On rue de l’Eglise in Turbotville, next to the playground and the grounds where the city’s carnival is held, is a building that could be a former school.
The sign above the main entrance identifies it as the “Turbotville Community Hall”.
Built in the first quarter of the 20th century, the hall continues to serve as a gathering place for the inhabitants of the district. Owned and maintained by the borough, the elegant building is celebrated for its 100 years of service to the community of Turbotville.
The United States officially entered the Great War in April 1917. For the first time in its history, the United States sent troops overseas to help defend other countries. Eventually, 4.7 million men would serve in the American Expeditionary Force. Thirty-three of them were from Turbotville.
At 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918, the war was officially over. By 1919, the Doughboys had begun to return home to the families, farms, and jobs they had left a few years earlier. To show their appreciation, the residents of Turbotville wanted something lasting to honor their service to the country. They decided to build a community hall.
An eight-man committee was formed in early 1922 to raise funds for construction. Resident Dr. GW Muffley, himself a veteran of the First World War, served as chairman. The committee approved a design submitted by Luther H. Martin of Milton. A carpenter employed at Watsontown Door & Sash, Martin had no formal training. Its elegant original blueprints were found in the attic of the hall a few years ago and now hang outside the auditorium.
The ground was laid for the hall in April 1922. Ralph Doebler, who had served in the war, fabricated the blocks for the building. The Grittner family lumber yard provided the wood. Construction was completed in October 1922.
Over the years, the hall has hosted high school plays, 5-cent movie nights, and musical performances. The auditorium seats 429, and Betsy Watts, secretary of the Turbotville Community Hall Corp., said “a Bloomsburg University choir director told us the hall had perfect acoustics.” For a time after the start of the national school meals program, the ground floor kitchen and adjoining 200-seat community hall served as a cafeteria for nearby schools. It has hosted Thanksgiving dinners, blood drives, PA health clinics, and annual craft shows. At times, two of the smaller meeting rooms on the ground floor were used as secondary school classrooms.
Many original features of the building remain. Pressed metal ceilings, original light fixtures, hardwood floors and moldings echo the simple elegance of the design. In the auditorium, wooden folding seats still line the angled hardwood floors. Some of the quirkiest features include a window cut into a wall in the ground floor meeting room – it served as a box office for movie nights. Additionally, in front of the stage, there is a trapdoor that allows the nearby piano to be moved via a system of pulleys to the community hall below.
Currently, the New Life Worship Center meets in the Hall for Sunday Service and Wednesday Prayer. The Turbotville Lions Club meets there every month. The Community Hall Corp. hosts its fundraiser for Dagwood Sandwiches in the Community Hall.
To remind visitors of the origin of the building, the main entrance hangs a bronze plaque entitled “Honor Roll”. Two of the 33 men listed did not return home. Jim Marr, who researched the lives of veterans for the centennial celebration, said that “Lester Boyer died on October 25, 1918. Killed in a railroad accident at Accotink, Va., his body was was brought home Nov. 14, 1918: he was buried in Turbotville Cemetery Cpl. Earl B. Mohr, Company K, 314th Infantry, 79th Division, died Sept. 28, 1918 in France of wounds received in the Earl was buried in Paradise Church Cemetery, Paradise, Pennsylvania.
Others listed include two sets of brothers. Lester and Warren Stalnecker both saw action overseas. The Grittner brothers, Harry who served overseas and Paul who did not, were members of the family lumber yard which supplied the wood for the center.
Randall Ellis served with the Flying Cadet Detachment from December 8, 1917 to December 10, 1918. He was never sent overseas.
Marr also shared the story of local hero, retired USN Captain John Reynolds. “During the war, he served in the United States Navy on convoy duty in the North Atlantic. On September 29, 1939, Reynolds, who was one of the most able American navigators, brought his freighter Collingsworth to the port of Philadelphia with 55 men he had rescued from the British aircraft carrier Courageous, torpedoed by a German submarine in the North Sea.”
To celebrate 100 years of service, the hall will be open from June 6 to 11 in conjunction with the Turbotville area community carnival. Open nightly from 6-8:30 p.m., there will be a large display of authentic World War I military artifacts and memorabilia provided by the Endless Mountains War Memorial Museum, Sonestown, Pennsylvania. In addition, some World War I artifacts from local families will be on display. Visitors will be able to read short biographies of the men from the Turbotville area who served in the First World War.
Special programs are scheduled at 6:30 p.m. on the following evenings.
Tuesday, June 7: Opening with the presentation of the colors and a presentation of the flag by the Watsontown American Legion. State Representative Lynda Schlegel Culver will explain the services available to veterans. Leon Hagenbuch, local historian, will share the history of the Turbotville Community Hall, beginning with the original construction plans.
Thursday, June 9: State Senator John R. Gordner will speak. Many people will share information and memories of their First World War ancestors.
Saturday, June 11: Captain Dwight D. Eisenhower (played by historical re-enactor Daniel Bower) will present a program on his service during the First World War. The closing program will be led by the Turbotville 622 Boy Scout troop.