Said to be Redwood City’s oldest fraternal organization, the local Odd Fellows lodge is marking 160 years—in beautifully remodeled space and is looking to attract new members now that Covid rules are allowing people to meet in person. Odd Fellowship originated in Europe but came to California with the Gold Rush in 1849. Bay View Lodge 109 was one of the offshoots of those Mother Lode lodges, and the first six members banded together in 1862 to establish it in Redwood City. Charter members included some the pioneers of the town and San Mateo County, including lawyer Charles N. Fox. The teachings of Odd Fellowship were to “visit the sick, relieve the distressed, to bury the dead and educate the orphan.” For about 20 years, the lodge met in rented quarters on Main Street, opposite the present Odd Fellows Hall at 839 Main, which was dedicated in 1895. For decades the lodge continued to grow and initiated hundreds of members.
Gerry Williams, who grew up in the Friendly Acres neighborhood, joined the “junior” organization as a teen-ager. He’s been a member almost his whole life and currently holds the office of chaplain. “They weren’t a high falutin’ organization,” he says. “They had laborers, hod carriers, cowboys.” If an Odd Fellow moved to a new town, the local lodge would help him find a job and housing. “That,” says Williams, 79, “was the selling point” of the organization which was about neighbors helping neighbors. An early version of a social network? The organization also established both blood and eye banks, a home in Gilroy for orphans and another one in Los Altos for the elderly. With the Odd Fellows’ ritualistic ceremonies and degrees of initiation, Williams says it was fun seeing the grown-ups dressed up in formal attire in a precise seating arrangement for their meetings.
As is true of many tradition-rich fraternal organizations, the number of Odd Fellows worldwide has dwindled, and so has local lodge membership (about 30.) In addition to developing longstanding friendships, Williams says the organization does a lot of good in the community. The Bay View Lodge donates at least $50,000 a year to charities. One beneficiary, Street Life Ministries, held a fundraiser in the refurbished lodge in April. About a decade ago, the building suffered about $350,000 in damages from a fire at the space next door. But the Odd Fellows did a lot of renovations and have rented part of the ground-floor space to a barbershop. They’re also eager to let people know that they’ve upgraded the main hall, kitchen, bar area and restrooms, which are available to rent for various-sized events. For information, go to bayviewlodge109.org.