La Bahia Turn Verein: Visited August 15, 2020

Another stop on our distanced dance hall tour during the time of COVID-19 was La Bahia Turn Verein. It can be found at 550 Hwy 237 in Burton. One of the things we’ve discovered as we tour old halls is the original purpose of the various buildings. Some, like Martinez Social club, have a bowling alley attached. Others, like Cat Spring have an agricultural basis for the use and necessity for building a community hall. Round Top Rifle club is an example of a shooting club. Turn Verein halls or Turner halls, have gymnastics or physical activity as a focus.

According to history I obtained, 48 German settlers living near Burton, organized La Bahia Turn Verein on July 5, 1879. They purchased three acres of land in June 24, 1884, for $90 from August and Amoelia Seibel. This property fronts Texas Highway 237. A building was constructed here, by G.F. Christek, but a fire November 3, 1887 destroyed the building. A second hall was built the same year, and like it’s predecessor, was burned October 12, 1901. The present hall was constructed 1902. It’s been modified and increased in size several times. Additions to the sides added to the dance floor. Additions in the back of the 1902 building raised the bandstand and added bathrooms. One connected building houses the dining hall. The other was originally a beer stand. A small structure near the front corner of the main hall used to be a soft drink stand and bingo stand. All drinks are now sold inside.

Originally, the hall was not heated. Not a problem during the hot Texas summers. During the colder months, one or more fires were built outside where the men could warm themselves between dances. Women and children were on their own to keep warm indoors. During the 1940’s butane heaters, still present today, were installed. Early lighting was kerosene lanterns at night, and open sections of the wall by day. The building didn’t convert to electricity until the 1940’s.

Ventilation and cooling was done through opened sections of the exterior wall and three large louvers at the front of the building. Electric fans were later installed. Several small fans and one large one provide modest circulation today, but most comes from open doors and sections in the walls.

January 16, 1929, the organization purchased an additional three acres behind the original plot for $495 from Miss Enna Hinze. A portion was used as a baseball field for many years. December 8, 1941, Charles and Johanna Hinze traded 1 1/8 ares of land along the highway for 2 1/4 acres behind the original 1884 purchase. In June, 1979, it was reported the organization owned a total of nearly eight acres.

Original organizational statues stated a male could become a full fledged member at age 18, by filing a petition and paying a filing fee. A son of a member could become a trainee as early as 15. Two-thirds vote of the membership was needed to be accepted into membership. If the applicant failed to get the required votes, the filing fee was refunded.

The original sport practiced by members was tureining, comparable to chinning the bar. Individuals were required to master this sport and chin the bar a certain number of times before membership was accepted. This type of exercise and membership requirements were dropped years ago and the organization became more social where they could meet for dances and other gatherings.

When the organization celebrated its 60th anniversary in 1939, eight of the original members were still alive. Two were still alive a decade later, but all were dead by the 75th anniversary in 1954. At the 100th anniversary in 1979, the oldest living member, Albert Hinze, 92, was a descendent of a charter member.

Looking at reports of past events held at La Bahia, they have had many notable dignitaries at the barbeque dinners and dances. Texas Lieutenant Governor Barry Miler spoke in 1929 (50th Anniversary); Senator Albert Stone was at the 60th in 1939. Texas Attorney General John Ben Sheppard was guest speaker at the 75th anniversary, where they barbecued 1400 pounds of beef, mutton and pork. Meal tickets went for $1.00 for adults and $0.50 for children. They sold 413 adult tickets and 46 children. 208 cases of beer and 107 cases of soda was consumed. Attendance reached 2500 and everyone received a pocket comb and a six foot measuring tape. That tape would come in handy now to measure the required social distancing needed! The 107 degree temperature at that dance reached close to our dance tour date temperature of 109.

Congressman Jake Pickle and Texas State Representative Bill Keese spoke during the 100th anniversary celebration on July 1, 1979. La Bahia had a barbeque at noon and a dance at night. They remain active to this day, though COVID restrictions have slowed things down a bit.

I wasn’t quite sure what had been planned here. Hopefully the decision to stand on this ladder was abandoned and a better alternative was being sought!

We weren’t able to get inside, but I found several photos Stephen Dean took years ago from inside. Those are shown here.

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