Sons of Hermann Hall, 3414 Elm Street, Dallas, Texas
The Order of the Sons of Hermann is a German fraternal organization sponsoring social and benevolent activities that helped preserve German traditions while easing the transition of the German immigrant for American Society. The benefits were extended to the widows, orphans, and disabled members of the order.[i]
The Order is named for the national German hero Hermann or Arminius, a tribal prince, known in history for his first having aided the Romans, who it was believed had come to teach the Germans in their native land, but when the German leader saw his people oppressed he organized them and in the German forests destroyed a large part of the army of Varus the Roman. By 9 A.D. the Romans were driven out of Germany. Hermann lived and worked in the period sixteen years before Christ.[ii]
The first documented Germans to land in America arrived aboard the Concordia. These were a boatload of thirteen families, some Quakers, some Mennonites from northern Europe that arrived in Pennsylvania October 6, 1683. They were under the leadership of Pastorius, a German preacher. They had a charter with William Penn and a town, Germantown, was named for these settlers.[iii] It is believed that others had already arrived. This town claims it is the birthplace of the anti-slavery movement in America that began in 1688.[iv] The October 6, 1683 date, called the Landing Date, is celebrated annually in many German communities.
The Sons of Hermann Lodge organized in New York in 1840. The Grand Lodge of Texas was formed in 1890 in San Antonio consisting of the Harmonia of San Antonio and seven other newly formed lodges around the State. In Dallas Uhland Lodge #22 was chartered in 1890 followed by Columbia Lodge #66 in 1893 and they both joined the Grande Lodge of Texas. In 1920 the Sons of Hermann in Texas was financially strong and had more members than all of the lodges in the rest of the United States. It broke away from the national order and became autonomous and independent of the national group.[v]
When the Uhland Lodge elected their first officers in 1891 they had fifty members. They met in the Odd Fellows Hall for installation of officers that year and in Turner Hall for the next five years. After the Columbia in 1893, the next two lodges that organized in Dallas were the Fortuna Lodge No. 119 in 1896 followed by the Germania Lodge #5 in 1898. Germania was the first “Ladies Branch” in Dallas.[vi] They were Sisters of the Sons of Hermann.
The organizations have carefully preserved records written in the German language of important documents and various activities. In the 1930s complete transition from the German language to the English language of all records was begun and by 1937 was complete.[vii]
The Sons of Hermann’s motto was Friendship, Love and Loyalty. In 1875 life insurance for the members was first offered and now is a requirement for membership. Through the years when a member died many times the Sons of Hermann were in charge of the funeral arrangements and the service.[viii]
In 1887 statistics from the Dallas County Agricultural Report showed that out of 77, 323 residents in the Dallas County that 4,322 were of German descent. The Germans were outnumbered only by the Irish. Annually the members of Turn Verien a German athletic society started early in the year to plan for the maifest. Turn Verien participated in the parade in a body and their gymnasium school of boys participated. An item in the Dallas Morning News dated May 20, 1891 made note of the fact that this year they would be joined the Uhland Lodge No 22, Sons of Hermann, which was only organized since November 3, 1890. It would furnish the most attractive wagon in the parade demonstrating the origin and objects of the order. The Froshinn singing society directed by M. Aronson, true to its name (translated into English means “good cheer”) would be presented in attractive outfits, a queen would be crowned to reign for two days and she would be surrounded by flowers, maidens and guarded by knights. Each May there would be a gathering like this at Shady View Park. Food specialties were available and plays were given. Speeches were made many emphasizing they were sons of the new land while remembering the old country. At the 1891 maifest some speeches were made using the German language and Stillwell Russell a Dallas attorney, would follow using the English Language. [ix]
This was just one of the annual activities associated with the lodge. There was a meeting every year somewhere in Texas when all lodges would meet and special trains were provided to accommodate these crowds. The railroads ran specials – a round trip for $1.00 within 100 miles of Dallas was offered. The Dallas Lodge of Sons of Hermann attended in great numbers. The names of well known business men in Dallas who took time to go to these annual meetings and serve on the committees was noted.
In April 1893 this statewide event was scheduled for Dallas. The Sons of Hermann were actively planning two and three day events for the visitors. The business meetings were held at the Odd Fellows Hall and the banquet that evening was at Turner Hall. Over 250 people attended the event at Turner Hall.
