The German American Club of the Lehigh Valley was originally organized as the Lehigh Sängerbund in a hall in the Sixth Ward of Allentown by a small group of local Germans. The purpose of the organization was to retain and foster their heritage of traditions, customs, language, song, and the ideals which were in their hearts and minds. It also contributed to, their growth and success in their adopted country. The original society met as a group and elected officers on January 25, 1858. The officers elected were Gottlieb Volz as President, John Leonhard as Secretary, Herman Schuon as Treasurer, and Professor Charles Herman as Musical Director. The society consisted of approximately thirty men as charter members and singers. The original banner was dedicated at ceremonies held on May 22, 1858. It was presented by Stephen Zander and was made of blue silk and bore on one side a lyre and on the other side the name of the Society.
Regular meetings and rehearsals were held until the outbreak of the Civil War, during which period only occasional rehearsals were held. Many of the singers enlisted and fought in the Union Army. In January 1866 the Society was reorganized. Membership increased and another reorganization meeting of the society took place in 1869. Because of the continuous growth, the original hall became too small and larger quarters were found at 708 Hamilton Street in Allentown.
Membership continued to grow in the 1870's and new and more spacious quarters were found in what was then known as the Osman Building at 533 Hamilton Street on the upper floors. This hall was formally dedicated on Easter Monday, 1875. Also, in this year the decision was reached to incorporate and on June 11, 1875, the Lehigh Sängerbund was incorporated.
As the City of Allentown grew, the Society as always asked to take a part in the parades and celebrations. Singing festivals were also held. The society members traveled to the then distant Hazelton, PA and were later visited by the Hazelton Männerchor for concerts held in Allentown.
The Society continued to grow and prosper through the 1880's and 1890's. In 1896 a picnic for the members was held at Dorney Park. This became the annual Swabian Festival with colorful parades, hare hunts, and costumed performers and was to become a tradition for forty years.
During this era, the Society prospered and grew and again new quarters were found at 23 North Seventh Street in Allentown on the upper floors of the building occupied by Bittner and Hunsicker Company. Dedication of the new permanent home was held on March 6, 1897. In 1898, the Society accepted the membership of a man whose destiny years later would gain national fame, Joseph H. Hart. He became very active in the affairs of the Society and years later became known as the founder of Flag Day.
In 1899, the Society participated in the dedication of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Center Square in Allentown. Over two hundred and forty Society members and chorus participated in the monument ceremonies on October 19, 1899 dedicated by Governor William Stone of Pennsylvania.
The year 1900 arrived and the Sängerbund kept up the tradition of festivity and song. German choir singing began to become a united effort in the late eighteen hundred nineties and on July 13, 1902, eight societies were represented to form the United Singers Federation of Pennsylvania or Pennsylvania Sänger Vereinigung. Sängerbund President John Graeflin was elected the first President of this federation.
Tragedy struck the Lehigh Sängerbund as a fire destroyed their new home including its books, records, singing awards, prizes and music library. The date was Wednesday, December 3, 1902 at 9:30 p.m. Nothing remained of the building but the front wall. From amongst the cooling embers was found a small charred piece of the old and loved banner and a bass violin.
Immediately after the fire, a meeting was held in temporary quarters until a new home for the Society could be found. The old home of the Ochs family on North Fifth Street was purchased on April 7, 1903 for twenty thousand dollars. Complete renovations were made to the building and the cornerstone was laid for the Sängerbund on September 19, 1903.
During this era, the Lehigh Sängerbund witnessed one of its greatest periods of prosperity, and its name was spread far and wide. Many members were also leaders of the community. The Society was no longer a club only for Germans; it embraced men of many nationalities. Also during this period, many private lodges and organizations were formed and used the facilities of the Sängerbund, including the Greater Beneficial Union, an insurance organization for Germans, organized in 1905.
The Golden Anniversary was held in 1908 and the society celebrated with guest choruses from Easton, New York, Hazelton, Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, Philadelphia and College Point. The Society kept up with the traditional Swabian Festival, the visits to other societies, and held plays in the Sänger Hall.
