have risen in value from $30 to $165 per acre between 1884 and 1929.  This new land was behind the land purchased in 1884 from the Seibels.  A portion of this land was used as a baseball field for many years where members of the La Bahia Turn Verein played games against other teams from nearby communities.  On December 8, 1941 Charles and Johanna Hinze traded 1 1/8 acres of land along the highway for 2 1/4 acres behind the original 1884 purchase.  Apparently the organization acquired additional land at a later date because in an article in the June 27, 1979 Brenham Banner-Press it is reported they owned about eight acres of land.  This implies an addition of nearly four acres.  All this land is still owned today.

No copy of the original 1884 charter is known to exist, but the organization does have a copy of its 1934 renewal for an additional fifty years.  Here the purpose of the La Bahia Turn Verein is to support and maintain innocent sports.  According to the original statutes, a male could become a full fledged member at age 18 by filing a petition and paying a filing fee of fifty cents.  The filing fee today is fifty dollars.  The son of a member could become a trainee as early as age 15 by paying a fee of one dollar.  Others whose fathers were not members paid double fees.  A two-thirds vote of the membership was, and still is required for one to be accepted into membership.  The filing fee was and is refunded to those who fail to get a two-thirds positive vote.

The original innocent sport practiced by members of the La Bahia Turn Verein was tureining, an activity comparable to American chinning the bar.  Individuals were required to master this sport and be able to chin the bar a certain number of times before they were accepted into membership.  Although this type of exercise and entrance requirements were dropped many years ago, the chinning bar remained in place for several years afterwards.  The organization then became more of a social center where members and their families could find amusement and recreation and where they could meet for dances and other social gatherings.

From the original forty-eight members in 1879, the La Bahia Turn Verein grew to around 180 members or families in 1979.  Many of the members continued to be children or other decedents of the charter members.  That those original forty-eight were long lived is evidenced by the fact that eight of them were still alive when the organization celebrated its 60th anniversary in 1939.  Two were still alive a decade later, but all had died before the 75th anniversary in 1954.  When the La Bahia Turn Verein celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1979, the oldest living member was 92-year-old Albert Hinze while the youngest was Darrell Kieke, both of whom were decedents of charter members.  During that first century only fifteen different men served as president of the organization.

For many years the La Bahia Turn Verein held a regular meeting every month and an annual meeting on or near the anniversary of its organization on July 5.  The annual meeting usually featured a barbeque at noon and a dance in the afternoon or evening or both afternoon and evening.  The monthly meetings were halted in recent years and replaced with quarterly ones.  Dances are held only occasionally.  Instead of dances, the hall has been and is used for family reunions, wedding receptions, and wedding anniversaries.  Several Texas State Skat Tournaments have been held at the hall.  In addition, the Buttons and Bows Square Dance Club of Navasota hosts a very popular two day square dance and fish fry every April.  This dance is so popular that motor homes and travel trailers begin arriving on Thursday for a Friday night dance.

Major anniversaries have always been celebrated with huge barbeque dinners, large dances, and political speaking.  Texas Lieutenant Governor Barry Miller was the speaker in 1929 at the 50th anniversary.  Senator Albert Stone was the principal speaker at the 60th in July 1939.  Guest speaker at the 75th anniversary on July 11, 1954 was Texas Attorney General John Ben Sheppard.  He told the families gathered for the celebration that the small Texas communities from which many of them came were the backbone of Texas life and praised the family as the greatest and most powerful unit known to mankind.  For the meal held that noon, they barbecued 1400 pounds of beef, mutton, and pork.  They sold 413 meal tickets to adults for $1.00 each and 46 to children at 50 cents each.  Each of the approximately 2500 persons who attended received a pocket comb stamped in gold "La Bahia Verein 75th Anniversary."  Every member received a six foot measuring tape.  The 107 degree temperature made everyone thirsty.  As a result the people attending consumed 208 cases of beer and 107 cases of soda.  Adolf Hoffner's Orchestra provided music during the afternoon, and Ray Krenek's orchestra played for the free dance that night.  Congressman Jake Pickle and Texas State Representative Bill Keese spoke at the 100th anniversary on day July 1, 1979.  Once again there was a barbeque at noon and a dance at night with a variety of entertainment throughout the afternoon.

Today the La Bahia Turn Verein remains an active and viable family oriented organization whose purpose continues to be the promotion of the social life of member families.  The hall is maintained in good condition and is used frequently in the spring and summer.

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