New Life For Old Schoolhouse Is Goal For Odd Fellows

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Historic preservation

The Odd Fellows Hall at Namskaket and Rock Harbor Road.  FILE PHOTO

ORLEANS There's really nothing odd about the Odd Fellows.

“It's a secret society with no secrets,” said Paul Davies, a former Noble Grand of the Orleans lodge.

The Odd Fellows Hall, the tall building at the meeting of Namskaket and Rock Harbor roads, will host a Vintage Market Friday from noon to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you haven't been inside the former Northwest Schoolhouse, it's a good opportunity to take a peek as you check out the antiques for sale.

“Repurposed and salvaged pieces, 'natural' and rustic objects for the home, country, farmhouse style are really big right now,” sale organizer Katelyn Eldridge wrote in an email. She said the Hall “is such a beautiful historic building and it is a perfect fit for the market, part of that experience.”

“Repurposing” is much on the minds of those responsible for the upkeep and preservation of the Hall. Odd Fellows meetings are still held on the second floor twice a month, but so much more goes on in the old building, including AA and Rotary meetings and preparation by Lower Cape Outreach of holiday gifts for the needy. There are plans for even more uses to help return the place to a more prominent role in the community, including an outdoor stage.

The only original remaining schoolhouse in Orleans tends to attract supporters who can't resist sharing the space. The lodge's current Noble Grand, Madalyn Hillis-Dineen, DJ'd a dance there with her husband and “fell in love with the building,” she wrote in an email. “Paul (Davies) told us about Odd Fellows and their philosophy of helping those who are in need. Together we are stronger.”

Davies is proud to note that the Hall is the largest recipient of Community Preservation funds from the town. That motivates him and others to seek funds, grants, and donations to make the building handicap-accessible.

“Once it is, we hope to use it as a place for kids to gather to explore their creativity through the arts,” Hillis-Dineen wrote. “We've been in discussion with a group that would like to use it as a location for alternative peer groups to help kids keep away from drugs, and possibly even a recovery high school. We are excited at the prospect of the building housing a school once more since that was how it began.”

Behavioral Health Innovators, Inc. will host a film about alternative peer groups and recovery high schools Oct. 18 at 6:30 p.m. at Nauset Regional Middle School, followed by a panel discussion.

Another, complementary use of the old schoolhouse could be Project Seaway, which Davies says would introduce young people to the maritime trades (he's part owner of a boat down at Rock Harbor). With a commercial kitchen in the building, young people could learn related occupations. Davies also wants to see Community Preservation funds used to buy historic homes which could be fixed up and offered as affordable housing, providing more training for young men and women.

All of this grows out of a sense of a community caring for its own. Before the advent of Social Security and the Great Society programs, Davies noted, organizations such as the Odd Fellows lent a hand when a member came on hard times. “It was always a charity,” he said. “A mutual aid society.” At one time, he said, “there were about 150 families associated with the building through the Odd Fellows. The only missing ingredient now is people.”

The Odd Fellows meet at 7 p.m. on the first and third Wednesday of the month. The next meeting in Orleans is scheduled for Oct. 18. Tax-deductible contributions to fund-raising efforts for the building may be made at www.northwestschoolhouse.org