The Sängerbund participated in the various Sängerfests held in Wilkes-Barre in 1907, Reading in 1910, Williamsport in 1913, and Altoona in 1916.
In 1917, the United States declared war on Germany. The members of the Sängerbund feared it might mean the end of this glorious Society. However, the members showed their allegiance to the United States as adopted Americans and participated in the American war effort, with many members entering the services. On Armistice Day, 1818, the World War was over and the Sängerbund emerged stronger than ever.
The Sängerbund was the host society for the ninth Sängerfest of the Federation of United Singers in 1922. Expansion to the Sänger Hall was made with the purchase of additional land. The year 1929 saw the end of a milestone in Sängerbund history; John Graeflin, President of the Sängerbund for thirty years, declined another term in office.
On March 26, 1930, seventeen ladies formed the Ladies Chorus of the Lehigh Sängerbund with Mrs. Anna Beyerle serving as President. The thirties say the continuation of colorful concerts with various singing societies as participants. The Diamond Jubilee year of the Society was commemorated on January 28, 1933. This same year the Sängerbund was host once again for the Sänger Vereinigung. The 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution was voted in and the Lehigh County Clubsmen Association was organized in the Sängerbund. A Kinderchor was also formed by Mrs. Frieda Schwind. In April 1937, the newly remodeled Sänger Hall, Ratskeller, and new bowling alleys were dedicated.
On October 3, 1940 the city fire bells again sounded the alarm to a fire that could well have been the end of the famous Sänger Hall. Fortunately, the swift action of the fire department held the blaze to a minimum. The third floor apartment and the entire rear of the auditorium roof were destroyed.
The United States Congress declared war on Japan as well as Germany and Italy on December 8, 1941. Because the Lehigh Sängerbund was a German society, it feared unfavorable criticism. However after the Sängerbund, as well as all German and Italian societies in the area were investigated, nothing was found to upset the harmony between the society and its members, the community, country, and the war effort. The year 1941 also saw the end of the very famous and successful Swabian Festivals at Dorney Park. Sängerfests were revived, and the choruses attended those held in Bethlehem in 1947, Williamsport in 1948, and Lebanon in 1949.
The 50th Anniversary of the Sänger Vereinigung of Pennsylvania was held at the Sängerbund on June 28 and 29, 1952. In 1953, financing was approved for a modernization program of Sänger Hall. The old porch was removed, the third floor was removed, and a completely new front addition and new roof were installed. In the spring of 1954, a committee was formed to organize a trip to Germany. These flights continued in the spring for a number of years.
The Centennial Anniversary of the Lehigh Sängerbund was held in 1958. Again, the festivities celebrating this event were attended by visiting choruses and local dignitaries.
In the 1960's, the flow of immigrants from Europe gradually declined. Much of the membership was comprised of long-standing members and those few who still ventured from Europe to America. The Sängerbund continued to flourish but did not experience the growth of years past.
Sports in the Sängerbund also played an important role in the Society's life. Soccer and bowling flourished, especially after 1962 after automatic bowling machines were installed; and many trophies decorated the lobby of the hall and the Ratskeller.
The late sixties and seventies brought visiting dignitaries, choruses and dancing groups from Austria and Germany, which performed on stage in the Sänger Hall. From Austria came the Berglandsextett-Orchestra from Stegersbach; the Sing-und Spielgruppe Markt-St. Martin and the Brau Buam Orchestra: Volkstanzgruppe-Steirer Herzen von Graz, and Die Lustigen Burgenländer Orchestra. Some of the visitors from Germany wereThe Youth Orchestra from Ommersheim; the Chorgemeinschaft-Germania from Siegburg; and the Accordion and Volkstanzgruppe from Saarbruecken. On several occasions a well known band from Vermont, “The Stratton Mountain Boys” also performed. The last sponsored charter flight to Europe took place in 1978.
