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By Brad Bowman
The Odd Fellows Lodge, formally Washington Lodge #1513, in New Castle stands not just as a part of Henry County’s Black History, but as a pillar of values for its members.
The lodge on 32 South Main Street in New Castle will celebrate its 142nd anniversary in August. The organization began in 1872, three years older than the Kentucky Derby, and the fraternity bought the present New Castle building in 1886. The Odd Fellows also own and operates a nonprofit cemetery in New Castle.
Part of the The Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, a branch of the Friendly Societies in England, the Odd Fellows origins have been marked in English legislation beginning in 1793.
In Abb Landis’ book, “Friendly Societies and Fraternal Orders”, British Parliament passed the Sir George Rose Act in 1793, which help curb abuses in orders who before were not subject to any laws, legal status or protected from fraud. In Landis’ research, a marble mason known as Bolton traveled from Manchester to London and pushed for a reformed lodge system under the name of Order of Odd Fellows’ Club. The Odd Fellows Organization also shows up prior to 1793 in written history under the name Loyal Aristarcus Lodge No.9 in 1745, which given the number nine to indicate the order’s establishment, indicates eight other lodges, possibly older, existed prior.
The friendly societies existed after the collapse of the guild system, before unions or any welfare system. Societies would aid its members with health care, food, clothes for those who were destitute, provide relief to widows and participated in civic projects for the benefit of, not just its members, but immediate community.
The Grand United Order of Odd Fellows in America, existed officially after 1843 as noted in the order’s history. Lodges operated prior to 1843, but did not confer with the lodges in England under their governing body known as Committee of Management. The order states that these former lodges were formed by, “Self-institution and were composed mostly of foreigners, who up to 1847, had been in the United States long enough to become so thoroughly inoculated with color prejudice that they declined to confer with the duly accredited Deputy from England because he was a black man.”
In 1842, several ‘free colored men’ from New York to Philadelphia involved in America’ oldest literary society, The Philomathean Institute in Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Library Company and Debating Society, sought to form an Odd Fellows group noting Patrick H. Reason and James Fields as petitioners. Met with opposition from the independent unsanctioned lodges in America, the men would receive aid from England.
Peter Ogden, a black ship steward on a vessel called the Patrick Henry, sailed frequently from New York and Liverpool, England. Ogden an Odd Fellow from Victoria Lodge 448 in England, argued the prospective members should ask for permission through the English establishment instead of the independent orders operating in America.
According to the order’s history, Ogden thought the, “Class of men who professing benevolence and fraternity, were most narrow and contracted, a class of men who judged another, not by principle and character, but by the shape of the nose, the curl of the hair and the hue of the skin.”
After several failed attempts in America, The Committee of Management in Leeds, England granted the establishment of the Philomathaean Lodge 646 of New York, New York on March 1, 1843.
Based on the philosophy of helping your fellow man, acting Grand Noble Richard Smith, a member since 1950, hopes to pass the fraternal values onto a new generation of members.
“We are a fraternity based on Christian values,” Smith said. “I became a member through my uncle and cousins. Years ago we had 100 members. It is important that our young people learn discipline, teach them about helping each other. It’s also important for them to understand our history — the sweat and effort of our forefathers—who created opportunity and where we are today.”
Kim Goodloe joined the fraternity after attending the Homecoming Parade.
“I was there with some friends of mine and we joked how the parade was just like three cars and it was older than the Kentucky Derby,” Goodloe said. “My father, William Goodloe, made the statement that I should do something about it instead of standing on the street corner.”
Goodloe has been an active member since 1984. His grandfathers John Lindsay Sr., and Frank Goodloe Sr. both were members. He helped organize the parade, andinvolved Kentucky State University’s marching band. The parade and picnic provide a homecoming for African-American families who traveled to Ohio seeking out jobs.
“I remember hearing about how the women would wear long formal dresses and men would be in tuxedoes for the dance later that night at the lodge” Goodloe said. “There isn’t as much interest for the young people now in the picnic. Times were different then, but it is important that we pass on that history. I understand kids want to pledge other fraternities when they are young, but it’s important to not just get an education, but contribute back to your community.”
The Odd Fellows gave box lunches out in New Castle and Eminence last year during Christmas and plan to have more community activities and events.
The Odd Fellows are in the process of restoring the New Castle lodge, which is on the Kentucky Historical Register. When restorations are complete, the lodge will apply for the National Register of Historical Places.
For more information about joining the Odd Fellows or assisting with restoration efforts contact them at Washington Lodge #1513 Inc. P.O. Box 757, New Castle 40050.