Going to Lodge

Picture: Woodslee Rebekah Lodge. I don’t know what year.

I just finished typing out some articles that Grandma had written about the various Lodges that existed in Essex County.

I’m wondering how many of you have no clue what I’m talking about. Looking back to that era through the lens of the 21st century, I’ve got to admit that the whole Lodge thing is still a big mystery. Even as an adult I still don’t quite understand the Lodge phenomena. There was a certain secrecy about them too .. so I think mystery was in the design.

All four of my grandparents were proud Oddfellows and Rebekahs. As I kid, I always thought of “going to Lodge” as a place where they went to play cards. And then one day (when I was about eight) I found a box of Grandpa Fenner’s medals that he got for going to lodge, and I started to realize there must be more to it than playing cards.

It’s only now, as I read Grandma’s books that I realize that Fraternal Orders (as is their official description) were a very important part of early rural life. My guess as to the reason for the importance of organizations like this is that it was one of the few social organizations which brought people together. UP to a point … they also had very strict rules about who could join. The Orange Lodge was one of the most extreme cases in point, where absolutely no Catholics were welcome (Great Grandma Agnes Irwin Fenner’s family belonged to the Orange Lodge. The Irwins were from Northern Ireland. That may be why some members of the Fenner side of the family of my grandparents generation were not cool with their kids marrying Catholics .. we’re all okay with that now, though)

And here’s another thing. In my great grandpa Fenner’s obituary in the Essex Free Press on April 6, 1910, it was stated that “he left his family well provided for, leaving them 300 acres and a $2000 life insurance policy from Macabees”. I had thought initially that Macabees was an insurance company. Turns out it was a fraternal order. Providing insurance for its members so their families wouldn’t be destitute upon their death is one of the things the early lodges did.

There were quite a few lodges in Essex County around the turn of the last century. A few of them in the Woodslee area were: The Knights Templar (which met at Pembleton’s Hall); the Orange Lodge (which met at Abe Hedrick’s house, they were a Ruscom family). And the Ladies Orange Benevolent Association (Luella Paisely is listed as the Last Worthy Mistress .. what a title … I want to be one of those too 😉

The Oddfellows in Woodslee started in 1880. The Maccabbees I referred to of which Great Grandpa Fenner was a member was a Comber Lodge. They were called the Knights of Maccabbees. There were also Knights of Pythias. If you were a Catholic, my guess is that you would join the Knights of Columbus (in Canada, they were formed in Montreal in 1897).

One of these days I’d like to write something about the role these organizations played in early rural society. And I’d also be interested in finding out if any of these organizations are still around (the Oddfellows are, but I don’t know about the other ones). Times are so very different now.


Posted on December 11, 2011, in A History of Rochester Township 1853-1978, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Victoria, I really enjoy reading your grandmother’s memoirs. My great-grandfather lived in Rochester and South Woodslee for a time. My grand-aunts were married to a few of the names mentioned; Dewhurst, Wilcox, Ebbinghaus and Jarriet. My father, grandfather and great-grandfather and several others are buried at Woodslee/Jarriet Cemetery. My grandmother was French-Canadian as well but the only name in common is Tremblay, it was her mother’s maiden name.

    • Thank you so much, Earline .. the Bradt name is very familiar to me — especially in my very early days when I went to school in Woodslee (from 1963-1967) As are all the other names (my great aunt Beatrice Fenner married John Wilcox). Great to find your blog, too. Very nicely done. I’ll bookmark it and come back on a regular basis.

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