The Athenaeum Turners: Founding a German Dynasty in the Midwest

The German phrase “Sozialer Turnverein” can loosely be translated to mean the “Turners Club.” Turners are gymnasts, but the German group that sprang up in Indiana in general, and Indy in particular, during the 1800’s, has expanded to include all kinds of athletic and associated social endeavors, such as lectures, parties and dramas.

The Athenaeum Turners is not, however, what the original German-American gymnasts group called itself when they were begun in 1851. Since the Athenaeum in Indianapolis, Indiana was not yet even conceived, at that time they were known as “The Indianapolis Turngemeinde.”

Even then, the intention was to encompass much more than gymnastics, promoting not only the goals of excellent physical health but also mental development. After they took the Athenaeum for their home when it opened in 1893, the club branched out to serve the entire German-American social community of Indianapolis. Indeed, it became in time the epicenter of Indianapolis German societies.

In unity there is strength, and the Germans who were and are the lifeblood of the now-famous Athenaeum developed a bond that reached into the areas of career, education and politics, not to mention culture. German heritage in America owes this group a debt of gratitude for creating a foundation that would allow it to flourish rather than to fade away.

Today the Turners, mainstay and fathers of the Athenaeum, mount numerous and varied activities, including charitable events.

Inside the historic Athenaeum building itself are many groups, also of German-American heritage, that have worked hand-in-hand with the Turners to promote the understanding of German culture, as well as the betterment of all who enter its halls. Some of these organizations are:

The Indianapolis German Language Institute, the Athenaeum Damenverein (Ladies Club), the Athenaeum Docent Club, the Athenaeum Foundation, the Athenaeum Pops Orchestra and the Indianapolis Maennerchor Inc. (all-male chorus), and the Rathskeller Restaurant (a German restaurant).

Indianapolis history, indeed, all of Indianapolis culture itself, must give a nod to the influence of those whose dedication has built and maintained the Athenaeum over the generations. One could accurately aver that “Das Deutsche Haus Athenaeum” ( “The German House Athenaeum”) is truly the house the Turners built.


The Athenaeum Turners
401 E Michigan St
Indianapolis, IN 46204