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The new officers for this term of Odd Fellows Lodge No. 9 in Wheeling are, left to right, Gary Timmons, Treasurer; Mel Jeffcoat, High Noble; Bobby Winters, vice-grand; and Ron Fletcher, secretary. — Contributed

WHEELING — This is a special year for Wheeling’s oldest fraternal organization.

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows Wheeling Lodge No. 9 will celebrate a milestone achievement with a 175th anniversary dinner on October 1 at the Lodge Hall at 1205 Chapline St., Wheeling.

Membership of Wheeling Lodge extends all the way to Florida with current active members hailing from Weirton and Mingo Junction and south to Shadyside as well as Wheeling.

“During the celebration we will open three envelopes from 1929, one of which is addressed specifically to our lodge, found in a time capsule when the Odd Fellows Hall in Weirton was demolished last year,” explained Gary Timmons, treasurer of the lodge.

The Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center at 3149 Main St., Weirton is home to this time capsule and its contents discovered earlier this year when Weirton’s All Saints Greek Orthodox Church demolished two properties on West Street, including including the former Independent Order of Building Odd Fellows. The time capsule found in the ceremonial cornerstone rescued from the IOOF building was donated to the museum and among its contents were the three sealed envelopes.

“Each has an embossed 1 cent postage stamp and early 20th century lace script”, noted the Weirton Museum’s then-executive director, Savannah Schroll Guz, in a Facebook post. “One is addressed to the Cornerstone Committee of Wheeling Lodge No. 9, IOOF Another says it is “Compliments of J. Walker”, while a third is “Compliments of EE Turner”. Based on the list of contents, we know that there must be IOOF tokens inside these envelopes, but there is also paper.

Odd Fellowship in Wheeling began in 1834 when the Grand Lodge of the United States established Virginius Lodge No. 3 in Wheeling. When the Grand Lodge of Virginia was established on May 17, 1837, Virginius Lodge No. 3 came 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 support a limited number of members so as not to ruin themselves in the profits to be paid out. On December 11, 1847, the Grand Lodge of Virginia granted a charter to Wheeling Lodge No. 59. On December 5, 1865, after the end of the 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 restructured. Due to this change, Virginius Lodge No. 3 has been renamed Virginius Lodge No. 2, and Wheeling Lodge No. 59 has been renamed Wheeling Lodge No. 9, which retains its name and number to this day, explained a door -word.

While most of the records of the early days of the lodge have been lost to fire, what is known is that lodge meetings from 1859 to 1925 were held in the Odd Fellows building. three-story building located on the southwest corner of what was then known as Fourth Street and Monroe Street, now Chapline and 12th Street. From 1863 to 1870, this building served as temporary quarters for the cadets of the Linsly Military Institute while their building served as the capital building of the new state of West Virginia. In 1893 a fourth floor was added to the Odd Fellows Building.

Wheeling Lodge No. 9 continued to prosper, and many prominent Wheeling residents became members of the lodge, including Wheeling Mayor Jeremiah A. Miller, who also served as Grand Master of the West Virginia Grand Lodge in 1877 In 1886 lodge member William Ellingham also served as Grand Master. Several lodges consolidated with Wheeling No. 9 during these years, including Centennial No. 81 in 1880, Virginius No. 2 and Franklin No. 3 in 1912, and Excelsior No. 40 in 1925.

Around October 1925 Wheeling Lodge No. 9 moved to the former Reymann House at the corner of what is now 15 and Eoff streets and remained there until July 1937 when it moved to the old location of Concord Lodge No. 19 at the Northwest Corner of 38th and Jacob Streets during the consolidation of Concord No. 19 with Wheeling No. 9. Three months later, in October 1937, Wheeling Lodge No. 9 reverted to its original location at the corners of 12th and Chapline streets.

According to Timmons, one of the best and most reliable ways for a lodge to earn income is to have a property they can rent out to businesses or individuals. Wheeling Lodge No. 9 has entered into an agreement with 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 perform the same functions for the current building to this day.

Current board members are Robert Benesh, Ronald Fletcher, Clarence Hopkins, Elizabeth Shultz and Timmons.

The original Odd Fellows building was constructed by the Odd Fellows Hall Association from 1857 and completed in 1859, at an estimated cost of $30,000 to $40,000, exact cost unknown due to loss of documents . The ground floor has been leased to Henderson’s Restaurant in the corner, Florist Fahey in the next space, and 12th Street Newsstand in the final space. The owner of Henderson’s restaurant was Cambell Henderson, who was a member of Wheeling Lodge No. 9 at the time.

On March 19, 1950, a game of bingo was in progress on the second floor of the building, directly above the Henderson restaurant, when a 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 through an emergency exit on the 12th Street side of the building which had just had its replacement completed the previous year. The fire destroyed the upper three floors, leaving only the brick walls. The shops on the first floor were destroyed by the floods because of the water used to put out the fire.

The building was not salvageable and had to be demolished.

Kraus Delicatessen, which occupied part of the one-and-a-half-story structure adjoining the Odd Fellows building, suffered water damage, and the Gallaher candy store, which shared the building with the delicatessen, did not not been damaged. For many years Elby’s Restaurant occupied the corner first floor which now houses 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 No. 9 first met at the next regular meeting after the fire – March 24, 1950. It took nearly six years before the lodge could return to its location at the corner of 12th and Chapline streets with the first meeting in the new hall held in January 1956. The Recreation Hall, where many special lodge activities take place, was not completed for eight years. This new building again included spaces for rent to continue to receive the revenue necessary for the operation and maintenance of the building.

Unfortunately, in the years following the fire, Wheeling Lodge No. 9 began to suffer a period of years of loss of members. In 1970 a lodge bowling team was instituted and, coupled with family celebrations and an annual Christmas party, the lodge began to reclaim its members.

In 1975, the lodge purchased a player piano to play the various odes played at meetings, rituals and ceremonies. Later the lodge changed from a piano to a cassette player and later to a compact disc player.

Additionally, in 2004, the once all-male Odd Fellows were opened up to women as members.

The lodge is active in many community events including having a water station at many of the Wheeling distance races, Wreaths Across America, working with Youth Services Systems and Laughlin Chapel at various events as well as sponsoring fundraiser to benefit Cystic Fibrosis and Camp Kno-Koma, a camp for children with diabetes.

For many years the lodge was a major participant in the annual WTRF-TV Easter Seals Telethon.

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

For more information on becoming a member of Wheeling Lodge No. 9, visit the lodge’s website at www.wheelingioof.org.

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