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Sturdy iron safes survived devastating fires along Wrightsville’s riverfront

The International Order of Odd Fellows is a non-sectarian fraternity that back in the mid-19th century had lodges in several York County towns, including Wrightsville and York. (Submitted)

The Odd Fellows fraternities in York County, Pennsylvania, played a role in two incidents during the Civil War. In mid-July, 1863, thousands of wounded men from the battle of Gettysburg began to arrive at York’s 2,000-bed U. S. Army General Hospital. The superintendent, Dr. Henry Palmer, irate over his recent treatment by the Rebels as a prisoner of war, refused to allow any Confederates to enter the hospital or be treated by his staff. The Southern soldiers were instead taken to the Odd Fellows Hall on S. George Street, where civilian doctors and IOOF members tended to them.

Two weeks earlier, during Brigadier General John Brown Gordon’s attack on Union militia defenses surrounding Wrightsville, a Rebel artillery shell likely fired from the hill on which the Hybla home sits smashed into the second story of the building housing the IOOF’s lodge, causing considerable damage.

Wrightsville’s IOOF, the Chihuahua Lodge No. 317 (chartered in June 1848), had relocated to that building because of a devastating fire in late August 1862 had completely engulfed their previous hall. See my previous Cannonball post for specific details on this inferno. At the time, the fire was blamed on an incendiary device, rumored to have been placed by Secessionist arsonists.

Within days of the August fire, lodge members picked through the ruins looking for anything that could be salvaged. To their surprise, the iron safe that housed their records and valuable documents had been spared. One of the Odd Fellows, a prominent local businessman, sent a thank you note to the the company that manufacturer the safe. In turn, the company reposted the endorsement in a paid advertisement a few days later in the September 10, 1862, Philadelphia Inquirer.

“Wrightsville, Pa. August 30th, 1862

Messrs. Farrell, Herring & Co.

No. 629 Chestnut St. Philadelphia, Pa.

Gentlemen — The night before last we had the misfortune to have our Odd Fellows’ Hall, entirely burnt out.

We had one of your Patent Champion Safes on the third floor at the time, containing our Policy of Insurance, Bank Notes and other valuables. The safe fell to the cellar, where it remained until last evening, when it was taken out and opened, and, to our gratification, we found everything safe.

We consider it be a severe test, the fire being the hottest we have ever had in the place, large quantities of tobacco and lumber being destroyed.

The solid Brass Knob and Plate on the Door of the Safe was melted off.

Yours respectively,

A. Barton Sloat, N.G.

se8 mws3trp Of the Chihuahua Lodge, No. 317″

The Wrightsville lodge of the IOOF went defunct in 1963. York County once had 22 different Odd Fellows lodges. Only one (Mount Zion Lodge #74, which dates from well before the Civil War) is still active, according to The Pennsylvania Odd Fellow and Rebekah Magazine of December 2013.

Sloat was not the only local happy customer of the renown safe company. A year later, after the even more devastating fire that spread throughout Wrightsville as a byproduct of the burning of the Wrightsville-Columbia Bridge, another businessman also sent a letter to Farrell, Herring & Co. touting their product.

“Wrightsville, Pa., July 8, 1863

Messrs. Farrell, Herring & Co.

Gentlemen — I had one of your Fire-proof Safes at the time of the rebel raid at this place. After the bridge was burned, or at the time, it set fire to the lumberyard and warehouses. We consider the safe is worthy of the name of Fire-proof; it saved all that we entrusted to its care.

Samuel Oberdorff”