History of Kanawha Lodge #25

Before the Beginning (December 28, 1848 - December 5, 1865)

Odd Fellowship in Charleston existed before the creation of West Virginia. In 1847, an effort to open an Odd Fellows lodge in Charleston began and those who were already Odd Fellows through lodges further away began to meet and prepare to petition for a charter. Kanawha Lodge #73 officially opened on December 28, 1848 with John Hamilton presiding and 39 members. On March 17, 1851, the Virginia legislature enacted a bill authorizing Kanawha Lodge to sell bond certificates as a way to raise funds to buy property and build a lodge hall. The lodge sent its first representative to the Grand Lodge of Virginia session held in Richmond, VA on April 11, 1853 and was subsequently granted a new charter that December. The first representative was David H. Estill. The lodge was last represented at the sessions of the Grand Lodge of Virginia on April 10, 1861 at the session held in Wheeling. The last representative was Virginous Kendrick. With the Civil War begun, Kanawha Lodge did not send a representative to the 1862 session of the Grand Lodge of Virginia and was declared delinquent. The lodge itself split over the question of the war and meetings ceased during the conflict.

After West Virginia became a state in 1863, the Odd Fellows of West Virginia applied for a charter to form a West Virginia Grand Lodge but were refused. A Special Commissioner was appointed to supervise the lodges in West Virginia from 1863-1865. When the war ended in 1865, five members of Kanawha Lodge gathered in a small room in a member's home and reopened the lodge. From that point, the lodge continued to meet and more of the members returned to activity. As preparations began for issuing a charter for a Grand Lodge in West Virginia, the 23 members of Kanawha Lodge re-organzied and submitted a request for a new charter on July 27, 1865 with the following officers listed: David Goshorn, N.G., Perry A. Groves, V.G., C. H. Hatcher, Sec., Joseph Shields, Asst. Sec., Alexander Wallace, Treas.

On September 23, 1865, a charter was granted for the Grand Lodge of West Virginia. The new Grand Lodge of West Virginia then granted a charter to the members from Kanawha Lodge as Kanawha Lodge #73 on December 5, 1865.

Early Lodge History (December 27, 1865 - March 6, 1866)

The rechartered Kanawha Lodge #73 met for the first time on December 27, 1865 in the rooms of Brother D. H. Snyder who became the first Noble Grand in practice, as the term of Brother David Goshorn (listed as Noble Grand on the charter) ended by the time of the first meeting under the new charter. The first order of business was to resolve the affairs of the lodge, which had lost its building during the confused period of the war. The lodge was owed money from the sale of the building and needed to approach the new owners of the building for terms of use of the former lodge rooms. The building had been purchased by Ritter & Co. A committee was appointed to address these issues and a short recess was called during which the committee went to Ritter & Co. and arranged a deal to rent the lodge rooms for $125 a year (about $1,600 inflation adjusted to 2020) and that Ritter & Co. would "put the rooms in good repair." The lodge was called back from recess, received the report and accepted the offer. Next, a committee was appointed to obtain the necessary lodge furniture and regalia. All that being out of the way, elections were held for the upcoming term. Brother D. H. Snyder was continued as Noble Grand. It can be noted that while it is not yet known where the lodge met originally, we do know the building was used by Union troops during their occupation of Charleston during the Civil War and that damage was done to the building that was repaired by the original lodge. The lodge filed suit against the U.S. Government on July 21, 1875 to recoup the money lost fixing the building from the damages done.

The lodge continued to meet in the private rooms of members over the next five weeks until February 6, 1866 when the lodge returned to its old lodge rooms. To mark the occasion, Noble Grand Snyder made the following address:

"I must tender you my sincere congratulations on our returning to our Lodge Room, where we have heretofore spent so many pleasant evenings, and I hope our future career may be as prosperous and happy as in the earlier days of our lodge.

"It is true many pleasant and familiar faces, who were then your brothers and co-workers in our labors of love and charity, are not with us to-night some are absent from reasons of their own others, again, are absent by the decree of the Great Grand Master, and have entered the last, final Degree of our Order - may they rest in peace!

"Those of us who still remain, should endeavor, more closely, to cultivate the natural relations existing between us.

"So far as the Chair is concerned, it shall be my duty, as well as my privilege, to endeavor to cultivate a spirit of Friendship, Love, and Truth in the Lodge.

"In all my decisions, I shall, to the best of my ability, decide questions without regard to persons - they shall be impartial.

"I hope and expect each officer t do his duty, and I trust the members will be orderly and attentive.

"I had intended, on this occasion (the re-occupying of our old Lodge Room) to say more, but for various reasons, I have concluded to postpone to a future time."

