Odd Chillicotheans: The Independent Order of Odd Fellows in Chillicothe, 1874+

The “Nipgen” Block

The towering Victorian 3-1/2 story building at the northeast corner of Paint and Second streets is known as the Nipgen Block. Though named after the original occupant and owner of the corner part, pharmacist John Nipgen, the 1874 building was originally three separate properties that shared the same designer.

The famous Madeira Hotel on the site was destroyed by the Great Fire of April 1st, 1852. For some reason it was the last major victim of the fire to be replaced, leaving an open pit in the middle of the downtown for almost a quarter century.

A famous early photo of Chillicothe showing the 73rd Ohio Regiment about to return to the Civil War on February 16th, 1864. The view is from a rooftop north of the courthouse, looking northeast over Paint Street. The mid-block of the east side has been rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1853, leaving both corners empty, The near corner is at Second Street, where the Madeira House stood…and later, the Nipgen Block was built, 22 years after the fire. A horse-and-buggy is waiting patiently on Second Street. (This is slightly cropped to highlight the buildings.)

Then the vacant property was finally subdivided, and three new owners shared the services of renowned Chillicothe architect John Cook to design the grand edifice that was built in the latter half of 1874.

One of those owners was the Tecumseh Lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, who bought the north 24 feet 9 inches at 63 and 65 North Paint Street. The made their mark with their initials on a stone plaque at the third floor level and their symbol of three links of a chain over the attic window.

(61 North Paint had different owners, and since the third floor IOOF lodge hall extends over it, the property must have been restricted to the first floor shop – along with maybe the second floor offices, since they were connected to the shop below in 1879.)

A view east-southeast of the west side of the Nipgen Block, with the part built for the IOOF dominant.

Odd Ideology

I have heard that the “Odd Fellows” took on that name because they did the odd jobs (philanthropic) that other fraternal organizations didn’t.

Wikipedia says:

‘The Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) is a non-political and non-sectarian international fraternal order of Odd Fellowship. It was founded in 1819…in Baltimore…

‘Evolving from the Order of Odd Fellows founded in England during the 1700s, the IOOF…has operated as an independent organization since 1842, although it maintains an inter-fraternal relationship with the English Order.

‘The order is also known as the Triple Link Fraternity, referring to the order’s “Triple Links” symbol, alluding to its motto “Friendship, Love and Truth”…

‘The Independent Order of Odd Fellows became the first fraternity in the United States to include both men and women when it adopted the “Beautiful Rebekah Degree” on September 20, 1851…

‘Beyond fraternal and recreational activities, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows promotes the ethic of reciprocity and charity, by implied inspiration of Judeo-Christian ethics…’

‘The American Civil War (1861–1865) shattered the IOOF in America; membership decreased and many lodges were unable to continue their work, especially in the southern States.

‘After the Civil War, with the beginning of industrialization, the deteriorating social circumstances brought large numbers of people to the IOOF and the lodges rallied.

‘Over the next half-century, also known as the “Golden age of fraternalism” in America, the Odd Fellows became the largest among all fraternal organizations, (at the time, even larger than Freemasonry).

‘In 1896, the World Almanac showed the Odd Fellows as the largest among all fraternal organizations…

‘The Great Depression and the introduction of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal brought a decline in membership. During the depression, people could not afford Odd Fellows membership fees, and when the New Deal’s social reforms started to take effect, the need for the social work of the Odd Fellows declined.

‘Although there was a decline in membership in fraternal organizations in general during the 20th century, membership in the 21st century started to increase.

‘Currently, there are about 12,000 lodges with nearly 600,000 members.’

The Chillicothe Odd Fellows

Pat Medert notes Chillicothe’s Tecumseh Lodge was founded in 1843 and rented space until they built their lodge hall in 1874. Like the town’s masons half a block east (the current Majestic Theatre) they had an investment property built, with their home on the upper floor and rented space to pay for it below.

A quick online search shows the “Tecumseh Lodge No. 80 I.O.O.F. of Chillicothe” was created 11 June 1886 – though their lodge hall was built in 1874, and they were founded 30 years before even then! They may have been reorganized at that time for some reason – which may be when some renovations were made to the hall, including the Eastlake-styled officers’ platform / dais / tabernacle, and some doors and doorways.

The lodge hall of the Chillicothe IOOF (before I swept it).

Apparently the Chillicothe IOOF lodge disbanded a few years ago. An informal search shows their incorporation has been cancelled, and some of their items went on the antiques market in 2019. (If former Odd Fellows can enlighten me about any of their history, please do so!)

As Ross County Auditor records show, after selling their towering Victorian 3-1/2 story building on Paint Street in 2002, the IOOF moved to a little one-story building at Watt and Washington Streets they bought in 2005.

They sold that in 2016.

Bernie Evans bought the Paint Street building in 2013 and moved his “Bernie & Max” stained glass business there…and then allowed the Ghost Walk to haunt it the following two years.

Odd Antiquities

Local antiques dealer Ross Auction Company / Landmark Properties, who bought the Gazette Building in 2017, also bought the IOOF’s Watt Street building in January 2017. They then sold a few of the IOOF’s items in November 2019, which images are still online.

An 1881 Lodge Record sold at auction on 9th November, Lot 233 on Bidsquare

This certificate show that William N. Kettles joined the Chillicothe lodge in 1881, and apparently passed the “grand” degree in 1884.

The vignettes on the certificate appear to include the Good Samaritan, Noah’s ark, Rebekah at the well, American Civil War Union Troops, and Moses striking the rock.

At the bottom are two vignettes of the Odd Fellow’s four commands to “visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead, and educate the orphan.”

A screen shot of another slightly later style of certificate, from 1899 – Lot 232 on Bidsquare

Be An Odd Visitor

Join me for a visit to the third-floor 1874 meeting hall of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, with a delicious finish at Old Capitol Brewing, 6pm Sunday, October 24th, 2021. Learn more in my Facebook event listing.

Next, see part 2 – “Odd Occupants: Neighbors and Tenants of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in Chillicothe, Early and Mid-20th Century

Much history from Pat Medert’s Paint Street volume

In memoriam of Sarah Skinner, who led the revisioned LWV Ghost Walks in 2014 and 2015 that featured the IOOF Lodge

Published by:

Kevin B. Coleman

Pre/historian, architectural historian, re-enactor, guide, reporter, speaker, writer, gardener, craftsperson, husbandman, et al., who can work in stone (flint knapping, flintlock, silicon chip) among other things and who is determined to use my knowledge, wisdom, and personal survival to help the greater good. At least, my cats and dog here in semi-rural Ohio tell me that.

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