History of the odd fellows home

The Odd Fellows Home District is architecturally and historically significant for the comprehensive way in which it represents the historic development of the Missouri Odd Fellows complex from 1900 to the present. In terms of architecture, the district is important to show the intact examples of Jacobethan Revival structures, one of which was designed by William B. Ittner, a nationally recognized architect of this style. In terms of social and humanitarian contributions, the resources document the emerging concept of care by a fraternal organization for the elderly, indigent, and orphaned at the turn of this century. Several residents were integral in the history of the Missouri International Order of the Odd Fellows, or were civic leaders in their hometowns.


The Odd Fellows' Home complex is architecturally significant as a collection of Jacobethan Revival educational and institutional buildings. The three remaining historic buildings, the Administration Building, the Old Folks Building and the Old Hospital, were all designed by different architects over a period of twenty-three years, yet all are cohesive in their design and embody the distinctive characteristics of the style. After the first structure used as the home was burned in February, 1900 in an attempt to unthaw frozen pipes (click here to read first-hand accounts of the fire), the Grand Lodge of Missouri I.O.O.F. advertised for designs of a "completely fireproof" building to house offices, classrooms, dormitories for the orphans, and rooms for the elderly. The architects selected were Albert Knell and William B. Ittner of St. Louis. The latter is an important figure in Missouri architecture. As Commissioner of School Buildings in St. Louis from 1897-1910 and "consulting architect" to the Board of Education until 1914, Ittner had an opportunity to achieve prominence with the design of fifty St. Louis school buildings. In addition, Ittner's firm produced hundreds of schools in over 25 states. While most Jacobethan designs were for houses, some feel the style had its greatest impact on educational architecture at the turn of the century. Ittner's series of schools in St. Louis are viewed as worthy examples of this style, and comparison with those would place the Odd Fellows complex in its statewide architectural context. The Administration Building designed by Ittner set the precedent for the rest of the Odd Fellow complex buildings. Although designed by other, later, architects, the other buildings reference this unique style. Ittner's impact on Missouri architecture is only now becoming recognized but still awaits comprehensive scholarly treatment.

There were three other buildings designed in this style on the site. One, the School Building, was torn down in the early 1950s to make way for the newer hospital. The School Building was built in 1904, and designed by J. H. Felt & Co. of Kansas City, who also designed some later additions at the Odd Fellows. The Old Folks Building, at first called the Old Folks Pavilion, was designed by E. C. Eckle and built during 1907-1908 in order to accommodate the growing number of applications for admittance. The Old Hospital was built in 1923, and designed by Samuel M. Hitt of Kansas City. Viewed together, the three remaining buildings not only document the evolution of this style over a quarter of a century, but the typical building technology and materials for institutional structures as well.


Social and Humanitarian Aspects

In the social and humanitarian area, the Odd Fellows Home is significant as an early 20th century example of a statewide home providing care and education for the orphans and elderly members of a fraternal organization. At the time it was built, there was only one other such home in the state, the Masonic Home in St. Louis. One of the main reasons for the existence of the International Order of Odd Fellows (and other fraternal societies) was to provide care of its members, widows, and orphans. The establishment of statewide homes such as the Missouri Odd Fellows in Liberty was viewed as a form of health and life insurance; as long as members were in good standing, they could count on the Odd Fellows taking care of them or their family if misfortune should arise. This was, therefore, not looked upon as charity. To insure against charity residents at the home were expected to work on the 240-acre farm if physically able. This emerging concept of self-help was just developing in "almshouses" during the latter half of the 19th century in Missouri. The almshouse tradition was different from the then prevalent boarding-out or leasing system of relief in which the poor were sent to live with various families. The almshouse method was to buy or lease land, and bring all the poor under one roof. Unfortunately, the structure in which the inmates were housed in Missouri at that time was often very crude. The Odd Fellows Home was significant in that when it was built, it was a modern facility, complete with heating, plumbing, and other conveniences. Fraternal organization homes were different from almshouses in other ways: both children and the elderly resided on the same site. For the most part, children were kept out of almshouses, due in part to the fact that orphanages were well-established institutions by this time. The fraternal organization method of caring for their own less-fortunate was significantly different from the care received by the general public in the 19th century. From its inception until the advent of the social programs of the 1930s, the Missouri I.O.O.F. home was clearly associated with this up-to-date, benevolent method of caring for members of a fraternal society.

