The Oldest Gym in America?

Among the interests of the Bartitsu Society is the study of 19th century physical culture; the panoply of diverse exercise systems that were practiced in public and private gymnasia throughout Europe, North America and Australasia.  E.W. Barton-Wright commented that Bartitsu included a “system of physical culture which is as complete and thorough as the art of self defence”.


The Hegeler Carus mansion in LaSalle, Illinois, features an extremely rare surviving example of a 19th century gymnasium.  The Hegeler Carus gym remained virtually unchanged throughout the 20th century, and still contains numerous, some probably unique, items of exercise apparatus, including wooden dumbbells and Indian clubs, a “teeter ladder”, parallel bars and “Roman rings” suspended from the ceiling.  The gym also features a climbing pole that D.T. Suzuki used as a “meditation pole” during his long stay at the mansion.



For information on the project towards restoring the Hegeler Carus mansion gymnasium as a living museum of physical culture, see the Turnhall Project PDF.  You will need to rotate the PDF into portrait orientation.

4 thoughts on “The Oldest Gym in America?”

  1. Saw a video of people using that thing that looks like a ladder/see-saw. Had no idea how a person was supposed to use it, but it appears to require one person at each end.

  2. They were called “teeter ladders” or “see-saw ladders”, and are basically operated like a see-saw, but with two people hanging underneath the ladder rather than sitting on top of it. The exercise benefit is to perform various types of leg-lifts, etc. as you are lifted into the air.

    I’d be very surprised to discover that there any other surviving examples of this type of apparatus; they were quite rare even during the 19th century.

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