St. Luke and Odd Fellows Hall

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Odd Fellows after restoration side

St. Luke and Odd Fellows Hall is a museum of African American Culture and a former social gathering spot for the African American community. In 2009 the town restored the hall and officially reopened its doors. The exhibit on display is titled From Civil War to Civil Rights, chronicling the lives of African Americans throughout the years, some of whom lived in Blacksburg's historic New Town.

The museum is free and open to the public by appointment. Small groups may also reserve the space for meeting and events. For more information call 540-558-0746 or email info@blacksburghistory.org.


History

On March 28, 1905, James Anderson, John Anderson, Gordon Mills, John Rollins, Grandville Smith, and Robert Eaves met at 8:30. James Anderson proposed to the gathered members of the Tadmore Light Lodge 6184 of Grand United Order of the Odd Fellows to purchase a small lot on the corner of Gilbert and Barger streets in the center of New Town, an African American community in Blacksburg, Virginia. The price of $95.00 was agreed upon, as was the formation of a joint stock company with the Saint Francis Council of the Right and Worthy Grand Council of the Independent Order of Saint Luke.

Thus began the history of what is commonly called the St. Luke and Odd Fellows Hall in Blacksburg. In addition to the Odd Fellows and the Order of St. Luke, the Busy Bee Society and the Household of Ruth Lodge #5533 of the Grand United Order of the Odd Fellows also met in the new hall that was to become the social center of New Town and the only public gathering place for African American citizens.

There are many fond memories of the dinners, dances, fashion shows, bingo parties, mock weddings, Easter egg hunts, ball games, and a host of activities that occurred on a weekly basis in the hall from the beginning of the 20th Century through the mid 1960s.


Museum

The lodge fully occupied the 25-foot by 45-foot lot. It appears to have been built by volunteer labor in a Greek Classical style; it is precisely symmetrical with entry doors on two sides facing the streets. The windows are placed so that the building is well lit throughout. The two-story frame structure has an open gathering room with high ceilings and an ample stage. The second floor, reached by narrow stairs in the front of the building, was reserved for ceremonial functions and organizational meetings. The building is remarkably well preserved due to its solid and skillful original construction, as well as the minimal modifications by its occupants. The original plaster, paneling, windows, some trim, stage, and first electric lights remain.

The St. Luke and Odd Fellows Hall has strong sentimental meaning to the African American community and for all of Blacksburg. It reminisces of a time when the Black community was strong and self-sufficient. There were numerous Black businesses that lined Main Street, College Avenue, Progress Street, Roanoke Street and streets adjacent to Virginia Tech. Members of this community were instrumental in the successes of Blacksburg as a town and of Virginia Tech as an educational institution.

For over 60 years, Odd Fellows Hall served the community well. It was literally the only place black citizens could hold social events, gather for music and enjoyment, and create a sense of community outside the local churches. When desegregation came to Blacksburg in the late 1960s, Odd Fellows Hall was largely abandoned as a social center and the organizations lost membership as interests shifted away from secret fraternities and sororities.

In the late 1960s or early 1970s the remaining leadership passed to Mrs. Ethel Dobbins who permitted the hall to be used by local business people mostly for storage and woodworking. For the next 40 years the hall was maintained by its occupants with Mrs. Dobbins’ permission.
 

The Preservation

On September 30, 2004 Montgomery County Judge Grubbs, in response to a petition presented to the court, appointed Beatrice Walker, Walter Lewis, and Aubrey Mills trustees of the Odd Fellows Hall. Efforts to preserve the Hall began in 2002 but faced many obstacles before the appointment of trustees two years later. Based on extensive discussions by legacy relatives, former organization members, and interested citizens, and explorations of strategies to preserve and restore the Odd Fellows Hall, the trustees decided to donate the property to the Town of Blacksburg. The trustees made this offer to the Town with the conditions that the Odd Fellows Hall be restored and dedicated as a part of the Town's museum. A principal point in the donation offer was that the property be dedicated to collecting, preserving, and presenting the contributions of Blacksburg's African American citizens to the larger Blacksburg community. In addition, the offer required that the hall obtain state and federal historic designation before its transfer to the town. This offer was accepted by Blacksburg Town Council and the mayor signed a resolution agreeing to the conditions requested by the trustees.

In February of 2005, the Town of Blacksburg hired Commonwealth Architects, a Richmond firm, to perform a feasibility study of the building by studying its current condition and recommending plans for its restoration.

To meet the requirements of the donation offer and further protect the hall, the Town of Blacksburg and interested citizens in 2004 applied to the Department of Historic Resources in Richmond to have the hall designated a Virginia landmark. The Odd Fellows Hall was placed on the Virginia Landmarks Register on June 1, 2005 and on the National Register of Historic Places on July 27, 2005. After receiving historic designation, the Odd Fellows Hall was officially deeded to the Town in August 2005.

St. Luke and Odd Fellows Hall Location Map  

Remembrances of St. Luke and Odd Fellows Hall

St. Luke and Odd Fellows Hall Grand Opening Celebration

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