The fraternal organization of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (BPOE) established a presence in New Castle in August 1887, when Elks Lodge #69 was built at the southwest corner of N. Mills and E. Falls Streets. It was one of the earliest Elks homes built in the country.
The Elks had an interesting origin. In 1867 a group of New York City-based actors and entertainers, in a bid to skirt laws against alcohol sales on Sundays, formed a social club (i.e. drinking club) known as the “Jolly Corks.” Soon after the club’s focus became much nobler in nature and was changed to become a charitable and service-oriented organization aimed at assisting the less fortunate people in the theater industry.
In seems that in about early 1896, due to a series of internal squabbles, the charter was surrendered and the lodge was disbanded. However in August 1898 the former Elks in New Castle reorganized and elected new officers – but I believe the formal approval for reinstatement did not come until late 1899. The old charter/lodge number of #69 was returned to the New Castle Elks.
As the Elks organization in New Castle grew in became necessary to plan for a larger lodge building. In the summer of 1913 plans were finalized for a magnificent three-story brick structure designed by local architect Frank Foulk, who also designed the North Hill mansions of tin mill mogul George Greer and banker Alexander Crawford Hoyt. The plans called for the old lodge to be torn down within a year or so and the grand new lodge to be built in its place.
The new lodge, one of the grandest buildings in all of New Castle, was dedicated during a parade and ceremony on Wednesday, July 18, 1916. Elks from all over the region were on the hand for the lavish dedication. The new building had a large basement and three full stories, with a large meeting/dancing hall on the top floor, a billiards parlor, social rooms, a two-lane bowling alley, a kitchen and dining area, locker rooms and shower facilities, and a reading and writing rooms. The building was in use for many decades as the Elks organization, with a modern-day membership of over a million people, grew in size and scope.
In the 1980’s, faced with the crunch of the tough economic times, the Elks vacated the building in downtown New Castle and moved into a more modest home on S. Cascade Street. The grand old Elks building was sold to the city in 1990 and its future was placed in doubt. Unfortunately the abandoned building fell into a rapid state of deterioration.
In early 2011, despite passionate attempts by several historical groups to preserve and rehabilitate the aging structure, the city decided to demolish it as it was becoming a safety issue. GEM Building Contractors and Developers Inc., which submitted a low bid of $113,426, was contracted to complete the demolition. Asbestos removal, which was concentrated in the basement level, was started in early July, and the demolition began on Wednesday, August 10, 2011. Within a few weeks the old lodge was torn down and basically cleared away. I agree with Councilman Richard Besharo you told the New Castle News, “It’s amazing that everyone is coming to save the Elks building that has been deteriorating for 15 years.” The Elks lodge – one of my absolute favorite buildings in all of Lawrence County – should have been saved long ago.
To read a short article about the reorganization of the Elks in 1898 click on: ELKS REORGANIZE ARTICLE. To read the October 1902 obituary of New Castle resident James Brown White, described as possibly the oldest Elks member in the country, click on WHITE OBITUARY. To read about the resignation of the Elks club steward in 1906 click on: ELKS CLUB STEWARD RESIGNS ARTICLE. To learn more about the plans for the new Elks lodge designed in 1913 click on: ELKS’ NEW HOME ARTICLE. To read about the upcoming dedication of the new Elks Home to be held in July 1916 click on: TO DEDICATE ELKS’ HOME ARTICLE. To read the naming of the local businessmen to head up a reception committee for the opening of the new Elks lodge click on: ELKS NAME RECEPTION COMMITTEE ARTICLE. Read about the grand opening of new Elks Lodge in July 1916: GRAND OPENING ARTICLE.
Another old postcard, postmarked in Sept 1922, showing the impressive Elks Lodge #69 in downtown New Castle. Full Size
A drawing of the proposed Elks Lodge in New Castle that was designed by architect Frank Foulk. (1915) Full Size
Architect Frank Foulk’s rendering of the proposed lodge. (c1914) Full Size
Postcard of the grand Elks Lodge, which was dedicated during a lavish ceremony in July 1916. (c1917)Full Size
A cornerstone shows the date the Elks were first organized in New Castle. (Jul 2010)
A view of the side of the building, with plants growing out of the gutters. (Jul 2010)
Another view of the front steps. (Jul 2010)
The side of the building. (Jul 2010)
The view from across the nearby parking lot. (Jul 2010)
The front of the cornerstone (shown above in pic #7) marks the year construction was started. (Jul 2010)
The crumbling ballroom area of the old Elks Lodge about a year prior to the demolition. (Photo courtesy of Matthew Christopher Murray – check out his http://www.abandonedamerica.us/ website for more great photos). (2010)Full Size
Looking across E. Falls Street at where the Elks building once stood. (Dec 2011)
Another view looking south along N. Mill Street. (Dec 2011)
The new Elks Lodge on Cascade Street. (Aug 2012) Full Size