Today, very little remains of Germantown except for the houses. Both Bullard and Wilson Streets are highly traveled, as they are a short cut to Westwood. Some of the Germantown places and buildings are gone, and those that remain have been repurposed. People traveling down these two streets probably never realize that at one time, this area was a thriving self-sustaining community. Thankfully, photographs remain to illustrate an era gone by.

#56 Wilson St. 

Originally this home was the home of the Fales Family. It is also the only house that is still standing in the neighborhood that was affected when this section of Walpole became part of Norwood at the time it was formed.

The Fales/Wiskelis House (photo by LLKearney)

Eliphalet Fales owned the 8 acre parcel of land along Wilson Street by 1814 when he sold a piece of the land to Asa Fisher to build a road (now Wilson St.) down to William Bullard’s house. This new street was called “Bullard Road, before it was named after Edwin Wilson who lived at the end of the street. The name change probably occurred about the time Norwood was established. In 1850 Eliphalet Newman Fales bought from his siblings their share of the 8 acres in Walpole: Horace, Mentor, Olive, Harriet Fuller and Charlotte Smith in 1849. Eliphalet N. Fales sold the property to his sister Olive Fales in 1850. In the 1850 deeds the land is described as an eight-acre wood lot. It would have been Olive who built the house that now stands on the property and in 1870 she was living in the home with her mother and siblings, Mentor, Charlotte Smith, and John. She left it in her will to her sister, Harriet Fuller, which her son Benjamin W. Fuller inherited.  He then sold the property to Joseph Gunther and his wife Maria E. Liecht in 1892. In 1927 the property was sold to Adolphus Wiskelis, a Lithuanian, who broke the house up into apartments. He lived on the first floor and rented out the second floor and sold the 7-acre parcel of the land to Norwood Estates, Inc in 1927. That parcel is now the playground and playing fields.

Wilson Street Playground (between #56 and #90 Wilson)

The current playing fields belong to the Town of Norwood Recreation Department. However, originally owned by Eliphalet Fales’ family. It was sold to Joseph and Maria Gunthner in 1892 it was approximately eight acres. In 1923 Widow Marie Gunthner sold the property to David Noble who in turn sold it in 1927 to Aldolphus Wiskelis, a Lithuanian. Wiskelis sold a seven-acre parcel off to the Norwood Estates, Inc. in November of 1928. Approximately ten years later a group of seventeen people formed the Wilson Street Improvement Association, and one of their goals was to build a playground on this now eleven-acre site.  In January 1939 Edson Eckhardt, president of the association, approached the Board of Selectman asking for about $4500 to clear, grade, and seed the area as well as purchase play equipment. A 1947 plan of the Garden Parkway development of “Holmwood” shows/lists these fields a the “Town of Norwood Playground.”

Today the Wilson Street Playground and Park is encompasses 11 acres. There is a groomed area for playing and a wood area as well. Originally this playground was equipped with a large metal swing set, which is still in use today. It is highly likely the playground also had a jungle gym and a slide. In the early 1990s, unsafe play equipment was removed and a new tot lot installed. Over the years the Babe Ruth baseball diamond has been upgraded and on most summer evenings one may find an organized little league game or a pick-up game being played here.

(To read more about the Wilson Street playground, see the article from This Day in Norwood)

Turnhall/ Winslow Hall/ Runneberg Hall (now #90 and 94 Wilson)

Germantown was somewhat unique in that it was more defined by its customs than other neighborhoods. Besides the strong family ties of the area, in 1889 the community formed a Turnverein.  A Turnverein is an athletic and health club that was predominant in Germany after the Napoleonic Wars. After Napoleon defeated the Holy Roman Empire in 1805 the land was split into Prussia, Austria, and Germany; Germany consisting of 39 or so states. A Friederich Ludwig Jahn felt that the German males were humiliated by the defeat of the French. He started these athletic and health clubs called Turnplatz in 1811 to build up not only the physical aspect of the German males but their moral and spiritual also.  He devised a series of routines for physical exercise called gymnastics. These were widely popular, and it was felt these clubs helped build up the moral and physical prowess that helped defeat Napoleon in 1815 at Waterloo. Of course, it soon became political and broke into two groups. The Deutscher Turnerbund supported a constitutional monarchy, while the Demokratischer Turnerbund wanted democracy. The Demokratischer faction was exiled and over 600,00 immigrated to America, first settling in Ohio.

