Grand Island Liederkranz - 1912
Grand Island was still an unincorporated village when the Liederkranz Society came into being as the oldest social organization in the city, and perhaps in the entire state of Nebraska. The men who founded the Liederkranz were for the most part the men who had come here in 1857 and the succeeding years from Germany. They brought with them the family traditions of their homeland, and a desire for social gatherings for the entire family.
On the last day of October, 1870, a group met to draw up a constitution for a German singing club which would provide musical and social entertainment. The committee made its recommendation, and on Nov. 7 of that year a constiiution and by-laws were adopted.
Article I of the constitution provided that "the name of this society shall be the Grand Island Liederkranz." The name meant "Song Wreath."
Article 3 declared: "The purpose of the society shall be the cultivation of vocal and instrumental music, mutual instruction, and promotion of the social interests in general."
The incorporators, so newly out of the old country, spoke more German than English, and all meetings were conducted in German. The minutes were in German. The records were kept in German. This practice continued until 1917. At that time the United States and Germany were at war, and the loyalties of the Liederkranz were with the United States. English became the official language of the society.
Forty charter members signed up on Nov. 7 of that year, and paid an initiation fee of $2. Dues were 50 cents a month. John Wallichs was elected first president of the Liederkranz. By coincidence, Wallichs also was the first elected mayor of Grand Island after its incorporation in 1872. At the November meeting in 1870, the sum of $310 was raised by subscription, and a piano was ordered, at a cost of $400. A room was rented in a nearby school at a cost of $3 a month, for rehearsals of the Liederkranz Maennerchor (men's choir), which met twice a week.
The society was formally incorporated Jan. 2, 1871, the first corporation to be established in Grand Island. Shortly afterward, a committee reported on negotiations with the Union Pacific Railroad for donation of a site for a permanent hall. In April, 1871, contracts for the original building were awarded ans the structure was dedicated with a three-day celebration Aug. 11-13, 1871. The first Saengerfest meeting ever held in Nebraska took place in the Liederkranz, with the Omaha Concordia Singing Society, comprising 50 persons, present, as well as the Omaha Brass Band, the first band of its kind ever to appear on the streets of Grand Island. The meeting was climaxed with a picnic in the William Stolley grove.
In 1880 a larger stage was added to the building. The stage brought new interest into the society and made possible a new phase of entertainment in which the members entered heartily. Many home talent plays were given. Oscar Niemann Sr. and his entire family took part as well as many other prominent citizens. Some of the plays were "Hercules," "The Song Birds," "The Sontags," "Jaeger," and many others. The society was actively involved in the Nebraska Saengerbund, a Nebraska association of German/American Choirs, as well as the Northwestern Saengerbund. In addition to hosting the first festival ever in Nebraska, it hosted Saengerfests of the Nebraska Saengerbund in 1889, 1896, 1907, 1911 and 1916.
Like the present hall, the first Liederkranz building was a community meeting place, used as an auditorium for many civic activities. In the early days it was virtually the social center of the town. For many years it was the voting place for all of Grand Island, as well as for two rural precincts. Among its early meetings were those for treaties with the Indians, as well as carnivals, revivals, political conventions and commercial meetings.
The present building was constructed in 1911 and 1912. The original structure was moved to another part of the property and was used during the construction of its successor and then torn down. The new building was dedicated on Nov. 17, 1912.
The path of the Liederkranz through its one hundred and thirty plus years has not always been smooth. It underwent crises in the 1890's, in 1917, in the drouth-stricken 1930's and the 1980's. In its prosperous years it made handsome contributions to such civic enterprises as the Memorial Stadium, Boy and Girl Scouts, and Community Chest. In World War II, every member entering the service was given a $25 savings bond.
The club house was given a complete remodeling in 1963, and another in 1969. At the time of the 1969 remodeling, the Grand Island Sketch Club presented to the society several paintings by its members, representing the history of the Liederkranz. They are to be seen in the dining room and lounge. The Annex for many years an auxiliary dining room and meeting area, was remodeled this year and is known as the Centennial Room.