I’ve been running across a lot of references to various fraternal orders in my research. I’ve also had some questions concerning a few of them, in particular the Odd Fellows. So this week I’d like to share with you the history of the Odd Fellows in Morris County. There is not a lot of documentation on many of the organizations that were once popular in Morris County. Many thanks are given to Mr. McClintock for his contributions to this article.
The Council Grove Lodge No. 43, Independent Order of Odd Fellows was organized April 29, 1869. The Grand Master was J.C. Fraker and those among the charter members were Isaac Sharp, J.T. Stevenson, H.D. Preston, Charles Columbia, and W.D. Kahl.
Meetings were first held in the attic of a frame building on the north side of Main Street until June, 1869. After this meetings were held in a building located at 130 W Main where our Morris County National Bank now stands. McClintock has identified the afore mentioned ‘frame building’ as Sam Wood’s house which was located at 214 W Main. It served as post office and was later known as ‘Guberpea House.’ Guber or goober pea is a Southern term for peanut, I’m not sure what the connexion would be unless said legumes were sold or consumed in this building. In 1913 fire had damaged Sam Wood’s house and it was moved to 613 Hays Street where it still serves as a residence.
From 1876 to 1892 the I.O.O.F. occupied the upstairs of 210 W Main, where the Council Grove Barber Shop is presently. On April 26th 1880 the Council Grove Lodge No. 43 held a sixty-first anniversary celebration for the Order. This was an observance of the 61st year on the North American continent. Thomas Wildey founded the Washington Lodge in Baltimore on April 26th 1819; it received a charter from the Manchester Unity of Odd Fellows in England. The I.O.O.F. began in England in the 17th century.
The Council Grove Republican of 1880 gives us a program for this celebration. All members in good standing and visiting members were encouraged to join in the parade. They were to meet in front of the Lodge at 210 W Main at 2 pm sharp. The Council Grove brass band led the parade followed by all the members. The parade began at 2:30, they marched west on Main to Mission. Then turned south on Mission to Hockaday. The march continued east on Hockaday till they reached Wood Street then turning north up Wood to Main. Once everyone was back on Main Street the tide of men continued to flow to the Congregational Church for a service. A program was given at the church consisting of prayers, oration, and music. After which, the procession was reformed and everyone marched down to the Commercial House for a supper. The Commercial House was built in 1859 and originally known as the Gilkey House. It served as a hotel until it was torn down in 1939 to make way for our present Post Office.
After selling the building at 210 the I.O.O.F. moved to a hall over what is now Aldrich Apothecary and remained there until the first of January 1902 when their new building was completed. This new hall, located at 221-223 W Main, was used until a fire destroyed it on February 4th 1923. The I.O.O.F. rebuilt and rededicated the following year.
May 22nd 1924 the lodge was crowded with members for the dedication ceremony. The Naomi Rebeckah Lodge No. 37 did the entertaining and serving for the evening. The Rebeckah’s were the women’s branch of the lodge, organized in 1883. One of the demonstrations at the ceremony was the building of an altar. From the Council Grove Republican May 29th 1924, “The Dedication Team was R.C. Smith, Herald of the North; Dennis Houser, Herald of the South; W.J. Pirtle, Herald of the East; T.J. Stevenson, Herald of the West. Grover McCrabb, Chevalier; Mrs. W.J. Pirtle, Matron of the Rebekah’s, each taking their part by these an alter was builded, the foundation stone was Purity, upon this was builded Friendship, Love, and Faith, Hope, Charity, Fidelity and Universal Justice, each represented by a stone of different color, the proclamation being made.” At this ceremony J.L. Barber was presented a 50 year jewel and A.G. Alexander a 25 year jewel.
I don’t know when the Odd Fellows ceased to be an active organization around here, but when I find out I’ll let you know. The only other interesting facts I can give you concerning the I.O.O.F. is one, in the 1923 plat book Dunlap had a ‘colored Odd Fellows hall’ listed in town. The second is a much lesser known fact brought to light by Ken McClintock. If you ever walk through the Greenwood Cemetery you will notice in the older section that people are scattered hither and yon. The rows and plots aren’t exactly perpendicular to each other. That’s because in the beginning the cemetery wasn’t platted out. Folks just got buried where ever the grave digger and or family thought a good spot. In 1870 the I.O.O.F. purchased the Greenwood Cemetery and made improvements to the grounds as well as the organization of the lots. In later years they sold the Cemetery to the city.
They were also responsible for having the stone wall built around the cemetery. There has long been the idea that the building of the wall around the cemetery was part of Council Grove’s finagling to win the county seat over Parkerville. Although I think it unlikely to prove one way or another, I believe the wall was a coincident and not done solely for the purpose of getting more voters in town. The I.O.O.F. was responsible for the building of the wall and not the city.
Addenda July 14, 2011: F.J. Revere came in the barbershop the day after this article came out and told me that his grandfather Robert O. Scott was an Odd Fellow. According to R.O. Scott it wasn’t too long after the building of the last I.O.O.F. hall that the group fell apart. Apparently they were hurting financially. R.O. Scott lived in the Kaw Indian mission south of Council Grove.