According to the Gazette, the Turner Society formed a building committee, “whose indomitable energy and perseverance, aided by this paper and many of our monied citizens” caused the building of a public hall to become a reality. The Turner Society purchased the land for the Hall on April 1, 1874 for $1050. The laying of the cornerstone was a huge event in June, 1874. Here is more from the Gazette about the day in question:
“The day broke on a city alive with strangers from the surrounding villages, called thither to witness the pageantry and ceremony attending the laying of the corner-stone. Main Street was almost impassable, the hotels were crowded to their utmost capacity, and still each incoming train brought more. At half past 10 o’clock a.m. a signal from Liberty’s bell tower announced the time for morning the line, and a general rush was made for Bench Street where were quartered the different societies and companies, resplendent in gold lace and elegant attire, while over their heads floated silken banners bearing the insignias of the respective Orders. Although the sky was overcast with threatening clouds and the sun but occasionally lent its aid in enhancing the grandeur of the scene, it was such as to inspire the utmost enthusiasm on the part of the beholder, and not a little pride among the participators”.
The processional moved all through town and finally arrived at the future site of Turner Hall where an address was given by the President of the Day, Frederick Stahl. His address included the following:
“Our city needs a public hall of sufficient capacity to accommodate a large audience, both for the purposes of amusement and instruction. This building, which is now being erected, appears to be well suited to meet the present and future wants of our city. It will present no stately columns, no beautiful statuary, no lofty dome to attract the wonder and admiration of the beholder; but it will be simple in style, durable in structure, simple in its dimensions and in harmony with the means and wants of the community. May I not add, that when finished, it will present to the mind a fitting emblem of the character of the sturdy men who are now engaged in its erection.”
Preparations were then made for laying the cornerstone, by depositing therein a zinc box, hermetically sealed, containing the following objects: A list of the members of the Turner Society, a copy of the subscription list and private donations for the Hall, a copy of the constitution and by-laws of the Turner Society, a copy of the Galena Daily Gazette of June 13, 1874, a copy of the Galena Weekly Gazette of June 12, 1874, a copy of the Volksfreund, several envelopes containing donated valuables, a book of poems, a collection of coins, and the bylaws of several Galena organizations. And so the cornerstone sits yet today.
At the time of the Hall’s dedication, Mr. Charles Scheerer was Treasurer of the Turner Society and for many years was the business manager of the hall. In March, 1910 he was suddenly stricken with a fatal heart attack and died in the building that had been his pride and care for so long. At the time of his death he was serving his third term as Mayor of Galena. According to popular local legend, he is currently making his home in the Hall spooking innocent set builders and the like.
Back in 1875, the Hall was built for $15,000 and was considered by traveling entertainment companies to be one of the finest in Northwestern Illinois. In fact, the next few decades saw several illustrious visitors to the Hall. In January of 1877, Former Vice President Schuyler Colfax gave a lecture at the Hall. In March of that year, Charles Stratton, otherwise known as General Tom Thumb, visited, along with his wife, Lavinia Warren, Miss Minnie Warren and Major Newell. The four little people, or dwarves as they were then known, were making their fifth visit to Galena, the first four appearing at Davis Hall. The Gazette reported that
“Turner Hall was crowded last evening with people of all ages ranging from the two year old to the three score and ten, and more delighted audience never assembled in Galena—the little folks appeared during the evening in comic and sentimental songs, tableaux, etc. and made a grand display in the costly silks, glittering diamonds and other ornaments.”
Other lecturers in 1879 included Wendell Phillips speaking about the fair treatment of Indians, and Franz Sigel, a brigadier general, speaking about the Second Battle of Bull Run. According to the Gazette, Mr. Sigel “closed with a patriotic appeal to his hearers to do their full share toward the healing the wounds caused by the late war, and restoring that fraternal feeling by which people of all parts of the union should be actuated, one toward another.”
On April 27, 1893, William McKinley spoke at the Hall. He arrived in Galena on a special train from Chicago. The reception committee escorted him from the Illinois Central Depot to the corner of Main and Green where a parade was formed which proceeded to Turner Hall. Governor McKinley was greeted with great enthusiasm as he stepped to the front of the stage. It was several minutes before he could speak and his oration lasted an hour. Three years later, he would be President.
On April 27, 1900, Theodore Roosevelt, then Governor of New York and future Vice President and President, was a guest speaker at the U.S. Grant birthday celebration. He commented on “the fertile quality of the soil and the prosperity of the farming district” near Galena.
It wasn’t all lectures at the Hall during those years. The Hall was the site of a mass mourning for U.S. Grant in 1885. There were also many social events including masquerade balls and a New Years Ball on December 31, 1878.
Some time around the turn of the century, the Turner Society sold the Hall to a stock company known as the Turner Opera House Association. Turner Hall became known as the Turner Opera House. Club meeting were held in the Hall along with theatrical and musical events. In July, 1911, the Galena Commercial Club held a banquet in the Hall that included speeches by the members and a vaudeville performance. In September of that year “The Third Degree” was presented with the ticket price of $1.