The occasion on April 29, 1893 was a long awaited attempt to prove the Trinity River was navigable. These German societies were in attendance the day the H.A. Harvey, Jr., steamer, arrived in Dallas after its over two month trip up the Trinity River from Houston! The Dallas paper thought that Ben Fabion co-editor of the Nord Texas Presse a German newspaper, should be Royal Assistant Grand Marshal for this occasion on account of the superb manner in which he straddles a horse!
On September 14, 1893 the public summer school for all children between the ages of 7 and 14 closed. Here each member of the Sons of Hermann Lodges had been assessed ten cents per month and 130 children were enrolled. The summer term was so successful the board of Directors decided to continue a school in the winter months using the gymnasium adjoining Turner Hall. The children were taught to read and speak the German language.[x]
Although there had been a Dallas Fair of some sort since 1859, the Dallas State Fair and Exposition at Fair Park opened October 26, 1886. The Sons of Hermann had requested that the Fair designate a special day for the Germans. There had never been a German Day at the State Fair until 1898. Plans were made for all the German Societies to gather at Turner Hall at 9 A.M. on October 10, 1898 and march in a body to the Fair Grounds where music, orations, and other exercises would be in the Music Hall. Prominent German citizens from around the State were in attendance. The German veteran association from San Antonio would participate in full regimentals, Mauser guns and all. There was quite a celebration as they also celebrated German/American Heritage Day and the Landing of the first Germans in America. Speeches were given in German and in English. The Froshinn Singing Society that had organized in 1877 was presented a beautiful silk flag made in Germany.
In 1910 the Sons of Hermann now consisting of four organizations united and filed for a charter with the Secretary of State in Austin to become a private corporation under the name and style “Hermannsoehne-Heimet in Dallas, Texas meaning in English “Sons of Hermann Home in Dallas, Texas.” The purpose of the corporation was to acquire a suitable building adapted to the proper work of the order, providing therein meeting rooms for the meetings of the local lodges and accessories.
The Charter was received on August 1, 1910. This enabled the four Dallas Lodges who had united to be able to afford to build their own building. They acquired a lot 50X200 between Main and Elm in downtown Dallas. [xi] Plans for a temporary two-story frame building facing Elm Street were prepared by William Martens the architect. The contractor was C.M. McNatt. The temporary hall was to be strongly built and contain rooms for several lodges so they could meet simultaneously, with a large hall on the second floor. It was planned to erect an up-to-date fireproof building facing Main Street at a later date.
On April 3, 1911 an open house was held for the four organizations of German-American citizens to view their new temporary building. The partially finished structure had two stories and was constructed with a concrete foundation. The paired entry doors are set in a recessed vestibule and topped with a large diamond pattern transom light. The front façade is symmetrical about the entrance five bays wide with pairs of one over one double hung windows. The main structure is topped with an original low mansard roof surrounded by a high parapet. The building has prominent overhanging eaves supported by sets of triple ornate brackets. There is a one story addition to the rear. [xii] In the 1950s the original narrow wood siding of the exterior walls was removed and replaced with asbestos shingles.
The interior of the building remains relatively intact. Original features include tall beaded wainscoting, double stairway to the second floor, stained beams and beaded wood ceiling in the ballroom. There is an imported German bar to serve the members when they are thirsty.
In 1914-15 a bowling alley was added in the building. It was designed to accommodate the American 10 pin game as well as the German 9 pin. The floor space occupied by the bowling alley was remodeled in the 1950s into a meeting room and dining room. There are remnants of the bowling alley preserved in a back room where you can still see the exposed ends of the lane and the indentions in the floor.[xiii]
In the 1900s there was a Sons of Hermann School of Dance occupying a space in the building. Here was taught ballet and tap dancing. In 1937 the Schuhplattenns, a dancing group used the facilities for those interested in dancing.
