Three decades after establishment of the first Independent Order of Odd Fellows at Baltimore, Maryland, in 1819, members of the order began drifting West. By late 1852, a large enough group had settled in and around Salem to organize Chemeketa Lodge No. 1, Oregon’s first lodge and the first order in the Northwest. This “Mother Lodge” furthered the objectives of all other lodges in the U.S. by offering aid and assistance to its members in time of need.
The benevolent and fraternal society had been formed in England during the early 1700s, its rites and symbols already established by the time members of the order emigrated to Canada and the United States. Until 1843, the American lodges operated as part of the Manchester (England) Unity of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows but, in that year, the U.S. lodges separated from the English union. The symbol of three links, representing friendship, love, and truth, and the single eye representing God’s omnipotence had remained since the earliest founding of the organization.
In Salem, the earliest attempts to form a lodge occurred in late 1851 when Eli M. Barnum, past Grand Master of Huron Lodge #57 of Norwalk, Ohio, sent out a notice to all Odd Fellows in Oregon Territory to explore the possibility of establishing a chapter in the capital city. (An earlier charter, in 1846, for an I.O.O.F. lodge in Oregon City had gone astray and wound up in Honolulu as the basis for Excelsior Lodge No. 1 there.)Five gentlemen responded to Barnum’s call – –
Edwin N. Cooke (a member of the lodge in Fremont,Ohio)
Samuel E. May (from the Washington Lodge of Rhode Island)
Cyrus S. Woodworth (of McKena Lodge in Peru, Illinois)
Albert W. Ferguson (from Orion Lodge in Missourit)
J. Rowan Hardin (of Western Light Lodge in Weston, Missouri)
They petitioned the Grand Lodge at Baltimore for a subordinate lodge on January 27, 1852. Taking the suggestion of Dr. William H. Willson (a non-member, but a respected Salem citizen) to use the original name for Salem – – Chemeketa, “the old home” – – as the title for their lodge, the embryonic chapter received their warrant on August 16, 1852. Two more members were added to that warrant – –
Ben F. Harding (of the Joliet, Illinois, lodge)
Joel Palmer (from Laurel, Indiana’s I.O.O.F. lodge)
Their first meeting rooms were in the attic of the Rector Building, then known as Legislative Hall since the legislature occupied the second floor – – “a gloomy, dingy, garret-like room on the third floor. . . .” – – located on Lower Commercial Street. Here, Chemeketa Lodge No. 1 was instituted on December 6, 1852, with E.M. Barnum, Special Deputy Grand Sire, officiating. The first slate of officers was then elected and installed – –
B.F. Harding – Noble Grand
E.N. Cooke – Vice Grand
C.S. Woodworth – Secretary
Joel Palmer – Treasurer
First to be initiated into the new lodge on December 8, 1852, were – –
Cyrus A. Reed
After nearly a year in the dusty garret room of Rector’s Hall, the Lodge moved in the Fall of 1853 to the upper rooms of Jones & Cooke’s mercantile establishment on the corner of State and Commercial Streets. In that same year, the new chapter had acquired the prerequisite regalia and working books for an I.O.O.F. lodge when the widow Terry arrived in Salem with her deceased husband’s belongings, which included these items brought from Wisconsin.
At the end of 1857, the Lodge moved once again – – to a building once used as a Catholic School – – and then in February, 1860, to the Joseph Holman building where they remained for over 30 years. In those three decades, two other lodges had been formed from Chemeketa’s membership: Anniversary Lodge No. 13 in 1866 (their two-decade existence ended in about 1886 when the members returned to the Mother Lodge) and Olive Lodge No. 18 in 1868 (now also no longer in existence)
The first chapter of Rebekahs was established in July, 1853, when
Mrs. Samuel R. Thurston
Mrs. Samuel E. May
Mrs. E.N. Cooke
Mrs. C.A. Reed
Mrs. James A. Ripperton
Received the Rebekah degree, conferred by Special Deputy Grand Sire E.M. Barnum. This was just two years after the very first U.S. chapter of Rebakahs was formed in Baltimore.
As long ago as 1858, the Lodge had considered the building of an I.O.O.F. Hall, but the various plans had failed to succeed. In 1867, two lots were purchased on High Street for a joint Masonic and Odd Fellows Hall; this plan, too, was abandoned – – until 1898 when the livery stable that occupied the High Street lots burned down and the dream of constructing their own hall neared realization.
