The Austin Chronicle

Day Trips

By Gerald E. McLeod, March 5, 2010, Columns

The Turnverein Pavilion in Bellville looks like a giant coffee grinder. A stovepipe sticking out of the peak of the 12-sided Cat Spring Agricultural Society Hall in Cat Spring makes it look like some kind of utensil. Austin County has more of these multisided community halls than any other county in Texas.

One of the 23 original counties created by the Republic of Texas, Austin County was the site of the capital of Stephen F. Austin's colony. In 1830, Frederick Ernst established the first German settlement in Texas at Industry in the northwestern part of the county.

As immigrants spread across Texas in the late 1800s, they formed social clubs around gymnastics, bowling, shooting, dancing, and singing. Of nine clubs, or vereins, organized in Austin County, five were saengvereins, or singing societies, and the others were agricultural clubs (two), a shooting club, and a gymnastics club.

Of course, the first thing that any club needs is a clubhouse. In Bellville, local carpenter and architect Joachim Hintz built the oldest and grandest of his three halls for a German gymnastics society. Designed around a center pole and first opened in 1897, the building has 12 sides. The windows let the breeze in and the heat escape out the peak of the roof, and the tables swung up flat against the wall on hinges.

"The band would set up around the pole," says Helen Armstrong, a member of the county historical society. "Then everyone would dance around the band." The city has owned the Turnverein Pavilion since 1937 and rents it out for antique shows, dances, concerts, and occasionally a wedding.

Hintz built an octagonal hall in 1900 for the schuetzenverein (shooting club) in the community of Peters, south of Bellville. The club still hosts a Mother's Day celebration and dances from time to time.

The Cat Spring Landwirth Schaftlide Verein has met continuously since 1856. In 1902, the agricultural society moved into a Hintz-designed 12-sided clubhouse. The club also rents out the hall for antique shows, car shows, dances, and meetings.

In Sealy, the singing society sold its eight-sided hall to the fire department, which transferred it to the city. The aluminum siding added to the former verein hall makes it look more like a coffee can than a coffee grinder. It is the site of an annual Fireman's Frolic as well as other public events. Off Highway 36, Coshatte Hall is another eight-sided dance hall modeled after Hintz's work and was built in 1928 by an agricultural society.

For a list of events at the halls, go to the websites of the Bellville or Sealy chambers of commerce. A book on the musical history of the county, The Dance Halls of Austin County, is available for $7 from the county judge's office. Geronimo Treviño's excellent book Dance Halls and Last Calls includes histories of some of the music halls of Austin County.

974th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of "Day Trips" 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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