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MEEKER | Having served as a vital trading post for all of Northwestern Colorado in its early history, the Town of Meeker has its share of very old buildings, all with their own history. The I.O.O.F building on the corner of 4th and Main is no exception.
Originally built in 1896-97 the building maintains its original late 19th and early 20th century “Revival Style” aesthetic, thanks to careful preservation and restoration efforts from Mountain Valley Bank who currently owns the property after purchasing it in 2004.
The letters “I.O.O.F.” stand for “International Order of Odd Fellows,” a fraternal organization dedicated to a mission to “visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan.”
The construction of “lodges” was a common practice for I.O.O.F., constructing thousands of buildings in the U.S. and around the world that could serve as orphanages, assisted care centers and more.
In addition to acting as meeting halls for the fraternal organization, they often served other roles like retail spaces, performance venues, community recreation centers, etc.
Meeker’s I.O.O.F building, now the location of Mountain Valley Bank (MVB), has had many uses in it’s 100-plus year history, acting early on as the location of Rio Blanco County government offices. Other uses of the building included a dance-hall, theatre, roller-skating rink, music venue, telephone company offices and more. It is one of the oldest buildings in town, even preceding the Meeker Hotel and other well known buildings. It has also been called “Star Theatre” and “Rooney Hall” in the past.
In 2014, the building was officially recognized in the National Department of Interior’s register of historic places, but not without a significant effort. Tawny Halandras, Market President of MVB’s Meeker location, headed up a research endeavor to collect application materials for the historic designation. She says she spent a lot of time digging through Meeker Herald archives to find any mention of the building. Many excerpts from the work are now displayed in the bank’s lobby area, to commemorate the building’s history. Other building related historical items at the bank include photographs, a pair of old skates and more.
The first mention of the I.O.O.F building in the Meeker Herald was in 1896, stating, “The Odd Fellows of Meeker are getting a ‘bump’ on themselves at least as far as their new hall is concerned.”
The second mention of the building chronicles a very interesting fact about the materials used in the original construction. It talks about how “Contractor Rourke fired the “largest brick kiln ever burned in this town,” resulting in 240,000 bricks used to build the building, most of which are still there, at least on the exterior of the building.
While researching the building’s history, Halandras also discovered a historical pattern in Meeker. In multiple instances Meeker School District has been forced to close the elementary school for safety reasons, leaving the district with the challenge of finding a temporary location to teach young students. Since its original construction, the I.O.O.F Valentine Lodge No. 47 has acted as one of those temporary school locations on three separate occasions throughout history.
Recognizing the historical significance of the building and I.O.O.F. in Meeker, MVB honors the order’s “Red Letter Day” which is on April 26. Not by accident, the date also coincides with the original dedication of Meeker’s I.O.O.F building in 1897.
Halandras said normally the bank would have an open house, but to avoid creating a crowd, they’ve come up with another way to honor the building later this month: a “penny drive.”
Halandras explained that the bank would challenge up to 12 businesses to collect pennies. Whichever business collects the most pennies by May 3, will win a large cheese and wine tray from Blanco Cellars.
Mountain Valley Bank will match up to 100,000 pennies to be donated between the Meeker Education Foundation and HopeWest. “Both of those groups really exemplify a lot of the same mission that the Odd Fellows did, like education and taking care of the old and the sick,” said Halandras. MVB will also hand out homemade treats to customers and visitors on Red Letter Day.
By LUCAS TURNER | email@example.com