A fine surviving example of early 19th century commercial architecture in southern Maine, the Odd Fellows Block was built in 1845 to house the fraternal organization’s meeting hall on the top floor. Sarah Orne Jewett’s father was the local chapter’s founding member. During South Berwick Village’s commercial heyday of the mid-1800s, the building contained a range of business ventures – ranging from stores of Benjamin Nason and the Jewett family to the law office of Congressman John Noble Goodwin, from a fish market to a purveyor of marble tombstones. The building now contains Isidore On the Rocks Tavern and is part of the South Berwick Historic District. This house also is part of the South Berwick Village District on the National Register of Historic Places.
On June 3, 1845 ten South Berwick men founded a chapter of the fraternal group Independent Order of Odd Fellows, according to the History of York County, Maine, published in 1880. As explained by the IOOF on a modern website, “In 17th century England, it was odd to find people organized for the purpose of giving aid to those in need and of pursuing projects for the benefit of all mankind. Those who belonged to such an organization were called ‘Odd Fellows.’" The organization spread to America in 1819.
Perhaps in this altruistic spirit, South Berwick’s 1845 charter members included three doctors: Dr. Theodore H. Jewett, age 30, recently married and soon to be father of author Sarah Orne Jewett and her sisters; Dr. Charles T. Trafton, 23, and Dr. Caleb Sanborn, 31. Two other Jewett family members were among the founders: Dr. Jewett’s cousin, Elisha H. Jewett, 29; and John B. Nealley, 35 and married to another Jewett cousin. The other founders were mill-owner Isaac P. Yeaton, 40; store-owner John G. Thompson; John Hubbard, O. P. Emery, and George S. Woodman.
Their new Odd Fellows chapter was named Olive Branch Lodge, No. 28. The three-story brick Odd Fellows Block with its third-floor meeting hall was built the same year, at a cost of $5000. Another fraternal organization, the Masons, had formed a South Berwick chapter about 20 years earlier and had a meeting hall on Main Street.
For a glimpse of this rather secret fraternal organization, picture an October day two years later, in 1847, with the Jewett family and their friends and neighbors gathered about a stone monument newly erected in the Portland Street Cemetery (on today’s Agamenticus Road). The year before, Dr. Jewett’s 23-year-old brother, Capt. Samuel W. Jewett, had sailed away in a Jewett family ship built at Pipe Stave Landing, and had never returned. “Supposed to have been lost in the ship Berwick, east of the Cape of Good Hope, April 1846,” the stone reads, “75 days from Boston, bound to the island of Mauritus and East Indies. The Berwick is supposed to have been run down in the night by a Danish ship when all hands on board, 17 in number, perished.” The tribute was erected by the Olive Branch Lodge No. 28, of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
Though the Odd Fellows met on the third floor, their building’s main purpose was commercial activity, and it may not have been built by the Odd Fellows at all. Though the York County History said they erected the building, Mary Rice Jewett, the author’s sister, wrote years later, “The Odd Fellows block was built by Benjamin Nason whose father Bartholemew Nason was established here in business in 1798 and very likely came here from Boston several years earlier, and Joseph Murphey who was a cabinet maker of much skill, to which many pieces of old furniture to be found in our houses can attest.”
Both Nason and Murphy were already operating businesses at that location on The Corner, as can be seen on a South Berwick Village map of about 1835.
Once the Odd Fellows Block was built, Nason’s store continued there until his death in 1875, a total of some 50 years. Murphy’s shop was replaced by other businesses. Stores of every kind in the Odd Fellows Block have anchored commercial life and Portland Street for generations.
About 1860, an insurance company also had offices there. Another tenant was Congressman John Noble Goodwin, who had his law office upstairs. During the Civil War, Lincoln appointed him the first governor of territory of Arizona.
The Jewett family’s trade store too operated a here for a time. In the 1870s and 1880s, another uncle of Sarah Orne Jewett, William Jewett (1813-1887) ran it, while living in the Jewett House on the corner.
“Mr. Nason retained possession of his store all his long life,” Mary Jewett wrote at the end of the century, “but for many years both that and the other one which had later been bought by William D. Jewett were used simply as offices, though many quaint remnants of the old busy days still lingered on the shelves, as relics of the past.”
By 1879, the Odd Fellows’ Olive Branch Lodge counted 125 members, according to the History of York County, and officers were Edwin S. Goodwin, Charles H. Hubbard, Eugine Goodwin, E. R. McIntire, R. L. Goodwin, Thomas Bentley, J. S. Ford, and Charles E. Dodge. Rev. W. S. Vail was their chaplain. In 1872, founder John B. Nealley, now 62, and his brother, Eben Nealley, had joined several other men and formed a branch, the Agamenticus Encampment No. 15, meeting across Main Street. By 1879 this group had 38 members.
In photographs at the turn of the century, such as the one at right, we see a Nason family member still selling granite and marble at the Odd Fellows Block.
The Olive Branch Lodge of the Odd Fellows owned the building and met in the historic second and third floor halls to this day until 2011.
The building now contains Isidore on the Rocks Tavern.
(This article was revised in September 2011.)