So, a Turnverein (“Gymnastics Club”) was formed in Norwood among the German community on Wilson/Bullard Streets in 1889 and in 1893 Joseph Gunther sold them an acre of land on Wilson Street to build their meeting hall and in 1896 Joseph Hamlin sold them 2 more acres of abutting land. When Vitas Gleichauf was president, they built the Turnhall to use for meetings, gymnastics and English lessons. The Turnvernein was disbanded in 1908 and its 3 acres of land was sold to Winslow Bros, and the hall was renamed in 1915 Winslow Hall and it, and its land were taken under the direction of the new Civic Association that had been started by George Willett to help the large immigrant populations throughout the town assimilate into American life.  In 1927 the Hall and it’s property were purchased by the International Order of Runneberg Lodge 211, which was a Swedish/ Finish organization, and the hall was renamed Runneberg Hall. The Swedish and German immigrant communities often shared resources. In Swedesville the German Baptists held services at the Swedish Baptist Church on Cedar St, near the tracks, while the German Lutherans held services at the Swedish Lutheran Church also on Cedar Street.

The Wilson Street Hospital (#95 & 97 Wilson Street)

This was the home of Franz and Anna (Frank and Annie) Groote and was the Wilson Street Hospital. Also living at this address at the time of the 1900 census was the family of Julius Krueger. The German and Gottscheer families continued to live and work in the area, and as more immigrants came to work in the tanneries the community grew. In the 1900’s Annie Groote, probably after Frank died, opened her house to patients. Dr. Thomas O’Toole was the physician, and the hospital eventually boasted a nursery, patient rooms and an operating room. Nurses that were employed at the Wilson Street Hospital lived in the smaller house #97 on the rear of the hospital. Mrs. Groote also adopted the Krueger boys, Charles and Kurt whose mother worked as a nurse at the hospital. The boy’s parents divorced and both remarried. The boy’s mother after her remarriage continued to work at the hospital, no reason can be found for the adoption. After the 1918 Flu Epidemic, which hit Norwood’s immigrant population hard, the Wilson Street hospital closed. Largely due to the fact, that George Willet had established the Norwood Hospital with the help and backing of some Norwood businessman. 

Workman’s Hall (99 ½ Wilson Street)

The strong bonds of Germantown continued to work for the families settled in Norwood. By 1898 the community formed the German Workman’s Sick and Death Benefit Society or “Arbeiterverein” (Worker’s association). The notion for an Arbeiterverein had its roots in mid-1800 Germany when the “Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiter-Verein,” a political party was formed. It was a formed in Prussia and was the first workingman’s political party in Europe. As mass industrialization took over, there became a greater divide between the Haves and the Have-Nots. The party’s objectives were to promote a socialistic policies, as they worked to advance the worker’s interests. This party was short lived and gave way to the “Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterparti Deutschlands”- the Social Democratic Worker’s Party of Germany. Arbeitervereins were organizations that tried to improve working conditions as well as social conditions. Today these organizations primarily promote opportunities for social gatherings and sporting events.

When Arbeiterverein was first formed on Wilson Street, it charged dues that would provide for the welfare of widows, sick and aged members of its Germantown members. Such a fund was extremely helpful to sick and injured workers and their families, as helpful public social programs did not exist at the time.  The first president of this society was Mr. John Anberten, and in 1901 the society built Arbeiter Hall. It is interesting to note that in 1919, an article appeared in an American German newspaper listing the Norwood Arbeiterverein and the names of their members who donated to support a German Socialist publication, and twenty members of Norwood’s Arbeiter Hall donated $4.70 to the cause. It would have been around the time of this 1919 donation the German Workman’s Sick and Death Benefit Society changed the name of its clubhouse from Arbeiter Hall to Workman’s Hall. This name change most likely reflects the growing anti-German sentiments in the United States, and by dropping “German” from its title would have demonstrated to those in the area, how the residents of Germantown where Americans.

Workman’s Hall became the center of the Germantown community life serving as a meeting hall, and it offered English lessons, dances, social events, and other gatherings. In the 1924 Norwood town directory, it lists Mathias Eppich as president, Louis “Hoogler” (Hoegler) as secretary and John Verderber as treasurer, indicating how Germantown’s Gottscheers were leaders in the community.  In 1955, a fire destroyed the hall and a new one had to be built. Today the Hall offers casual gathering place for those who wish to visit their bar or play a game of pool, but it also offers a rental venue for those who are planning a private gathering.

