Black fraternal orders like the Odd Fellows (and similar organizations for women) were popular during the 19th century as places where blacks could hone their business and economic skills, as well as socialize. White Odd Fellows, however, objected to black chapters, and the first black lodge in 1843 had to get its charter from the older organization based in England. The English order also granted a charter to the first black Odd Fellows of Alexandria, in 1846.
Membership soared after the Civil War when restrictions on gatherings of African Americans were lifted. Odd Fellows tended to be young and entrepreneurial, and many established funds to provide loans to members who wanted to buy homes and businesses. In 1869, three Alexandria Odd Fellows —James Webster, Robert Darnell and John Credit— founded such a self-help organization, the Odd Fellows Joint Stock Company, to promote economic development in Alexandria's black neighborhoods.
In 1870, the Odd Fellows hired George Seaton, a prominent black builder, to renovate a building in the Bottoms, Alexandria's oldest black neighborhood, for use as a meeting hall. Part of the money for the project came from the Freedman's Bureau, which funded numerous African-American schools and hospitals during Reconstruction.
For more than a century, the Odd Fellows Hall hosted community and social events for African Americans. The building was especially important during the Jim Crow period (1877-1965), when African Americans were barred from using many public spaces.
Converted into condominiums in the 1980s, the three-story brick building is distinguished by a slate mansard roof and decorative Second Empire detailing above the entrance and window frames, testifying to Seaton's skills as a master carpenter. The Odd Fellows Hall is located on the west side of S. Columbus Street in the "Bottoms." It is one of the largest structures on the block and is the only one of its kind remaining from this period.
Geographical and Contact Information
411 S. Columbus Street