A ‘Red Letter Day’ for historic building

The letters I.O.O.F. on the historic building that now houses Mountain Valley Bank stand for Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a philanthropic organization that operated in Meeker for more than a century. Friday, April 26 is the anniversary of the building's grand opening in 1897 and the bank is hosting an open house all day. Scan the ZAP code to see a progression of the building's construction.

April 26—is Red Letter Day for Meeker’s Mountain Valley Bank (MVB). Historically, festivals and holidays were marked in red on calendars, noting by color that there was something special occurring to pay attention to.  Since 2015, MVB has celebrated the anniversary of its renovated building being listed on the National Register of Historic Places with an all-day open house.

From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, the public is invited to stop by for refreshments and view the historic photos and displays inside the bank that create a timeline of events from the building’s beginning until today.

“It has quite a history that not even the old timers are completely aware of,” said bank president Tawny Halandras.

The letters IOOF on the outside of the building are a mystery to many.  The letters stand for Independent Order of Odd Fellows. While no one can say for certain why they came to be called “odd,” the organization can trace its roots back to the at least the 1600s.

The “History and Manual of Odd Fellowship” states: “The Odd Fellows started as a way to care for their members in a time when there were no systems in place to ensure one’s welfare, health or job protection. Back in the early days, insurance companies and government programs that provided sick and death benefits did not actually exist. Sickness or death of a breadwinner frequently meant poverty and the responsibility of burial depended on the family. During the 19th Century, life insurance was available only to the wealthy and beyond the financial ability of the average working class. For these reasons the Independent Order of Odd Fellows took on the responsibilities of visiting the sick, burying the dead, educating the orphans and caring for the widows as a way to support widows, orphans and families in need.”

When construction was completed in 1897, the two-story brick building in Meeker served as the home for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows Lodge, Valentine Lodge No. 47 for nearly 100 years, with a commercial business on the lower level and a community room in the rear one-story section.

The IOOF provided a social outlet for citizens in and ranchers near the small town of Meeker, and its members were supplied with insurance that medical assistance was available in the event of injury, and in the event of death, burial and survivor benefits were available.

The Aug. 15, 1896, issue of the Meeker Herald noted: “Workmen commenced on Thursday, tearing down the old McHatton adobe on the site of which will be erected the new Odd Fellows hall.”

The McHatton adobe was the former military barracks building.

The grand opening was held April 26, 1897, to coincide with the date of the North American Odd Fellows founding, 78 years earlier on April 26.

For the dedication and grand opening, the lodge planned a community parade and an evening ball to which the public was invited.

The IOOF also had a drama club and a women’s group called the Josephine Rebekah Lodge (The Ladies Auxiliary to the IOOF), both of which produced plays as fundraisers. The Meeker Herald reported in its Dec. 25, 1897, issue the performance of “Ragged Jack the Vagabond,” complete with a new orchestra. These performances continued through the 1960s.

As a point of note, alcohol was not permitted in the building. However, it was not unheard of that folks attending events from the 1940s to 1960s would slip out the side door to enjoy alcoholic beverages in their cars.

“Throughout its history, it has been used by the community, not only by IOOF members but by other organizations, clubs and even as classrooms when the nearby schools could not be used,” Halandras said.

The local telephone company occupied the building for a time as did the Rio Blanco County offices.

After the Meeker IOOF Lodge discontinued its charter in 1993, the lodge space was used as a private residence. The building has also carried the names of Rooney’s Hall and the Star Theater during its time.

In 2004, Mountain Valley Bank purchased the building and began restoring the building and rehabilitating it for use as a bank on the first floor and storage on the second floor. The original meeting space in the one-story section continues to serve as a location for community meetings.

Herald Times Staff