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Dixon Then and Now: All About Dixon's Odd Fellows and Their Historic Building

Membership has bounced back since low in 2003

Everyone’s familiar with , but not so familiar with the dignified old IOOF building it resides in.

The building is owned by the IOOF, or the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, which is still active in Dixon. As far as I can determine, the IOOF is the oldest continually operating social organization in town.

Dixon's Montezuma Lodge number 172 was organized in 1880 with 10 charter members, 31 years after California’s first Odd Fellows’ chapter was formed in San Francisco. 

If you’ve ever wondered why anyone would want to belong to an organization of odd fellows, you should know a little of its history. Odd fellow organizations have their roots in England and Scotland as early as the 1500s and 1600s. The speculation is that they were formed to supplant trade guilds, which you could join only if you worked in particular trades. If you were an “odd fellow” and not working in a guild-associated trade, then you could join this sort of organization if you were an upstanding person. Odd fellow clubs promoted helping others, unusual in the era of industrialization.

Thomas Wildey is given the credit for bringing the Odd Fellow ideals to America, setting up the first lodge in 1819. Deciding to separate themselves from the English Odd Fellows, they called their group the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in North America.

The IOOF symbol is three links of a chain representing friendship, love and truth. This organization of men especially thrived during the period 1860-1920, the golden era when such fraternal organizations peaked. Belonging to such an organization was an early form of networking, of meeting others for mutual benefit and assistance, and becoming involved in benevolent efforts.

The IOOF eventually formed a women’s auxiliary called the Rebekahs, which was active for a time in Dixon. Apparently there’s still a Rebekah chapter in Vacaville.

I took a tour of the Odd Fellows hall in the upper portion of their building, given by Dixon’s IOOF Past Grand Eddie Nishizaki, and you can see photos of their meeting room along with this column.

The large meeting room is curiously laid out, with a large, dignified chair and speaking podium for the Noble Grand (lodge president) in the center of one end of the room. In the center of each of the other walls is a smaller station for other officers, I assume. Lining all the walls are seats, so that attendees primarily sit on the periphery. The formal Odd Fellows’ meetings are closed to outsiders, and there are certain symbols, passwords, and hand signals known only to members, similar to the rituals and ceremonies of the Freemasons and some other fraternal organizations.

Those initiated into the IOOF have to believe in a supreme being (but the organization doesn’t endorse any particular religion), and some churches in the past suspected that such fraternal organizations were anti-Christian.

Mr. Nishizaki has only been a member for eight years, and was recruited for membership when the number of Dixon Odd Fellows had fallen dangerously low in 2003 to five members. These days, women are allowed to join the Odd Fellows and the lodge’s rolls list 54 members. The group meets twice monthly. There are also other lodges in Vacaville and Davis.

Nishizaki mentioned that the organization is working to restore the building, has repaired the roof, added a women’s bathroom, and currently is installing a chair lift so that handicapped visitors can be transported upstairs.

The history of the building itself, located at Dixon’s busiest intersection, is interesting. The first building on the site was a wooden pharmacy structure moved over from Silveyville around 1870, which either included or was adjacent to Odd Fellows’ meeting rooms. In the great fire of 1883, that structure and any IOOF meeting rooms burned to the ground. As was typical in those get-go days, members didn’t stand around wailing about their loss, but a year later built the impressive two-story brick building (in the popular Italianate style of the day) which remains today. It’s easily the most prominent building in the downtown.

The businesses which occupied the ground floor over the years have been popular with residents. An 1895 photo shows a saloon there selling Buffalo Beer for five cents. After Prohibition was enacted and alcoholic drinks banned, the corner business became a grocery store (in 1928, it was run by Brewen, Coleman and Lucas). During the Great Depression in 1931, Joe Young replaced the store with his Corner Café. Ever since, there’s been a restaurant in the lower part of the building. The Corner Cafe was operated by Tom Wong there beginning in 1945, and then became Frank’s restaurant in 1969 when Frank Fong took it over. Fong died in 1995, and the restaurant was sold to present owners Bud and Cherie Fanning a year later, who opened Bud’s Pub and Grill. This business remains today.

The Fannings have an interest in the downtown’s history and recently bought the old just up First Street with an eye for restoring it to use for community events (). Bud Fanning is also a member of the Odd Fellows.

A little more about the Odd Fellows: Today, one has to be sponsored by an existing member and be interviewed and accepted by a review committee to become a member. Odd Fellows can work their way upward through degrees, and when they reach the third degree, are eligible to join a higher level group called The Encampment. In Dixon, the IOOF’s ongoing projects include local high school scholarships, and providing some funding for the city’s Fourth of July fireworks and the annual high school grad night. They provided a float for the last May Fair parade. The present head (or Noble Grand) of Dixon’s Montezuma Lodge is Mike Kitchen.     

This will be my only column about Dixon’s historical men’s and women’s organizations. The only other ones still existing as nearly as I can determine are Moose International, the Women’s Improvement Club, the Knights of Columbus (associated with the Catholic church), and the American Legion. Other ones which no longer exist in Dixon include The Redmen and its women’s branch (which met in the IOOF hall); the Knights of Pythias; the Knights Templar; the Masons or Freemasons and their women’s branch, the Eastern Star; the Women’s Christian Temperance Union; and the Native Daughters of the Golden West.

Truly, in the old days, these organizations played a major role in weaving the fabric of Dixon’s society.

 

 

 

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