America is blessed with a variety of service organizations. Some are religious, some fraternal. Our war veterans have theirs too. The common thread seems to be a commitment to helping people wherever and whenever. The ones I remember growing up were the Knights of Columbus, Ashland Lions (later though, they were chartered in 1967), The Ashland Lioness Club, which was the equivalent of the ladies auxiliary (they went on to become the Greater Ashland Lions Club when Lions International opened membership to both men and women), the Ashland V.F.W., the American Legion, the Ashland Fish and Game Club, and the I.O.O.F.
I.O.O.F.? Yes, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. I have to be honest here, I always wanted to know what had to be odd about the applicant to become a member. The organization is no longer active in Ashland to my knowledge, but their mark seems to have been left in our history. If you drive through Wildwood Cemetery, especially to the left where the older graves are, there are a few stones with either a permanent marker of the “Three Rings,” or the gravestone itself is engraved. The Three Rings of the Odd Fellows is their symbol of Friendship, Love, and Truth.
O.K., who are the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, and what makes them odd? The official website for the I.O.O.F. gives us a glimpse of their history. The roots of the organization are from 17th century England which was a difficult time for the common man. Without the medicines we have available today, families often lost fathers and mothers to infections and diseases which are readily treatable today. Those more fortunate decided to form an organization to help those in their time of need. Apparently though, not everyone at that time was as altruistic, and began referring to them as “an odd bunch of fellows.” They couldn’t imagine spending time and money on something, or someone that seemed impractical. The label apparently suited the newly formed group as they went on to become the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
“Odd Fellowship,” as the organization called their members, established a North American presence in Baltimore, Maryland in 1819 under the direction of Thomas Wildey. Wildey and four of his fellow members from the Order from England created the Washington Lodge No.1. Baltimore was in the midst of a Yellow Fever epidemic and the time was right for the IOOF to further their cause. Chartered under the Manchester Order of Odd Fellows in England they tasked the newly formed chapter to “visit the sick, relieve the distress, bury the dead and educate the orphans.”
Ashland’s lodge however is a bit of a mystery. By all accounts its membership was well respected, but there isn’t a lot of documentation available. They obviously flourished during the turn of the last century because if you look at the photo accompanying today’s story you can see the IOOF signage prominently displayed at the top of the building. The building burned during WWII I was told, and the lodge moved down the street to the corner of Linden Lane and Summer Street (across from Stone Park). This is the building I remember, as I was born after the original building burned, and to this day I can still see the IOOF sign on the side by the main entrance. Today it is a private residence that reveals no clue to its past, but after some investigation I found there are residents still with us that were part of the IOOF, or related to former members. Worcester and Wellesley are listed as having active memberships, and I have made a few inquiries with the hope of having an interesting story to tell about Ashland’s participation.
Steve Leacu for Ashland Directions