History of the Oddfellows Building

The Odd Fellows Hall in Covington, Kentucky is located at the northeast corner of Fifth Street and Madison Avenue. It was constructed in 1856 by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows Lodge, and was the center of Covington’s civic and political life for most of the Victorian era. When the American Civil War ended, victorious Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was honored with a reception there.

In 1900, the body of William Goebel, the only U.S. governor to be assassinated in office, lay in state there, as an estimated 10,000 people filed past.

In the 1950s, a roller skating rink filled the second-floor ballroom, famous for its 25-foot (7.6 m)-high ceiling suspended by a truss system.

It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.[1] It was deemed notable as “one of the city’s earliest commercial structures.” The building was assessed to be “especially noteworthy in the method of construction. In order to accommodate large, unbroken interior spaces, iron tie rods were employed to support the floors. In addition to its architectural distinction, the structure is a well-known local landmark having served as the center for both civic and social activities in downtown Covington.”[2]

In May 2002, a major fire almost destroyed the entire building. It was reduced to its front facade, back wall, and a three-story column of smoke and charred debris. A new team has restored the hall, with its first tenant taking occupancy in March 2006.

National Register Description from 1980

Located on the northeast corner of Fifth and Madison streets, the Odd Fellows Hall occupies a prominent location in the center of the business and commercial section of downtown Covington, Kentucky. Covington, with a population of 52,000 according to the 1970 census, is situated in northern Kentucky, directly south across the Ohio River from Cincinnati.

The building follows the standard design formula for tall commercial buildings of the nineteenth century, divided vertically into three units corresponding to the base, shaft, and capital of a column. This design creates the illusion of height around a solid building mass. The ground floor houses five shops, some retaining original cast iron storefronts, with brick pilasters extending from the second to the third floors on the south and west street elevations. The tall, narrow windows are boarded up, and pedimented hood molds surmount the second-story windows. Smooth brick surfaces serve as the architrave and frieze, with a bracketed cornice completing the building. A narrow stone beltcourse provides the only horizontal emphasis.

The second and third floors, currently used for storage, once featured an auditorium on the second floor with an elaborate plaster relief cornice. The building’s innovative design replaces center beams with iron rods supporting the floors, allowing for vast open interior spaces. The third floor includes a Lodge room, a supper room, a library, and anterooms. The nominated acreage comprises the city lot on which the building rests.

The Odd Fellows Hall, erected in 1856, is one of Covington’s earliest commercial structures and stands out as a visual landmark in the Madison Street business section. Its massive scale and corner location make it significant both architecturally and historically. The building’s construction method, using iron tie rods to support floors and create large interior spaces, adds to its distinction. Beyond its architectural significance, the Odd Fellows Hall has been a central hub for civic and social activities in downtown Covington.

Covington’s growth from its settlement in 1801, fueled by German immigrants from 1840 onward, transformed it into a thriving urban commercial center. The Madison Street commercial district reflects the city’s prosperity in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

Designed by Gedge and Brothers, the Odd Fellows Hall was celebrated as “the most impressive and magnificent of the kind in Kentucky.” The cornerstone was laid on April 12, 1856, and the dedication ceremony in October 1857 was described as the most imposing display ever witnessed in Covington. The building initially housed the First National Bank of Covington and various businesses on the ground floor, including the Post Office, a bookstore, a drugstore, and a grocery.

Originally serving as a large auditorium, the second floor hosted a range of social and political events, becoming a recognized community landmark. Confederate prisoners were detained here during the Civil War, and the hall hosted lectures by prominent figures. In the 1890s, Chatauqua lectures were held, and municipal dances sponsored by the city took place on the second floor. Over the years, the space also functioned as a theater for vaudeville shows, movies, a boxing arena, and a nightclub.

Presently, the upper floors are vacant, and the current owner hopes that National Register listing will assist in efforts to maintain the building as a viable part of the community.

Fire of 2002

To be continued!