The final twist in the convoluted early history of Kanawha Lodge came one month later on March 6, 1866 when the Grand Lodge of West Virginia informed the lodge that it had changed the lodge's number from #73 to #25. This was done as lodges were renumbered from their old Virginia charter number to sequential new numbers in WV.

March 1866 - June 1903

At the meeting March 6, 1866, Kanawha Lodge #25 was finally fully itself in both name and number. Much of the early history of the lodge is currently unknown as minutes books are lost. However, we do know the lodge was growing and prospering. It gained 20 members in 1866, reached 44 members by the end of 1867 and was up to 71 by April of 1868 and 80 members in 1869.

On November 5, 1869, Kanawha Lodge marched in procession to the dedication of the cornerstone of the new Capitol being built in Charleston. They were the largest Odd Fellow lodge in WV at that time. Thirty-two years later, the lodge would build its building diagonally adjacent to this Capitol. It was another great honor for the lodge when it hosted the Grand Lodge of WV at a meeting in Charleston in 1870.

Several other lodges were spun off from Kanawha Lodge in the Kanawha Valley and even in Charleston as Glen-Elk Lodge #95 in the then new Elk City was chartered from Kanawha Lodge on October 26, 1883. Others over the years included Black Diamond #2, Maiden #77, St. Albans #119, Spring Hill #140, Fern Bank #155, Rising Sun (Cedar Grove) #164, Foster (Quick Valley) #214, Hurricane Branch #266 and Olcott (Emmons) #304. Just as the members of Kanawha Lodge built much of Charleston and the Kanawha Valley, they also built a large network of Odd Fellows lodges and buildings throughout the area.

The lodge had planned to move into a new building to be built on Capitol Street by a group of developers, but the construction never occurred. In compensation for the lodge's investment in that planned building, the developers offered the lodge the second floor of the 1st National Bank Building. The lodge accepted and moved into the new location in 1872.

John H. Rosler became the first Grand Master of West Virginia from Kanawha Lodge in 1875. He had been Captain of Co. E, 13th West Virginia Infantry during the war and when he joined the lodge in 1867, the vast majority of its members who had served in the war had been in Confederate units. His admittance into the lodge and elevation though the ranks demonstrates the universal brotherhood that pervades Odd Fellowship despite political differences, or even in this case, previous armed combat against one another. Several years later, the lodge hosted the Grand Lodge officers at their lodge hall on the evening of October 24, 1882 and then entertained them at a lavish banquet in their honor at the St. Albert Hotel the following evening.

The lodge moved again on January 21, 1885 onto the third floor of the Fountain Block Building. The lodge remained at that location until they built their own building at the corner of Capitol and State (now Lee) Streets. Below are two pictures of the Fountain Block. The ink sketch at left shows the building in 1901 from "The Century Chronicle Devoted to the Capital City" - Charleston Chamber of Commerce, 1901. The image on the right shows the building today. In 1901, Schwabe & May utilized the three floors of the building for its retail business and the lodge entrance was on the left side with a door that had its own address.

Even when the lodge moved into the Fountain Block, it was planned to be temporary. The lodge entered into an agreement to purchase the plot of land where the Odd Fellows Building now stands on May 20, 1890 and came into possession of the land on June 26, 1890, several years before moving into the Fountain Block. Work began immediately on determining just what type of building the lodge would build. It was decided not to just build a lodge hall, but to build a community building. As such, a grand building was designed. There were numerous fits and starts in the process all through the latter half of the 1890s. In April 1895, the lodge created Trustees to be empowered to handle the building process and empowered them to sell bonds to raise money. At the June 20, 1899 meeting of the lodge, it was determined that the cost to build the building was still too great for the lodge to afford given the amount the lodge would have to borrow and the expected income from rentals.

The rent charged to the lodge for the use of their hall was raised on January 1, 1902. That and the desire of the new Noble Grand, Sam Hess, to get things moving resulted in his appointment of the "Hustling and Pushing Committee" of J. T. Snyder, A. F. Wallen, Joseph Schwabe and Charles Loeb. on January 28, 1902. That committee went straight to work and a mere two weeks later had everything prepared for the lodge to vote to proceed by borrowing $25,000 ($750,000 in 2020 terms) on February 11, 1902. The work of the "Hustling and Pushing Committee" of hustling and pushing the project along led to the appointment of a Building Committee to see the construction through on April 1, 1902 of Boyd, Wallen, Gardner, Snyder and Wilton. The selected architect was George Henneman and he estimated the cost of his design at $24,500 to construct. On April 8, 1902, the lodge approved the Building Committee to go to bid and give the Committee autonomy to get the work done, only having to come back to the lodge for bid acceptance of each contract.

