“This wonderful building is what brings us here (to Burlington’s Old North End) this week,” Mike Hoey said.
“We know it now, today, as the Champlain Club,” Vermont Historical Society executive director Steve Perkins said. “But it has a rich history in the Old North End and a rich immigrant history, so we’re going to go inside.
“It wasn’t always the Champlain Club,” Perkins noted inside.
“The community was formed in 1891 with the (German Order of Harugari, which promoted German culture and language in the U.S. through song),” board member Charlene Wallace replied. “After a few years, they were able to have the land purchased to build this club that we think was either built in 1896 or 1905, depending on which history you read — the Goethe Lodge.
“It was part of a nationwide community of lodges; there were over 300 at one point. This is, we believe, one of the last two social clubs remaining; the other one’s in Connecticut. That lasted until the early ’60s, and they opened up the membership to people who weren’t German. There was a fire in 1972, which actually helped save the building because the club used the insurance money to do some much-needed maintenance.
“And then, in 1986, they had a crisis where they were behind on the taxes and couldn’t pay their bills, and they put the building up for sale. Thankfully, no one bought the building. They built things back up again, and in 1996, they changed the name of the club to (the) Champlain Club.
“The dance community has taken a strong leadership role (in the club). Starting last year, in 2021, the organization has transformed (into) a nonprofit that will be open to all of the community. We’re going to be looking for a new name that feels more inclusive.”
“I grew up in a house down the street, and there were lots of Germans in the area,” longtime club member Sylvia Holden said. “I do remember the club as a haven for the neighborhood — and Saturday evening, it was the place to be, because dancing was done here and visiting and pool, and you could bring your family, and there were sometimes suppers.
“I do remember it was like a speakeasy at some point! You came through that little narrow door and you had to be recognized. Many members of the club were involved in some construction companies.”
“One of those, your own family had,” Hoey said. “Specifically, I believe you mentioned one of your grandfathers (Oscar Heininger) is why this lovely hall even exists.”
“(He built the lodge.) I do believe he was one of the founders,” Holden answered. “I had one of my first dates with my husband at the club. One of the rules of the club was that you didn’t discuss religion or politics.”
“This particular room is used for dance lessons and piano lessons, among other things,” Champlain Club building committee member Lola Houston said. “One of the things that is challenging about this also is, we’ve got heating and plumbing issues; this room gets particularly warm and some of the other rooms get particularly cold. You can’t upgrade everything, so we’re in the process of building an HVAC upgrade. We did do weather-stripping here recently to try and keep the heat in. The building itself is very restorable and very solid.”
“And it does look great,” Hoey said. “Even with other things still to be done, as you mentioned, Lola — even here in this room — it looks beautiful. It truly does.”
“Thanks! We have a wonderful group of volunteers,” Houston observed. “I’m really looking forward to having this place be a warm and welcoming place for a whole range of different activities; we are under-utilized in the daytime. I’m really motivated to do the work and have it last for another hundred years.”