In 1976 the Uhland Lodge No.22 merged with the Germania Lodge No. 5 and they became Dallas Lodge No. 22.[xiv]
In July 1990 there was a fire that was caused by an electrical short in the wooden ceiling. That damage of approximately $80,000 has been repaired.[xv] In the year 2001 a replica of the original neon sign that was mounted in the 1930s and removed in 1986 was added back to the front of the building. This sign was an important element of the building.[xvi]
Since 1916 the Sons of Hermann have operated a retirement home in Comfort, Texas. Currently the two active Lodges, Columbia Lodge 66 and Dallas Lodge 22, are involved and donate monies. They also participate in the annual chili cookoff that is held there. Since 1954 a summer youth camp for junior members has operated at Comfort, Texas. Many of the young people from Dallas attend camp each year. One of the counselors at the camp is from this Sons of Hermann.[xvii]
Dallas Lodge 22 offers two scholarships to the local schools to provide opportunities for youth in the communities. The “Big D” Youth Group meets the first Sunday of each month. This is a fun filled group that stays busy. They do community service projects and run the yearly book drive and annual food drive. They go on field trips and have picnics. Each year at Christmas. They assemble gift boxes and send to the troops overseas. This group learns the principals of Sons of Hermann Motto, “Friendship, Love, and Loyalty.”
The calendar for the Sons of Hermann has something going on all the time. The first Friday is a members only event to gather for a “cheap” pizza and “refreshments” and a shuffleboard tourney. The Sons of Hermann Bowling League was long standing until about three years ago when it joined with another organization, the Friendship League. They bowl weekly from May to September.
Each year the Sons of Hermann participate in the State Fair of Texas. For years they have manned a float at the nightly parade through the grounds. The past six years they have provided security at the parade, i.e. helping keep the route clear. Three members drive the floats every night.
An Octoberfest is held each October and a Christmas Party each December.
The Home Association meets the 4th Sunday of each month. This twelve member group manages the building for the two Lodges. This is all set up under the Grand Lodge Bylaws. The General Meeting is held the 2nd Sunday in March.
The Sons of Hermann Golf Association holds tournaments every month of the year. In June a charity tournament is held for Bryan’s House. This year, 2010, was the fifteenth year for this event!
Originally all the members of the Sons of Hermann were of German extraction, but since 1994 membership has been opened to all ethnic groups. Normal open nights are Tuesday through Saturday – this means open to the public and the members. Swing dance lessons are offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays. A song writing and acoustic music circle is hosted. The first American Idol winner, Kelly Clarkson, came out of Dallas auditions held at the Hall! There have been movies and a TV series shot at the hall. The “Old 97s,” a well known local band are always eager to perform at the Hall – they love it! They have dances every weekend in the building attended by all ages. Some attend to hear the music, some to watch the dancers. The facilities are available to be rented for concerts, weddings, birthday celebrations, anniversaries and many benefit events.
The Sons of Hermann organization in Dallas, Texas is now over one hundred and twenty years old. In 2011 the temporary structure they joined together to build so that they would have not only a place to meet, but a location to carry out all there varied objectives will be 100 years old. This the last surviving frame building in Downtown Dallas! In 1986, this structure was designated a City of Dallas Landmark. A celebration is planned for 2011.
[i] Handbook of Texas on line
[ii] A History of Germany, written by Robert-Hermann Tenbrook, published in 1968 by Westfalen-Druckerel and Ferdinand Schoningh, Paderborn – printed in Germany, page 12 and page 19.
[iii] The Story of America, published by Reader’s Digest in 1975, page 17. William Penn, a Quaker, was named proprietor of Pennsylvania
[v] The Handbook of Texas, Online(http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/)
[vi] Sons of Hermann’s carefully preserved records written in the German language. Loaned to the Dallas Public Library for safety reasons.
[vi] Handbook of Texas Online
[vii] Clipping from the Dallas Morning News dated 1914 about the funeral of Valentine Krusz (1849-1914) who was a meat dealer. His pallbearers were selected from the Sons of Hermann who were in charge of the service.
[ix] 1900 Dallas City Directory, page 328. Stillwell Russell was an attorney in Dallas with offices at 235 Main Street.
[x]Article in the Dallas Morning News dated 9-14-1894
[xi] Lot No. 11 of the Gaston Addition had been purchased by Ed Bernier in 1882 from William H. Gaston.
On August 6, 1910 the property was sold to the Home of the Sons of Hermann for $6500.00. This information is extracted from the City of Dallas Landmark Designation Report in 1986.
[xii] Building description from information in the City of Dallas Landmark Designation report dated 1986.
[xiii] Interior building description provided by current members.
[xiv] Information provided by David Lewis.
[xv] Clipping from Dallas Morning News.
[xvi] Information provided for Certificate of Appropriateness – a requirement for City of Dallas Landmark properties.
[xvii] Information furnished by David Lewis, longtime member of the Historical Committee of the Sons of Hermann.
Compiled by Frances James