"TO IMPROVE & ELEVATE THE CHARACTER OF MANKIND."
When restlessness brought Thomas Wildey to America in 1817, the British were still unpopular in the States because of the War of 1812. In that year Baltimore was suffering both a yellow fever epidemic and mass unemployment. An outgoing personality, Wildey missed companyion-ship and advertised in the newspaper to determine if there were any other Odd Fellows in Baltimore; he requested them to meet him at the Seven Stars Inn. Included in the original building layout was a formal meeting room on the third floor and a small theatre on the second floor. The auditorium was lavishly decorated with a 1,150-seat theatre with balconies, boxes and a stage area equipped for major productions.
An electrolier (chandelier) was installed and placed in the center of the theatre two days before the grand opening. The theatre was equal to theaters in large cities with 500 seats in the main section, 300 in the balcony, 300 in the gallery and 50 in the boxes. A. Emerson Jones, the company manager of the first production, "Girl at the Helm," was extremely satisfied when he stepped out onto the stage and ordered the entire contents of their baggage car brought up. Every piece of scenery was used. More than 50 people appeared on stage in "Girl at the Helm," a musical comedy, and as many as six spot lights were operated at a time during the show. The April 13, 1909 edition of the Edwardsville Intelligencer printed, "The Wildey is the largest roomiest and most convenient theater in this part of Illinois." On opening night, Mr. Kennerly, the architect, beamed with pride as he sat in a private theatre box with a party of his friends.
On April 26, 1819, Wildey and the four men who responded to the advertisement formed the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in North America, dedicating the Order to achieve philanthropic goals. Other Englishmen who were Odd Fellows had grouped in the states along the Eastern Seaboard, and Wildey gathered them all into the newly formed fraternity. He traveled widely to set up lodges in the most recently settled parts of the country.
At the time of his death in 1861, there were more than 200,000 members of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in 42 states.
Thomas Wildey, founder of Odd Fellowship in North America, was a man of immense vitality, humor, and warmth.
Thomas Wildey was born in London, England, January 15, 1783. He was left an orphan five years later and the Odd Fellow pledge to "Educate the Orphan" sprang from his personal childhood experiences. At the age of 14, Wildey went to live with an uncle. After he had 9 years of schooling, he became an apprentice to a maker of coach springs. He joined the Odd Fellows in 1804.
Steven Stars Inn
WHO WE ARE: Among the first records of the Independ Order Odd Fellows in North America is that of five Brothers of the English Order who met in New York City in 1803, and formed Shakespeare Lodge No. 1.
The founders were three boat builders, a comedian and a vocalist - a group befitting the name "Odd Fellows," indeed. The lodge was self-instituted, a common practice in those times. Their first candidate was a retired actor who was the keeper of the tavern where they met.
Accounts state that lodge meetings were accompanied by merry making and mirth, and that the wares of the Traven were freely indulged in. This lodge was dissolved in 1813 due to poor attendance brought on by controversy over the War of 1812.
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows as we know it today began in Baltimore, Maryland, where five members of the Order from England founded Washington Lodge No. 1 on April 26, 1819, by self-institution.
One of these Brothers was Thomas Wildey the first Noble Grand and the man revered as the founder of Odd Fellowship in North America. A charter was received from Duke of York Lodge in Preston, England, in 1820, a year and a half after its self-institution.
In 1835 Thomas Wildey and his members formed a Traveling Degree Rally across the country, working their way west. They chartered Odd Fellows lodges in Pittsburgh, Pa, Lodge No. 1, Wheeling West Virginia Lodge No. 1 and Western Alton Lodge No. 1.
After Thomas Wildey chartered Western Alton Lodge No. 1. He came across the river into Missouri with his degree team and chartered two lodges, Wildey Lodge No. 2 and Wildey Encampment No. 1.
Wildey Lodge No. 2 was named after Thomas Wilde and was instituted on June 12, 1838. After chartering Wildey Lodge No. 2 and Wildey Encampment No. 1, the Traveling Degree Team started back to Baltimore Maryland going south by way of Louisville, Kentucky.
On October 17, 1925 Wildey Lodge No. 2 held a Degree Rally in St. Clair, Missouri in the Meramec Caves. The lodge sent out letters to all active lodges in St. Louis that had candidates. The Letter Head read “Come join us for the Biggest Time Ever with Wildey Lodge”. The candidates were to meet at the three links building on Lindell Blvd. on October 16, 1925. The lodge reserved a private railroad car for the candidates on the Frisco Railroad to travel to Meramec Caves what we now call Meramec Caverns. On October 17, 1925 Wildey Lodge No. 2 with the assistance from other lodges conferred all four degrees on 25 members. This is the last known Degree Rally to be held in Meramec Caverns.