IOOF HAll at the southwest corner of High and Court Streets in Salem. Photo taken after 1915. WHC Collections 2007.001.1702
Ground was broken for the new temple at Court and High on April 26, 1900, with appropriate ceremony. One feature of that occasion survives to this day : the first spade-full of earth removed from the site by George H. Burnett was deposited in Tilmon Ford’s silk hat and became an artifact still on display in the organization’s recreation hall.
Once excavation was complete, Erixon and Van Patten – the contractors – took over the actual work on the new temple. By mid-June, the basement was completed and the time came for laying the foundation cornerstone. A floor covered the open basement with a speaker’s platform at the north end for the observances on Wednesday, June 13th.
On that occasion, the members of Chemeketa Lodge No. 1, Olive Lodge No. 18, and a contingent of ladies from the Rebekah Lodge marched from their old quarters on State and Liberty Streets to the new temple site. Once there, they witnessed:
The filling and depositing of the 12 x 12 x 3 inch cornerstone
Music by a choir and a cornet band
Speeches from dignitaries assembled
A reporter’s musing on “. . . . how many years it will before the contents will again see the light of day.”
(The cornerstone is still in place to this day, despite the many renovations over the years to the original building.)
While opening night for the Temple Grand Opera House, an early tenant in the Hall, was on November 30, 1900, not until December 19th of that same year was the first-time meeting for Chemeketa Lodge held in their new quarters. The new Temple was dedicated on February 27, 1901.
For over nine decades, I.O.O.F. Hall housed the Mother Lodge members while various stores, a theater (the Opera House), a hotel, offices, a wrestling arena, the “Cherriots” bus depot, and other facilities occupied the ground level and second floors through the years. In 1987, this venerable old building was nominated for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
Then, in 1995, the property was sold to private interests, and a new I.O.O.F. Hall was built across the river in West Salem – – where the Mother Lodge currently meets.
In keeping with the original tenets of the order’s formation, charity toward the less fortunate of their members was a function of the Salem Lodge. Not confined strictly to local relief, Odd Fellows’ charity extended to wherever help was needed – –
To Buena Vista in 1870 when the lodge there lost all its property in a fire
To Chicago after the 1871 “Great Fire”
To Portland when a disastrous fire in 1873 destroyed part of the city
To San Francisco in 1906 following the earthquake
A home another charitable act was the acquisition of a cemetery for Salem. Initially, the Chemeketa Lodge and Masonic Lodge cooperated in the 1854 purchase of a five-acre tract in rural Salem as a burial ground. The Masons withdrew from the venture the following year, leaving I.O.O.F. Pioneer Cemetery solely an Odd Fellows concern. When the Grand Lodge, I.O.O.F., convened in Salem on May 5, 1859, The cemetery was dedicated as I.O.O.F. Rural Cemetery. In the winter of 1860, twelve and one-half additional acres were purchased to bring the graveyard to its present extent.
Another charitable endeavor undertaken by the Odd Fellows was a library and reading room for its members. A reading room was established as early as 1856, Chester N. Terry acting as its librarian. This nucleus of books, magazines, and newspapers grew to over 4,500 volumes before public libraries were established in the city and the I.O.O.F. library was discontinued.
The year 2002 marks the sesquicentennial of Odd Fellows’ existence in our city – – 150 years of service to Salem residents and a distinguished part of our history.
Compiled and written by Sue Bell
World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 14, 1998 edition, pg 673.
National Register of Historic Places application, prepared by David Duniway, 29 July 1987.
“The Charter” (ms. of Chemeketa Lodge No. 1, courtesy of Jim Eddy), pgs 1-4 World Book, op. cit.
Susan N. Bell, “One of Salem’s Historic Landmarks A Century Old,” Historic Marion, Vol. 38, Chapter1, pgs 4-6
Oregon Statesman, 14 June 1900, pg 5
Oregon Statesman, 28 Feb. 1901, pg 5
“Chemeketa’s Temple Dedicated,” Pacific Odd Fellow, Vol. 10, Chapter 3, Mar. 1901, pgs 1-5
Statesman Journal, 5 June 1996
J.C. Formick, “Salem’s Contribution of Oregon Odd Fellowship,” (ms. of Chemeketa Lodge history, courtesy of Jim Eddy), pg 13
Oregon Statesman, 10 May 1859, pg 2