New Pond Beach

Willett Pond was constructed in 1913, and it is commonly referred to as New Pond. Immigrants provided the labor to construct a dike along Brook Street, to dam up Bubbling and Hawes Brooks. This lake is approximately one mile long by ½ mile wide and was to provide a water source for the Winslow Brothers & Smith Tannery down stream. A bi- product of this lake’s construction was that it gave Norwood a wonderful beach that was opened for the community on June 22, 1916.  Here one could spend a day lazing in the sun and swimming in the cool waters on a hot day. Norwood architect, William G. Upham designed and built the beach house. The people who lived in Germantown, could easily walk to this beach. Sadly the land that made up this recreation area was sold off to the Catholic Church. They built in 1963, St. Timothy’s Church, which now occupies the beach’s spot overlooking Willett/New Pond.

Aho’s Grove AND Knaus’ Oak Grove

About half way down Bullard Street was the home (#111) of William and Aino Aho and their neighbor (#115) Joseph Knaus. Both of these families operated lake front recreation areas.

Joseph Knaus’ property was originally part of a much larger parcel of land. His father, Oswald and Joseph Sigmund purchased the original 20-acre parcel together around 1899, then divided it in half. Oswald Knaus then gave a three-acre parcel of land to his son, Joseph. Joseph built a family home there and when Willet Pond (aka New Pond) was being constructed, sold off the back section of his property to George Willet. Once the pond had been built, Joseph had a nice piece of lake front land. Here he created a place for people to come and spend the day. He had a small beach and an extensive picnic area. Knaus’s Oak Grove was a favorite place for organizations to hold gatherings. The Walpole Fish and Game Club held their annual picnic here, as did a Syrian group from Boston.

The Ahos moved to Bullard Street in the 1910s. First living at #192 before they purchased the property at #111 along the shoreline of the newly constructed Willet Pond (New Pond). This parcel of land was part of the land the Oswald Knaus and Joseph Sigmund originally purchased together. Sigmund built a family house here. The house sat on the front of the property near Bullard Street. This was also the family home of the Ahos. The home was torn down in the early 2000s.

Aho’s Grove was a bit more extensive then Knaus’ Oak Grove. They had a dance hall that originally sat out on the pond. Its sides could be opened up so people could fish. Mrs. Aho maintained the dance hall and was known to polish the floors to a brilliant shine. Eventually the dance hall was removed from its pilings and brought to shore. This feature made Aho’s Grove a popular place to hold weddings. Aho’s Grove also had a beach with a dock and a large picnic area, which was a favorite spot for Norwood’s finish community to hold their annual picnic.  Ahos also offered boat rentals; for 25¢ one could rent a rowboat go fishing or just take it for a recreational row around New Pond.

Corner of Walpole Street and Wilson Street

Gas Station (450 Walpole Street )– Home and Business of Fred Anderson. This business was located across from Walgreens, where Monro Auto Service is today. “Andy’s” pumped gas but also sold penny candy and tonic. Kids who lived in the Germantown area, loved to pay a visit here!

Grocery Store (476 Walpole Street) – Home and business of John B. Snyder. In 1910 John Schroder owned and operated a grocery store here. Census records indicate he and his wife Emma (Waldheim) lived on the property as well. By 1920 Schroder appears to have sold the business and moved into his widowed mother-in-laws house on Wilson Street, as he records his occupation as “stock broker.” The family of John B. Snyder owed the store in 1920 and lived on the property as well. The Snyder family continued to own and operate this Grocery Store for almost twenty years. It would have been across the street from Walgreens. Today the store building is gone, it was replaced by a portable classroom from the Winslow School in the 1970s. A daycare occupies this spot today.

It should be noted that John’s sons, Carl and William owned and operated a garage next door to their father’s store, at #478 Walpole Street. It appears the garage buildings are still standing at the back of the property.

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2 thoughts on “Germantown Points of Interest

  1. FYI Workmen’s Hall no longer has pool tables. Appreciate your internet in our club. I’m very proud to be affiliated with a club that really showed community support to new citizens that needed help.

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