Another interesting feature of the new Mary C. Jenkins Community and Cultural Center is a podium with a rich historical background. The podium was found on the third story of what was once the Patterson building on Main Street when renovations were done on the building. The podium went to auction and was purchased by Stella Trapp, former owner and editor of the Transylvania Times, and then gifted to members of the Mary C. Jenkins Center Board. It was restored by removing layers of paint, repainting it the original white color, and replacing the top, which had been damaged by termites.
During the process of restoration, the podium was found to have a label underneath the top indicating that it had been built in 1908 by cabinetmaker Felix Norton, as well as lecture notes inside that were used by local businessman Jim Aiken during the time when he was the president of a chapter of the Odd Fellows.
Felix Norton was a well-known and respected cabinetmaker who lived in the area. One example of his work is in St. Philip’s Episcopal Church—the ornate Norman-style altar, complete with arches and monogrammed carvings was created by Norton. The front of the podium features a raised carving of three chain links, a symbol of the fraternal organization The Odd Fellows.
Fraternal organizations in the United States were segregated during the time that this podium was built. There were two different Odd Fellows groups in Transylvania County: Connestee Lodge No. 237 founded in 1903, which was a chapter of the all-white International Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF); and the earlier established French Broad Valley Lodge No. 3447 founded in 1890, which was a chapter of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows (GUOOF) and open to non-white people, which in Transylvania County at that time meant African Americans and those with mixed racial heritage.
Both Transylvania lodges were legitimate chapters of an organization that started in England in the 1700s. Non-white lodges that wished to start in the United States were not allowed to affiliate with white American lodges so would instead affiliate with chapters in England to circumvent the American racial restrictions. Both types of lodges had sister organizations; the women’s auxiliary group was called “Rebekahs” for the IOOF and was called “Ruths” for the GUOFF.
The Transylvania County chapter of the GUOOF (French Broad Valley Lodge) was organized in 1890 by Ed W. Pearson as Deputy with fifteen charter members and officers including Jim Aiken, Andew Sharp Sr., Alf Taylor, Henry Anthony, Conray Sharp, James K. Hemphill, Henry Walker, Jim Bostic, Harrison McJunkins, Brice Mills, Lee Kilgore, Sam Cunningham, and Osborne Kemp. Meetings were held above Jim Aiken’s store on West Main Street. Past accounts of the formation of this chapter have stated 1898 as the formative year, but a Brevard News article from May 8, 1903 reported on their 13th annual parade, which implies that the group began in 1890.
Just like all Odd Fellows groups, the French Broad Valley Lodge would help with assistance such as defraying expenses for burial, sickness, disability, and death of a spouse. Their guiding principles were the same as well, represented by the interlinked chain symbol associated with the organization representing friendship, love, and truth. Some images of three chain links would also include the initials F, L and T for that reason. A highlight of the year for the French Broad Valley Lodge was their annual parade in full regalia held every May followed by a social gathering at “the Baptist church,” presumably referring to Bethel Baptist.
The French Broad Valley Lodge No. 3447 of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows was an active group who supported their community in a number of ways. This group’s podium, now over a century old, is a proud reminder of the heritage of service and community-minded fellowship that was a hallmark of the civic group. Photographs and information for this column are provided by the Rowell Bosse North Carolina Room, Transylvania County Library. This article was written by Local History Librarian Laura Sperry. For more information, comments, or suggestions, contact NC Room staff at [email protected] or 828-884-1820.