Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
Independent Order of Odd Fellows Building
Independent Order of Odd Fellows Building

INDEPENDENT ORDER OF ODD FELLOWS BUILDING, BENTON, SALINE COUNTY

SUMMARY

The building housing Saline Odd Fellows Lodge No. 174, and Corona Lodge No. 130, Encampment No. 40, Canton No. 4 was constructed in 1913 and purchased from E. Y. Stinson by Saline Odd Fellows Lodge No. 174 in 1914.In the early part of the twentieth-century Saline Lodge No. 174 membership included many prominent business and professional leaders, and thus played an important and integral role in developing the social fabric of the city. In 1913 Benton had a population of approximately 1,700 (1910 Census) and was a railroad center of considerable importance situated on the trunk lines of the Iron Mountain and Rock Island systems. Benton was also in close proximity to the two largest cities in the state, Little Rock and Hot Springs. As the city grew in size, so did I.O.O.F. Lodge membership, peaking in the 1940s. Due to its associations with the I.O.O.F. Lodge, the building is being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A with local significance.

ELABORATION

According to tradition, Benton had its beginning in 1833, being named for Thomas H. Benton, one of the noted statesmen of his day. Saline County having been created two years later, a board of commissioners, consisting of Rezin Davis, Green B. Hughes, and David Dodd, all prominent and hardy settlers, was elected to select the seat of government. Because of its central location, and being in the most thickly settled part of the county, Benton was chosen, the town site of eighty acres being deeded by Rezin Davis for the sum of $33.00 to the board of commissioners. Joshua Smith opened the first store in his log house, and as the county began to settle more rapidly, others engaged in mercantile businesses, each for a short time. James Moore and Geo. A. McDonald built the first hotel, but during Benton’s early days there were more saloons than business houses, and street fights and killings were common. After this, the town grew rapidly for several years. During the 1850s, there was a twenty-acre addition to the southern part, and in 1870 Field’s Addition of 160 acres was added to the western part. In 1872 what later became the Iron Mountain Railroad was built and Benton took its position as one of the prominent towns in the state. The Choctaw, later the Rock Island, Railroad was built through Benton during the 1890s.

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows was founded on the North American Continent in Baltimore, Maryland, on April 26, 1819 when Thomas Wildey and four members of the Order from England instituted Washington Lodge No. 1. By 1849 four Arkansas lodges (Little Rock, Helena, Fort Smith and Batesville) met in Little Rock and organized the Arkansas Grand Lodge. The total membership of the four lodges was 144. By 1913 there were 614 lodges in the state with more than 30,000 members. The Encampment, consisting of degrees higher than those of the Lodge, was well represented in the state. Connected with the Order is a semi-military degree called the Patriarchs Militant, the local organizations of which are called cantons. Corona Lodge No. 130, Encampment No. 40, Canton No. 4 also met in the Benton I.O.O.F. Building.

The building housing Saline Odd Fellows Lodge No. 174, and Corona Lodge No. 130, Encampment No. 40, Canton No. 4, was constructed in 1913 by E. Y. Stinson. Stinson had purchased the land from the Odd Fellows on April 19, 1913. On June 4, 1913, Stinson borrowed $7,000 from the Georgia State Savings Association of Savannah, likely to construct the building that now houses the I.O.O.F. Building and Saline County Republican Headquarters.

The Saline Odd Fellows Lodge No. 174 purchased their part of the building back from E. Y. Stinson on September 17, 1914. (They borrowed $3,400 from Mrs. Jessie Hockersmith and $1,355 from the Bank of Benton [2nd Mortgage].) On December 20, 1921, T. S. Cate, W. H. Evans and Will S. Orr, as trustees of Saline Lodge No. 174, Independent Order of Odd Fellows at Benton, Arkansas, and C. C. Rachels and W. C. Ledbetter, as a committee to act in connection with said trustees, executed a Warranty Deed for and in consideration of $4,000 sold the lower story of the building to D.R. Carraway and Lecy B. Carraway, his wife. (The first floor was again sold on November 16, 1943, when the heirs of the Carraway estate sold the lower story of the I.O.O.F. Building to Dewell Stirman.) The second story of the building was not sold or conveyed by the deed, but was retained by Saline Lodge No. 174 along with room for a stairway and the right to install, equip and maintain utility line and pipes to the second story. As a rule I.O.O.F. Lodges did not meet on the ground floor of a building. The 1913 journal of the Sixty-Fourth Annual Session of the I.O.O.F. Grand Lodge of Arkansas has a section entitled "Subordinate Lodge Decisions." One of the subordinate lodges asked, "Is it legal to organize a Lodge to meet on the ground floor?" The answer was, "I know of no law prohibiting it, but it is not usually permitted by Grand Masters because of the danger of not being sufficiently private and secure from intrusion."

