Early Records of the Sacarissa Lodge, Independent Order of Odd Fellows

This collection consists of inactive records from the active Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) Lodge #307 (prior to 1999), which merged the #256 and #179 lodges, and records of several defunct lodges from the area, including the Niagara Falls Lodge #81 (ca. 1866-1950s), Bell Rose Lodge #179 (ca. 1950s), the LAPM Auxiliary Lodge #9 (ca. 1930s), the Youngstown Lodge #716 (ca. 1894-1960s), and the Lewiston Sacarissa Lodge #256 (ca. 1846). The collection includes constitutions, minute books, member cards and register books, building deeds, bibles, cash books, correspondence, ceremonial badges, and cards.

On November 24th, 1846, a special meeting was called for the transaction of uniforms. "On motion an Indian with the letters IO of OF overhead and three links underneath was adopted as the device of the seal of the Lodge." It is likely that this choice was made to honor either Sacarissa, the Tuscarora Turtle clan chief at the time, William Chew (also known as Sacarissa), or an earlier Sacarissa, "the venerable chief" who had been respected and beloved by many, a founding member of the Tuscarora Congregational church in 1806 and the legendary chief who, along with Solomon Longboard, had led the last exodus from the Carolina country.

The Sacarissa Lodge was an active organization for many years; however, it ceased to exist on September 24, 1857. On March 27, 1872, the lodge was reinstated as Sacarissa Lodge No. 307. On January 2, 1985, the Niagara Falls Lodge No. 81 closed and its membership was transferred to the newly named Sacarissa Bell Rose Lodge No. 307 in Lewiston, New York. The Sacarissa Bell Rose Lodge No. 307 continues to exist as a fully functioning lodge.

Throughout the years there have been over a dozen IOOF lodges in Niagara County, including Cataract Lodge, Lockport; Bellevue Lodge, Niagara Falls; Niagara Falls Lodge, Niagara Falls; Bell Rose Lodge, LaSalle; Fort Niagara Lodge, Youngstown; Wilson Lodge, Wilson; Forest Lodge, Sanborn; Newfane Lodge, Newfane; Gasport Lodge, Gasport; Electric City Lodge, North Tonawanda; Middleport Lodge, Middleport; and Barker Lodge, Barker. The earliest lodge in Niagara Falls was Niagara Falls Lodge No. 252. It was formed around 1850, and members met in the dining room of the Old Eagle Tavern on the west side of Main Street. In the late 1850s they surrendered their charter. For a time during the 1860s a German lodge was instituted in Suspension Bridge (now Niagara Falls). In 1869 public sentiment favored forming an English lodge once again, and in 1876 Niagara Falls Lodge No. 81 became an English lodge.

The Rebekahs were the female lodges associated with the IOOF and included the Riverdale Rebekahs (at one time the largest lodge in New York state), the Dorothy Bell Lodge, and the Rosebud Rebekah Lodge. Several Encampment branches existed in Niagara County as well. In Odd Fellowship one must go through the Encampment first before seeking entrance into the highest branch, the Patriarchs Militant.

As the various IOOF lodges in Niagara County began dismantling the records, regalia and charters were transferred to the Sacarissa Bell Rose Lodge No. 307, located at 732 Center Street, Lewiston, New York, where they remain today. These records contain membership applications, meeting minutes, death notices, newsletters, news clippings, photographs, costumes and regalia, monographs, correspondences, accounting records, property deeds, statistical records, visitors' registers, and various records from other non-IOOF groups who happened to meet in the buildings owned by the IOOF.

About the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF)

The organization name "Odd Fellows" comes from the fact that in 17th century England, the birthplace of the organization, it was considered odd for people of varying backgrounds (social and occupational) to come together to provide aid to those less fortunate. The Odd Fellows are also known as "The Three Link Fraternity" where the three links are friendship, love, and truth. The Odd Fellows pledge is: "Visit the sick; relieve the distressed; bury the dead and educate the orphan."

The IOOF movement in the United States is identified as having started around 1819 in Baltimore, Maryland. The founder of the American Odd Fellowship was Thomas Wildey, born in England in 1782. Wildey learned the trade of coach spring making at age 14. He joined Lodge #17 City of London Odd Fellows in 1804 and emigrated from England to the United States at age 35 in 1817. In 1818, Wildey met John Welch who had emigrated earlier from England to America. The two men found that they had both been members of Odd Fellows in England, and determining that such an organization could benefit the workers and craftsmen of this country, organized their first meeting in April 1819.

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows was thus founded in North America. The word "Independent" in the name was given by the English parent organization as part of the chartered title in the new chapter. Although several unofficial lodges existed in New York prior to 1819, the charter obtained by the Washington Lodge #1 (Wildey's lodge) established it as the first official Odd Fellow organization in North America. The Odd Fellows were perhaps the first fraternal organization to allow female membership with the establishment of the first Rebekah Lodge in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1851. A separate Grand United Order of Odd Fellows was established in 1843 for African Americans who wished to join the Odd fellows. This organization received its charter from the United Order in England because the Independent Order in the U.S. refused to allow any membership in its lodges, or lodges to be organized, that would include African Americans.

Prior to the development of modern day unions and government-sponsored programs, fraternal societies played a vital role in ensuring the economic security of their members by providing a broad range of social services. These included fraternal hospitals, sanitariums, children's homes, nursing homes, and cemeteries. In addition, some of these fraternal groups provided actuarially-based life insurance to their members, including providing assistance in the form of sickness, funeral, and widow's benefits. As forerunners to modern trade unions, patterns in membership and nature of activities of these societies reflect societal shifts away from an agrarian to an industrial economy in the early 20th century. The later records also demonstrate the impact of deindustrialization in many areas of the country like that of Western New York.

There is an incredibly detailed and interesting account of the history of economic security on the U.S. Social Security Web site that also explains how the insurance model of organizations like the IOOF helped move the country towards the social insurance system we know today as Social Security.

Collection owner: Lewiston Public Library; Nioga Library System