The Odd Fellows history goes back to Merry Old London England, and is believed to have started in a pub called The Seven Stars. The earliest known records of Odd Fellowship are dated 1748. It was comprised mostly of those crafts that did not belong to a guild. It is believed that being “guild-less” is where the word “Odd” originated within this fraternal organization. These were the Odd trades, such as undertakers. By 1842 the lodges in the United States had drifted far apart from their motherland, as such the United States opted to declare its own independence from England. It was made formal in 1843 when the Grand Lodges of the U.S. began operating under the name Independent Order of Odd Fellows. In 1853 San Francisco chartered its first Odd Fellow lodge in California, with Nevada City chartered as lodge #16 in the same year. The Odd Fellows hall that currently stands in Nevada City was constructed in 1872-1873 and opened it’s doors on January 1873. Prior to the current structure located on Broad Street, there were two other grand buildings that were built; one in 1853 which was burned in the “Great Fire” that destroyed over most of what was then downtown Nevada City, well over 250 buildings were destroyed, and a second grand structure built in 1863. The second structure was heralded in the press to have been the fairest Odd Fellows hall this side of San Francisco. It was enjoyed for a very short time, only 6 months, before another large fire swept through the city and destroyed again more than 250 buildings. The final building and the one that currently still is home to Odd Fellows Lodge #16 was completed in 1873. It is one of the oldest buildings in Nevada City that has been continuously running as it was intended when built.
The Odd Fellows history in the Gold Rush era was one of support and charity coming from primarily the wealthier and well known citizenry of our fair town. Its first Noble Grand was Aaron Sargent, who was a successful miner, California Congressman and ultimately U.S. Senator. The membership of the lodge was compromised of many miners as being an Odd Fellow meant you were afforded workers compensation insurance if you were taken ill or hurt during mining. If you passed away you were buried by the Odd Fellows and their charter was to take care of Widows and Orphans, so your family would survive, if you did not. Thier motto, Friendship, Love and Truth are their guiding principles. When you enter an Odd Fellow hall you are to leave your strife and politics behind and come together to support and love one another as sisters and brothers.
In 1991 The Independent Order of Odd Fellows admitted membership into its fraternal organization of women. Their by-laws clearly now state that no one is to be discriminated against by race, creed, color, religion or gender. We are an open fraternal organization bound by a higher Universal power to link us all through Friendship, Love, and Truth as we are bound soul to soul.
Ultimately, the Three links of Odd Fellowship provide a ladder by which a brother or sister may climb to the pinnacle of virtue. We hope to integrate this belief system and character into our community through service and good works.
NOTE: Much of the above history is taken from Michael Greenzeiger’s Book, “The Odd Fellows Primer” and excerpts from The Centennial 1873-1973 Nevada City Odd Fellows Hall Pamphlet.