A Special Meeting of the lodge was called on May 26, 1902 for the purpose of opening the bids. Gresham Brothers was the low bidder at $21,979 and was selected. Henneman's design was ambitious and modern. “The building is to be 110 feet deep, 45 feet wide, and five stories high. The ground will afford two store-rooms. The second and third floors will consist of commodious offices, twelve to a floor. On the fourth floor will be concert and lecture halls, with ladies’ and gentlemens’ reception rooms and stage. On the fifth floor will be the lodge rooms and banquet hall. The building will be heated by steam and will have all modern improvements, including electric elevator.” - from the “CornerStone Laying” program - 1902.

The cornerstone of the building was laid in a grand ceremony on September 10, 1902, beginning with a parade up Quarrier to Broad (now Leon Sullivan Way), to Washington, to Morris, to Kanawha, to Clendennin, to State (now Lee) and on to Capitol. It was led by the Charleston police followed by the South Side Band, South Side Rebekah Lodges, Fern Bank Lodge, Paint Creek Band, Paint Creek Lodge, Clendennin Lodge, Blue Creek Lodge, Malden Band, Malden Lodge, Montgomery Band, Montgomery Lodge, Glen Elk Band, Glen Elk Lodge, Second Regiment Band and finally Kanawha Lodge and the Grand Lodge Officers. All in all, over 1,000 people attended the event and countless more watched the parade as it wound through the city. Below is a picture from the cornerstone laying ceremony. At center-right wearing the sash is Joseph Schwabe, Noble Grand.

The free souvenir program for the event was 22 pages long and primarily advertisements from businesses throughout Charleston which all tried to take advantage of the large event to drive people who came into the city for the day to their businesses. The Lodge Officers at the time were Joseph Schwabe, Noble Grand John Barlow, Vice Grand Alex Boyd, Secretary and Charles Loeb, Treasurer. The Schwabe name was well known in Charleston for nearly 130 years for its association with the Schwabe-May clothing store which passed down through the Schwabe family from its opening in 1880 until its eventual closing in 2008. Barlow is still known in Charleston for its association with the Barlow-Bonsell Funeral home, but in 1902 was Barlow Furniture, Undertaking and Livery Stables. Charles Loeb,the Treasurer owned and operated a shoe shop while Alex Boyd, the Secretary, was a bricklayer.

On September 30, 1902, J. T. Snyder resigned from the Building Committee now that the actual work of construction had begun and was replaced by Peter Young. Construction proceeded at pace and minor alterations were made to the design mainly to allow flexibility for future needs. The modern electric elevator cost the lodge $1,000 in Spring of 1903 ($30,000 in 2020 terms) and was not yet operational when the building was opened in June 1903, but was soon thereafter.

The lodge moved into the building for its first meeting on June 2, 1903 with John Barlow, N.G. presiding. After over a decade of debate and false starts, Sam Hess and his "Hustling and Pushing Committee" had taken the idea of the Odd Fellows Building and hustled and pushed it, with the aid of the Building Committee, Joseph Schwabe and John Barlow (the next two Noble Grands) to a reality in less than 18 months.

The Twentieth Century: The Lodge

Kanawha Lodge played host to the officers of the surrounding lodges for a district meeting in 1935. The picture shows just how large Odd Fellowship had grown in the Kanawha Valley considering that those are the officers from the various lodges, a small percentage of the total membership.

Odd Fellowship was unique among the various societies that existed in the 19th and 20th centuries. It provided sick pay, disability pay, unemployment pay and care for the widows and orphans of members. For the average man, these types of benefits were essential. There were also a bargain. Dues in 1866 were only $5, which amounts to just over $80 adjusted for 2020. In many small towns and particularly in coal camps, nearly every eligible person joined an Odd Fellows lodge.

Below is a picture of lodge members enjoying a nice day out in May 1922 in front of the old Capitol Annex. A little more than a year before that picture was taken, the Capitol building across the intersection from the Odd Fellows Building burned to the ground and nearly took the Odd Fellows Building with it when it too caught fire on its roof. Thankfully that fire was quickly put out before it spread beyond the roof.

With the advent of government social programs, lodge membership began to decline nationwide. Lodge membership in 1955 was 224, with membership within the state at 11,730 in 168 lodges. In 1965, the number of lodges was down to 152 with a total of 7,721 members. By 1975, there were 129 lodges and 5,661 members. Jumping ahead to 2005, there were only 53 lodges and 1,737 members. In 2015, there were 37 lodges and 1,338 members, putting membership at 11.4% of what it was in 1955. Kanawha Lodge certainly felt the effects of this decline in membership as the Odd Fellows transitioned from a primarily beneficial society increasingly into a social & charitable organization, but not as severely as the state as a whole. In many ways, Kanawha Lodge began to become even more important in the latter half of the 20th century.