In the early part of the twentieth-century, the Benton I.O.O.F. membership included many prominent business and professional leaders, and thus played an important and integral role in developing the social fabric of the city. Saline Lodge 174 sent D. C. Cox to the 1913 Sixty-Fourth Annual Session of the I.O.O.F. Grand Lodge of Arkansas. Cox’s obituary, in the October 25, 1933, edition of The Benton Courier, indicates he had been the sheriff of Saline County and a member of other fraternal organizations in Benton. The December 20, 1941, obituary of Dr. J. A. Burks, published in The Benton Courier, noted that, "…he was well and favorably known to all of the members of our brotherhood, having been a beloved member of our Lodge for more than a quarter of a century and rendered efficient services in several stations of our order, especially as Noble Grand for two terms…" In 1913 Saline Lodge No. 174 had 91 members, a significant number in light of the fact there were only 1,700 people living in Benton at that time. By 1920 membership had grown to 127.

Saline Lodge had the following subordinate lodges listed in the book entitled Seventy-First Annual Session, I.O.O.F. Grand Lodge of Arkansas 1920: Alumina Lodge (Bauxite) #245 with 31 members, Carmel Lodge (Bryant) #524 with 50 members, Congo Lodge #106 with 27 members, Belleville Lodge (Owensville) #575 with 6 members, and Traskwood Lodge #255 with 18 members. The Saline Lodge played an important role

in enabling citizens of the area surrounding Benton to establish social and business connections. The subordinate lodges used the I.O.O.F. Building in Benton for meetings and installation of officers.

I.O.O.F. installations of officers were noted social events. The January 1, 1914, edition of The Benton Courier contained a front page article stating, "On Saturday night, January 10, all the branches of the Odd fellows of Benton will hold a joint installation at their hall, after which there will be an old-time basket supper. All members and their families are expected to be present and to bring with them a well-filled basket of good things to eat, and they will have one of the best things that have ever been pulled off in Benton by any order and one that will long be remembered in Odd Fellowship. While this is a joint installation for the membership and their families, only a few outsiders may be invited by the committee. The lodge would be glad to make this a public affair and invite the general public had they room to do so." While these installations were limited mostly to the members and their families, the I.O.O.F. played an active role in sponsoring major holiday events for the entire community. The June 25, 1914, edition of The Benton Courier contained a large advertisement announcing a, "Big Fourth of July Celebration at Saline Riverside Park, Benton, Arkansas by the Benton I.O.O.F." The event featured, "Good Speaking, Amusement of All Kinds, Base Ball Games, and Many Athletic Contests, a Great Big Glorious Time for Everybody." After the United States entered World War I in 1941, I.O.O.F. Lodge No. 174 membership began to decline because of the great number of men called to military service.

Although membership declined, the I.O.O.F. Lodge would retain the ownership of the upper story until August 26, 1971, when they sold the upper story of the building to Dewell Stirman and his wife, Bernice M. Stirman. When the sale occurred, the entire building was again owned by one owner. On March 29, 1976, Dewell J. Stirman signed a quitclaim deed granting, conveying and selling all of his right, title, interest and claim to the I.O.O.F. Building to his wife, Bernice M. Stirman. Bernice would retain ownership until December 28, 1981, when she sold the I.O.O.F. Building to her two daughters and their husbands, Norma and David Stewart and Nancy and Philip Smith.

On December 10, 2002, David L. Stewart and Norma Stewart, husband and wife, and Philip Smith and Nancy Smith, husband and wife, signed a quitclaim deed granting, conveying and selling the I.O.O.F. Building to Saline County, Arkansas. The county currently retains ownership.