Historic Background

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.) is one of the largest fraternal and benevolent orders in the United States. The chief purpose of the Order of Odd Fellows is to give aid, assistance, and comfort to its members and their families.

IOOF is a secret society, and has its own system of rites and passwords. The first lodge was organized in Missouri in 1835 and incorporated in 1843. The Odd Fellows Home was established for the care and maintenance of members of the Order who were unable to earn a livelihood by reasons of age or affliction, those who were indigent, and for the wives and orphans of members. In order to be admitted, members must have been in continuous good standing in their lodges for five years prior to their submission for acceptance into IOOF. Application was made through the member's lodge. The list of past residents includes some of the early founding members of Missouri I.O.O.F. and Rebekah lodges, as well as many leading citizens of small towns across Missouri.

In 1883, the first petition to establish a state Odd Fellows Home was recorded at a session of the Grand Lodge. In 1894, bids for sites were requested, and seven cities submitted proposals. Liberty was finally selected as the site of the home on the 4th ballot. As inducement to locate in Liberty, the City and Liberty Lodge #49 offered $17,000 as consideration, and the Liberty School Board offered free tuition to Liberty High School for the children reared at the home. Manheim Goldman, Liberty business owner and twice mayor, is credited with the effort to bring the Odd Fellows Home to the area. Mr. Goldman, known as the first and "only Hebrew who ever spent many years in Liberty", realized that the establishment of a statewide home and school, albeit for a secret Christian society, would be a credit to a community already known for its educational system. The residents apparently agreed, for this was not the first effort Liberty made to secure such an institution, nor was it to be the last. In 1888, the City offered $30,000 in land and money for the Masonic Orphans Home, but failed in its efforts. 

The Winner Hotel was built in Liberty in 1887, known as the year of the "Great Boom" in Clay County real estate. One of the largest real estate owners was the Winner Investment Company, purchaser of 18,000 acres of Clay County land. The hotel was first called the Reed Springs Hotel by a syndicate of investors who built the plush hotel on the Reed Sulphur Spring site. Hoping that the healing properties of the mineral water would produce as much interest as it did in nearby Excelsior Springs, an elaborate subdivision, "Reeds Springs", was platted in 1888. Plans called for a hotel, half-mile race track, park areas, and an area for homes. Only the hotel was built, along with wooden pagodas over the springs, gravel paths, and a boathouse on the lake. In 1891, W. E. Winner, the well-known investor and promoter, bought the hotel and 12 acres, changing the name to the "Winner Hotel". The hotel was sold to the Odd Fellows in 1895 as Mr. Winner's fortune declined, and by 1897, with the depression and sale of an additional 9000 acres to satisfy bond debts, the "Winner Boom" was over.

The Odd Fellows members supported the cost of running the Home by paying an assessment tax. In 1899, this yearly tax was 50 cents per capita. After the frame structure of the original Winner Hotel was destroyed by fire in 1900, each member paid an additional assessment of $1.00 per member to cover the cost of the new building. Donations were always welcome, and lodges later became responsible for their own members and their rooms.

