Odd Fellows to celebrate
On May 18, Virginia Lodge #1, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, located on Fillmore Street in Harpers Ferry, will celebrate its 180th anniversary. At 2 p.m., lodge members will dedicate a new wayside exhibit, which depicts the history of the Odd Fellows in America, with emphasis on Harpers Ferry and the lodge building in particular.
The wayside exhibit will, for the first time in Odd Fellows history in America, recognize the historical significance of the lodge and its role in the history of Harpers Ferry. The lodge building is one of the most historically intact structures in Harpers Ferry.
Harpers Ferry was, in 1833, the ideal place. Odd Fellowship had taken hold in the northeastern United States, with Baltimore as the seat of its national leadership, and was rapidly spreading farther afield. The town at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, though in a picturesque setting, was an industrial focal point as the site of one of the two national armories and with its numerous workmen was perfectly suited to the working class origins of the order. Moreover, the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, with direct connection to Baltimore, was about to arrive.
Thus it came about that on May 18, 1833, Grand Sire Thomas Wildey oversaw the establishment of the first Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) lodge in what was then Virginia, giving his blessing to “Virginia Lodge No. 1.” With the creation of the Grand Lodge of West Virginia in 1865 the lodge, retaining its original name, became the oldest in the new state as well.
Like the origin of order itself, the origin of the “Odd Fellows” name is not fixed in history and is therefore open to conjecture. Various theories have survived. One proposes that it was odd to find, in the 18th century, a group of people that followed noble values. Another theory states that the organization’s membership was opened to the working class, an oddity for fraternal orders at the time. Still another suggests that the name was derived from the membership being formed from tradesmen whose vocations were outside of those of the norm.
As an organization, the command of the IOOF is to “visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the
dead and educate the orphan.” Specifically, the IOOF supports the following programs: Educational Foundation Since 1927, has operated a revolving loan fund for qualified students and to award scholarships to deserving students. Donations of approximately $3,500,000 have made it possible for over 3,500 students to receive low interest loans and hundreds of thousands of dollars for scholarships; SOS Children’s Village – provides a caring home for orphaned children in Cambodia; Visual Research Foundation – provides vision care and research through the Wilmer Eye Institute; United Nations Pilgrimage for Youth; Relief projects – Odd Fellows and Rebekahs spend over $775 million in relief projects annually; The Arthritis Foundation; and Living Legacy – focuses on planting trees and enhancing our environment.
Virginia Lodge No. 1 continues the proud tradition of Odd Fellowship in its historic lodge. The lodge was revived in 1992 through the efforts of Robert L. Spencer (later Grand Master) and others. The lodge has occupied this building on Fillmore Street in Harpers Ferrysince 1865. It was originally built as an armorer’s dwelling around 1837-38, and was occupied by Union troops during the Civil War. Some of the soldiers’ graffiti is still visible today.Virginia Lodge No. 1 continues the proud tradition of Odd Fellowship in its historic lodge.
The lodge was revived in 1992 through the efforts of Robert L. Spencer (later Grand Master) and others. The lodge has occupied this building on Fillmore Street in Harpers Ferry since 1865. It was originally built as an armorer’s dwelling around 1837-38, and was occupied by Union troops during the Civil War. Some of the soldiers’ graffiti is still visible today.
Chimney damage from an artillery projectile fired in the September 1862 battle for the town bespeaks its exposed position on Camp Hill during the fighting. In the summer of that year operatives of the Mathew Brady studios used the building as background for many photographs of the elite 22nd New York State Militia regiment, which then formed part of the town’s garrison.
Invitations for this event were forwarded to the IOOF Grand Lodge of West Virginia, mayors of Bolivar and Harpers Ferry, members of the Jefferson County Commission, representatives from Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the offices of WV Senator John Unger (D Berkeley, District 16), WV Senator Herb Snyder (D Jefferson, District 16), Delegate Stephen Skinner (D-67th District) and Congresswoman Shelly Moore Capito (R – 2nd District) and the local media.
Prior to the event, the Rebekahs of Lodge #1 will host a pancake breakfast from 8 10 a.m. Hot/ dogs, hamburgers, snacks, and drinks will be available from 11 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. A nominal fee will be charged for both meals. Additionally, numerous uniformed Civil War re-enactors have been invited to partake in the festivities. The historic lodge will be open for visitation and tours.