Although the I.O.O.F. owned and utilized the upper story of the building, the lower story had many uses as well. Norma Stewart recalled that when she was a child, a man named Uncle Tom Holiman ran a hardware store called Saline Hardware and Furniture in the building. There were law offices upstairs. Attorneys Kenneth Coffeltand John L. Hughes practiced law in those offices. Norma’s father, Dewell Stirman, worked there before World War II while he raised his family. Stirman bought the building in 1943 and ran the hardware store until his retirement. Stirman owned the building and O. L. Hunter and his wife, Alice, owned the stock. Alice was Norma’s aunt (her mother’s sister). Norma’s mother and her Aunt Alice kept the books and her father managed the store. Gerald Perry ran the store after Mr. Stirman retired. Norma, her husband, Dr. David Stewart, Norma’s sister, Nancy, and her husband, Dr. Phil Smith of E. Lansing, Michigan, bought the store from Bernice Stirman before Mr. Stirman passed away.

The Sanborn Maps for Benton also illustrate the following details about the uses of the lower story. In 1915 the lower story of the I.O.O.F. Building was a grocery store, and by 1921 it had changed uses to a general merchandise store. The use changed again by 1930, when the floor was used as a bank. Saline County currently owns the building, and has hopes of converting the building into County office space.

The Benton I.O.O.F. Lodge No. 174 has played a prominent role in the community for much of the first part of the twentieth-century. The Lodge’s membership included many prominent business and professional leaders, and thus played an important and integral role in developing the social fabric of the city. Although not currently in use by the Lodge, the building is still a good reminder of the prominence and influence of the Odd Fellows in the Benton area during the twentieth-century.

SIGNIFICANCE

The building housing Saline Odd Fellows Lodge No. 174, and Corona Lodge No. 130, Encampment No. 40, Canton No. 4 was constructed in 1913 and purchased from E. Y. Stinson by Saline Odd Fellows Lodge No. 174 in 1914. In the early part of the twentieth-century Saline Lodge No. 174 membership included many prominent business and professional leaders, and thus played an important and integral role in developing the social fabric of the city.In 1913 Benton had a population of approximately 1,700 (1910 Census) and was a railroad center of considerable importance situated on the trunk lines of the Iron Mountain and Rock Island systems. <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" /><st1:City w:st="on">Benton</st1:City> was also in close proximity to the two largest cities in the state, <st1:City w:st="on">Little Rock</st1:City> and <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Hot Springs</st1:City></st1:place>. As the city grew in size, so did I.O.O.F. Lodge membership, peaking in the 1940s. Due to its associations with the I.O.O.F. Lodge, the building is being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A with local significance.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1910 Census Records – University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Librarian Steve Perdue, Saline County Library.

1915, 1921, and 1930 Sanborn Maps of Arkansas – Fire maps of Arkansas by city. Saline County Library website. www.saline.lib.ar.us

Arkansas History Commission – Historic Charles Dove photographs which have been copied and archived by the commission - Search for historic photograph of I.O.O.F. Building.

The Benton Courier – March 27, 1913, January 1, 1914, June 25, 1914, October 25, 1933 on microfilm at Saline County Library.

Book C-70 and Deed Record Book 12, Page 596 – Saline County Circuit Clerk’s Office

Conversation with Earl Hilligas, current member of I.O.O.F. Benton Lodge 174.

Conversation with Norma Stewart, one of the former owners of the I.O.O.F. Building.

Gann Museum, Benton, Arkansas – Search for historic photograph of I.O.O.F. Building.

Herndon, Dallas T. Centennial History of Arkansas. Chicago – Little Rock: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1922 Vols. I, II.

I.O.O.F. Sovereign Grand Lodge Headquarters website. www.ioof.org

Journal of Proceedings, Seventy-First Annual Session, I.O.O.F. Grand Lodge of Arkansas, 1920. Grand Lodge I.O.O.F.

Journal of Proceedings, Sixty-Fourth Annual Session, Grand Lodge I.O.O.F., State of ArkansasHot Springs, Ark., Oct. 28 and 29, 1913. Grand Lodge I.O.O.F.

Lenders Title Company – Title Search documents.

Schmidt, Alvin J. The Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Institutions, Fraternal Organizations. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, a Division of Congressional Information Service, Inc. 1980.

University of Central Arkansas, Conway, Arkansas. The Arkansas Collection. Search for historic photograph.