In 1983, the Lehigh Sängerbund celebrated its 125th anniversary. It was also the celebration of 300 Years of Germans in America Festival being held in Philadelphia. The club also began holding “100 CLUB” dinners. Instituted by Guenter Decker The “100 CLUB” served German food prepared by the women of the club to members and their guests. In 1987, the Shanty Choir from Buende, West Germany visited the Saengerbund. The trip was organized by Siegfried Boettcher and concluded with a concert at the Sängerbund. It is not quite clear in what year the tradition of the Masquerade Ball was begun, but it was first organized by Albert Kloss, and continues to the present day. It is the traditional celebration which takes place the Saturday before Ash Wednesday with costumes, prizes, dancing and revelry.
A new Lehigh Sängerbund Old Timer Soccer Team was begun in 1987. Renovation activities were started in 1987 and completed in 1988. The entrance to the Ratskeller, the Ratskeller itself, the main ballroom, as well as other rooms were remodeled. A German language school was started in 1988 and continued through 1996. The Sängerbund chorus continued to participate in many concerts with the Nordoestlicher Sängerbund, with concerts in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Lancaster. The club continued hosting guests from overseas—in 1989 the Soccer Club BV. Stift Quernheim and in 1995 a team from former East Germany, FC Germania Zella. In 1996 the club hosted the Original Kindel Musikanten from Fritzlar and 1997 the Musikverein Ommersheim.
In 1997a momentous event occurred. For 94 years, members had called the building on 527 N. 5th St. their second home. But the time had come to say goodbye. In June, 1997, under pressure from the Sacred Heart Hospital and the City of Allentown, the membership voted to sell our building to the hospital. A committee was formed to set items aside which were to put into storage. The rest of the building's contents were auctioned off to the public. In November, the wrecking ball demolished the building. The stones bearing the name of the club above the center entrance were removed and stored for a possible future home.
For the rest of 1997 and all of 1998, the members continued to hold their events at various locations, including the Austrian Hungarian Veterans Society and the Italian Club, where the club celebrated the 140th anniversary of the singing society. In February 1999, a new building was purchased at 437 E. Main Street in Emmaus. Many members volunteered countless hours to help renovate and remodel the former fire company. It was a two-level facility with the upstairs converted into a professional kitchen. The lower level was made into a Ratskeller and a banquet hall for 125 people.. In September, 1999 the renovations were completed and a gala celebration was held to mark to opening the new location of the Lehigh Sängerbund.
The first few years were successful, however, with membership continuing to dwindle, the society found itself struggling to survive. In November, 2004, the membership voted unanimously to sell the building. In February, 2005, a new location was found. The beautiful Bethlehem Club, itself a club with a long, important history, invited the Lehigh Saengerbund to make its home there. The organization is now working to rebuild the chorus, and has created a professional vocal ensemble to support the chorus but also, to perform by itself. A Lehigh German Symposium has been formed which consists of teachers and professors of German and other humanities in the region to discuss issues of their profession and how to keep the German language and culture alive. A new Kinderspielgruppe has been formed to accommodate the new, young German families who have come to this area to work. The Monthly Dinners continue, now made by the professional staff at the Bethlehem Club.
In early 2007, the Board of Directors decided it was time for the Lehigh Saengerbund to return to its roots in Allentown. Our stay in Bethlehem was enjoyable - we thank the Board of Directors and the members of the Bethlehem Club for their warm reception during our stay. We relocated to the Christopher's at the Knights on 15th and Greenleaf Streets, Allentown.
In August 2015 the members decided to adopt the new name, The German American Club of the Lehigh Valley. The new name reflects the changing nature of its membership as predominantly second generation and one that represents a gradual transition in a process of Americanization while preserving and promoting its cultural heritage.. The Club changed its tax status to a 501(c)3, allowing it greater flexibility and opportunity to broaden its services to its members and to the general public. Part of this transition also involves an invitation to expand club operations and activities to the Cetronia Social Hall, 18 S Scenic St, Allentown, PA 18104 in addition to continuing to maintain a presence at the Columbian Home of Allentown, 1519 W. Greenleaf Street, Allentown, PA 18102. Members of the GAC are encouraged to join the Knights of Columbus at the Columbian Home and the Cetronia Social Hall.