In 1956, Brother Robert Roller because the first of six Grand Masters of West Virginia in the 20th century from Kanawha Lodge. He was followed in 1958 by J. Waldron Allison, in 1968 by Ralph Pickens, in 1979 by Lawrence Kilburn, in 1985 by Meril Peak, and in 1995 by C. David Moles. There would have been one more Grand Master from Kanawha Lodge in 1965, but Brother John Groves, Deputy Grand Master, was killed in an automobile accident on December 15, 1964 while traveling on Odd Fellows business. The lodge provided two Grand Secretaries in the persons of Brother Robert Roller, PGM from 1957-1963 and Brother Earl Woodrum from 1963-1971. It also provided a Grand Treasurer in the person of Brother Edgar Stowers from 1987-1997.

On September 1, 1960, the lodge acquired 60 acres of land along the Little Coal River and opened a camp for the members of the lodge and their families and guests. Additional land was acquired until the total reached 125 acres. A camp hall, bathroom and shower building, shuffleboard courts, swingset, fishing pond and more were constructed for the enjoyment of the members and their families. On July 4, 1965, the property was named Bradwood Park in honor of Ed Bradley, Sr. and Earl Woodrum who had done the significant work of getting it up and running.

The Twentieth Century: Odd Fellows Building

The early years of the building were spent diagonally across from the West Virginia State Capitol. As such, the building was a prime location and quickly became a community center for lectures, concerts and various businesses.

That great location turned tragic on January 2, 1921 when the Capitol burned to the ground in a massive conflagration. One of the classic images of the burned building (below) was taken from the Odd Fellows Building.

The fire was so tremendous, that sparks from the fire landed on the roof of the Odd Fellows Building which was then also set alight. The building was saved, but the attic space still shows the fire scarred timbers from that harrowing day.

Life went on for the Odd Fellows Building after it was repaired from the Capitol fire. It was home to many landmark businesses over the years. Several of those can be seen in the photo of the building below taken in the 1940s. The Capital City Commercial College was a tenant from the earliest days and remained in the building for decades. Thom McAnn shoe store was a popular destination up into the 1980s when the mall was built and so many of the stores on Capitol Street closed. Liggett’s drug store and lunch counter was a downtown Charleston icon. Also in this photo can be seen the neon Odd Fellows sign that was eventually removed during the Capitol St. revitalization which banned such signs. In most ways the Odd Fellows Building remained unchanged from its construction until a major modernization effort was launched in 1966.

The 1966 modernization was a major undertaking. Space was taken away from each floor to install a new internal fire stairwell, replacing the old iron fire escape that used to run down the Lee Street side of the building. The offices and large venue rooms on the rental floors were all redone with wood paneling and drop ceilings. The exterior of the building at the street level was updated with metal awnings and faux finishes that covered over the classic architectural features of the building, even the carved cornerstone was covered over. Below is a picture of one of the office spaces with all the paneling, drop ceiling, carpet and 1960s furniture still in place. This room has been preserved as an example of the period and is now the tenant’s lounge. Below that shows the metal awning that wrapped around the corner which housed Henry’s menswear shop at the time.

The external additions to the building were removed in 1987 and the building once again looked, from the outside, mostly like it had when it was built. The inside renovations did not begin until after the building's 100th birthday.

21st Century Rebirth

The lodge was at a crossroads in the beginning of the 21st century. The Odd Fellows Building was in need of restoration, membership was down and the financial crisis of 2008 jeopardized the lodge's financial future. The building was almost sold off and the lodge moved from Charleston, but thankfully a group of dedicated members chose the harder path: revitalization.

The lodge began the painstaking and expensive process of restoring the interiors of the Odd Fellows Building while simultaneously rebuilding the activity of the lodge. The lodge also began the renovation and improvement of Bradwood Park which had become mostly disused by the 1990s. All of these projects are still ongoing, but much has already been accomplished. Beautiful pressed tin ceilings have been restored, classic transoms repaired and paneling removed in much of the Odd Fellows Building. New electrical and fixtures have enhanced the once again popular Bradwood Park. The lodge has regular social functions, fundraising and charitable projects.

The lodge has seen many new members in the past several years, including younger people who have become very active in the lodge and encouraging the lodge to expand its activities. The lodge room is much like it was a century ago, a happy mix of young and old but now also a mix of men and women. While work schedules don't allow all these new members to attend every lodge meeting, the activities of the lodge and our use of technology allow all members to be active.

Below is a picture of the officers of Kanawha Lodge #25 in 2019 during the 200th anniversary of Odd Fellowship.