Historic Fraternal Lodges
Today, participation in fraternal organizations is on a steep decline. As numbers dwindle and members age, more lodges have been forced to disband, leaving hundreds of significant buildings at risk. In Jennings County, two communities illustrate the plight many towns and cities across the state are dealing with.
In Vernon, two former lodges across from the county courthouse bookend the town’s one-block commercial district. The 1860 Masonic Building anchors the square’s northwest corner. It’s a solid three-story structure built to impress, with large display windows and extra-tall panes to illuminate the Masonic order’s third-floor meeting space. Today the town’s post office occupies the ground-level storefront, but the upper floors have been vacant for years.
A stone’s throw away, the picture is even worse. A stone’s throw away, the International Order of Odd Fellows at the south end of Pike Street is condemned, the result of long-term neglect.
In neighboring North Vernon, the Improved Order of Red Men occupied the third floor of a handsome 1899 building with an ornamental metal façade from Evansville’s George L. Mesker Company. But looks can be deceiving. However, behind the distinctive exterior, long-deferred maintenance is taking a serious toll, and county officials have condemned the building. Though the building is on the market, its future remains uncertain.
In small towns like these, dilapidated buildings exert an outsize drag on the local economy and community morale, but larger areas face similar struggles. In Shelbyville, the Knights of Pythias Lodge on the city’s Public Square is mostly vacant, in need of rehabilitation. And in Bedford, the monumental 1917 Elks Lodge #186 remains vacant more than eight years after first appearing on our 10 Most Endangered list, though a recent auction of the property offers some hope for its revitalization.
Solidly built, prominently located, and ripe for reuse, historic lodge buildings deserve a chance to resume their high profile as community landmarks.
Saving threatened buildings takes teamwork. You can be a part of that team. Reach out to local leaders. Let them know these buildings are important to you. And support state and local preservation groups.