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Odd Fellows History in Wheeling Goes Deep

Wheeling Lodge 9 Marks 175 Years Since Original Charter

Photo Provided The old Odd Fellows Hall on the corner of 12th and Chapline streets in downtown Wheeling was destroyed by fire in 1950, as seen in this photo provided courtesy of the Ohio County Public Library archives.

WHEELING — This year marks a special year for the oldest fraternal organization in Wheeling.

The history of Independent Order of Odd Fellows Wheeling Lodge 9 goes deep. Odd Fellowship in Wheeling began in 1834 when the Grand Lodge of the United States established Virginius Lodge 3 in Wheeling. When the Grand Lodge of Virginia was established on May 17, 1837, Virginius Lodge 3 fell under its jurisdiction.

Over the next 10 years, the city of Wheeling, Virginia gained two more lodges. In 1847, the need for a fourth lodge in Wheeling was realized. At the time, each lodge could only sustain a limited number of members so as not to bankrupt itself in the benefits that were to be paid out. On Dec. 11, 1847, the Grand Lodge of Virginia granted a charter to Wheeling Lodge 59.

On Dec. 5, 1865, following the end of the United States’ Civil War, the Sovereign Grand Lodge held a special session in Wheeling, now part of the state of West Virginia, and granted a charter to the new Grand Lodge of West Virginia. At this time, all active lodges in the newly formed jurisdiction were renumbered and rechartered. Due to this change, Virginius Lodge 3 was rechartered as Virginius Lodge 2 and Wheeling Lodge 59 was rechartered as Wheeling Lodge 9, which remains their name and number to this day. It’s original charter will mark its 175th anniversary in 2022.

While most of the records of the earliest days of the lodge have been lost due to a fire, what is known is that meetings for the lodge from 1859 to 1925 were held in the three-story Odd Fellows Building located at the southwest corner of what were then known as Fourth and Monroe streets, now Chapline and 12th streets.

From 1863 to 1870, this building served as temporary quarters for Linsly Military Institute cadets while their building was serving as the capitol building of the new state of West Virginia. In 1893, a fourth story was added to the Odd Fellows Building.

Wheeling Lodge 9 continued to prosper, and many prominent Wheeling residents became members of the Lodge, including Wheeling mayor Jeremiah A. Miller, who additionally served as grand master of the Grand Lodge of West Virginia in 1877.

In 1886, Lodge member William Ellingham also served as grand master. Several Lodges consolidated with Wheeling 9 during these years, including Centennial 81 in 1880, Virginius 2 and Franklin 3 in 1912, and Excelsior 40 in 1925.

Around October 1925, Wheeling Lodge 9 moved its location to the former Reymann House at the corner of what is now 15th and Eoff Streets and remained there until July 1937, when it moved to the former location of Concord Lodge 19 at the Northwest corner of 38th and Jacob streets upon the consolidation of Concord 19 with Wheeling 9. Three months later, in October 1937, Wheeling Lodge 9 returned to its original location at the corners of 12th and Chapline streets.

One of the best, most reliable ways for a lodge to earn income is to have property that it can rent to businesses or people. Wheeling Lodge 9 has an arrangement through the Odd Fellows Hall Association. The lodge formed the Odd Fellows Hall Association in 1856 to oversee the construction, rental, and ongoing maintenance of the original Odd Fellows building, and the association continues to this day performing the same functions for the current building. Current members of the board of directors are: Robert Benesh, Ronald Fletcher, Clarence Hopkins, Elizabeth Shultz and Gary Timmons.

The original Odd Fellows Building was constructed by the Hall Association beginning in 1857, completed in 1859, at an estimated cost of $30,000 to $40,000, with the exact cost unknown due to the loss of records. The street level floor was rented to Henderson’s Restaurant in the corner location, Fahey’s Florist in the next space, and the 12th Street News Stand in the final space. The proprietor of Henderson’s Restaurant was Cambell Henderson, who was a member of Wheeling Lodge 9 at the time.

On Saturday, March 19, 1950 a bingo game was in progress on the second floor of the building, directly over Henderson’s Restaurant, when fire broke out on one of the upper floors around 10 p.m. It is not known exactly where the fire started. Seventy women escaped by way of a fire escape on the 12th Street side of the building that had just seen replacement completed the previous year. The fire completely destroyed the three upper floors, leaving only the brick walls standing. The businesses on the first floor were destroyed by flooding from the water used to extinguish the fire.

The building was not salvageable and needed to be demolished. Kraus Delicatessen, which occupied part of the 1.5-story structure adjoining the Odd Fellows Building, received some water damage, and Gallaher’s Candy Store, which shared the building with the delicatessen, was not damaged. For many years Elby’s Restaurant occupied the corner first floor which is now home to Elle & Jack’s restaurant.

In the aftermath of the fire, the lodge made arrangements with the Moose to hold meetings at their hall at 1208 Chapline St., where Wheeling Lodge 9 met for the first time at the next regular meeting night after the fire on Thursday, March 24, 1950. It was almost six years before the lodge could move back to its location at the corner of 12th and Chapline streets. The first meeting in the new hall was held in January 1956. The recreation room, where many of the lodge’s special activities are held, was not completed for a further eight years. This new building again included spaces for rental to continue receiving revenue needed to operate and maintain the building.

Unfortunately, in the years following the fire, Wheeling Lodge 9 began suffering a period of years of membership loss. In 1970, a lodge bowling team was instituted, and coupled with family parties and an annual Christmas party, the lodge began to recover membership. In 1975, the lodge purchased a player piano to play the various odes which were played during meeting, rituals and ceremonies. In later years, the lodge upgraded from the player piano to a cassette tape player and later to a compact disc (CD) player. Also, in 2004 the once all-male Odd Fellows were opened to women as members.

The lodge is active in many events in the community including having a water station at several of the Wheeling distance races, Wreaths Across America, Working with Youth Services Systems and Laughlin Chapel at various events as well as sponsoring dinner fundraisers to benefit Cystic Fibrosis and Camp Kno-Koma (a camp for diabetic children). For many years the lodge was one of the principal participants in the annual WTRF Easter Seals Telethon.

The lodge instituted a website and a committee to oversee it in order to share news and pictures of the lodge’s activities. In 2018, the lodge was able to secure the donation of several computers, which the website committee has used to enhance the weekly meetings, ceremonies and special events through the use of slide shows and musical recordings.

For information on becoming a member of Wheeling Lodge 9 visit the lodge website at www.wheelingioof.org.

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