The Old Folks Home Building

In the Old Folks Home Building, located in the center of the property, the signs on the doors tell which individual lodge was the benefactor of the room and its inhabitant. The Home was also supported by the produce of the farm. After purchasing all the surrounding farmland on which it had options, the Board decided in 1900 to take control of all 247 acres of farmland at the Home and cease renting out portions of the land. It was felt that the home could be self-supporting through farming. By 1905, the farm operation had grown to the point that a local farmer was hired to produce better results. Because the farm was important to the existence of the Home and for reasons stated earlier, many of the children and adults helped with daily chores. Although the farm reports were often incomplete, they give a good example of the size of the farming operations at the home. In 1901, it produced 838 bushels of oats, 2,000 bushels of corn, 500 bushels of Irish potatoes, 3 tons of hay, 7,863 gallons of milk, 1,714 Ibs. of butter, and 325 dozen eggs. Livestock included 3 horses, 52 cattle, 175 poultry, and 15 hogs. Nearly everything was kept for consumption at the Home, but occasionally some sales brought in needed revenue.

The profile of the typical resident changed over the history of the Home. In the early years, children far outnumbered adults. In 1912, 52 residents were adults, and 111 were children. Most of the children were orphans, and the average adult age was in the 50s. By the late twenties however, the proportion of adults increased dramatically. From 1932 to 1933, there were 236 adults and 98 children (the largest number ever). Some were people who were just "down on their luck", undoubtedly due to the economics of the period, and would stay until financially able to make it on their own. A greater number of non-orphan children were also admitted during this time, as their families were unable to care for them. The decline in numbers at the Home began after the advent of social programs for the poor and elderly in the 1930s. Newly developed local nursing homes were more attractive alternatives to the elderly, enabling them to remain near friends and family. By 1951, there were no longer any children at the Home, and most applicants were permanent hospital patients.

The old hospital building

The first need for Home-based hospital care was recognized by 1905. Because the Grand Lodge made it impossible for the Home to reject an applicant due to a physical disability, many residents required hospital care beyond that provided by the staff nurse and doctor. Hospital facilities were moved to the Old Folks Building, but by 1910 it was apparent that a separate hospital building would be needed. It wasn't until 1923 that the hospital (now known as the Old Hospital) was constructed on the northern end of the property. For a period, the hospital was the only medical facility in Liberty; it even had its own laboratory. The hospital soon proved to be outdated, as the halls and doorways were not wide enough to permit easy movement of bed patients and equipment. In 1955, the Nursing Home was built. The Grand Lodge voted at that time to permit the admittance of paying, non-members to the hospital.

The old school

The Odd Fellows Home provided an excellent basic education for the children and orphans of Missouri Odd Fellows, and encouraged development in other areas as well. In 1908, the first instrumental music classes were offered and eventually a boys' band was organized which made annual tours of the state. The education received at the Home was often much superior to what the children might have received in their hometowns. High school attendance, not a typical option for children at the turn of the century, was a matter of course at the Home, and even college tuition was provided as early as the 1920s. By the early 1940s, the decrease in children resulted in discontinued use of the School Building, and classes were moved back to the Administration Building. By 1951, there were no longer any children at the Home.  The Old School building was eventually demolished and no longer stands on the property.

Family life at ioof

Beyond the basic necessities of food, shelter, medicine, and education for the children, the Home attempted to enrich the residents' lives in other ways. Music and literary recitals by the children were performed for the elderly. Books and subscriptions to newspapers and magazines were always available. In the 1920s, several of the boys constructed crystal radio sets. "Moving pictures" were provided free of charge. Sunday School meetings were conducted at the Home, and transportation was provided to the church service of choice in Liberty. Holidays were always celebrated, often complete with presents and refreshments provided by the Home or from donations of lodges. A monthly dinner was held celebrating any child having a birthday during that month.


As the chief purpose of the Odd Fellows' society was to give aid, assistance and comfort to members and families, the Grand Lodge of Missouri helped in times of death as well as in sickness and misfortune. A cemetery plot, headstone, and burial services were all part of the large system of benefits that were available to the Odd Fellows. Usually, the elderly residents of the Home who had no other arrangements were buried there. Current IOOF members also had the option to be buried at the Liberty complex.  The cemetery is currently located on the northern end of the property.  The cemetery contains the remains of nearly 600 people.  Just outside the cemetery gate sits a memorial dedicated by the Liberty IOOF lodge to honor members who were killed in World War II.