The village of Lockland, Ohio, contains a historically Black section called Greenwood. In Greenwood, at 632-634 Maple Street, there is a fine, two-story brick building, which today is used for apartments. On the face of this building, near the top, a stone plaque is set into the brickwork. The plaque gives the date of construction – 1887 – plus the letters G.U.O.O.F., standing for “Grand United Order of Odd Fellows,” an African American fraternal organization.
The Grand United Order of Odd Fellows in America is a national organization, founded in 1843 to serve African Americans, who were discriminated against by many fraternal groups including the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.). By 1875, the G.U.O.O.F. had a lodge in Cincinnati (Messiah Lodge #1641). Other lodges in this area followed. The G.U.O.O.F. also had a women’s auxiliary, called the Household of Ruth.
Lockland Lodge #1710, G.U.O.O.F., held its first public installation of officers in April 1887. The lodge did not yet own their own building – they rented the upstairs of a building on Maple Street, above Fred Steiger’s meat market. In May 1887, however, this building was destroyed by fire. A local paper reported that “The property of the G.U.O.O.F. was entirely lost.” The building next door, containing August Hartmann’s cigar store, was also destroyed.
Worse, the cause of the fire appeared to be arson. The fire had started at two separate points. The spring weather was warm, and fire had not been used inside for heating for some time. Unfortunately, it does not appear that any suspect or motive was ever identified.
Undeterred, Lockland Lodge #1710 purchased the now-vacant lot on Maple Street for $100. They made the purchase just a month after the fire and soon began constructing their new lodge building. The trustees who were named on the deed were Turner L. Armstrong, Mitchell Roberts, Wilson H. Renfro, and Perry Clark.
Among these trustees, Wilson H. Renfro (born in 1850) is a figure of special note. Renfro was one of the leaders of Greenwood’s Republican club, and he became a constable in Springfield Township. In 1905, however, Renfro got into an argument with a white police officer from the village of Wyoming named Edward Bartholomew. Bartholomew pulled out a gun and shot Wilson Renfro dead. Bartholomew was put on trial for murder, but he claimed self-defense and was acquitted. Wilson Renfro was buried in Beech Grove Cemetery.
Lockland Lodge #1710, G.U.O.O.F., survived for some years thereafter. In 1913, the Hamilton Evening Journal reported:
“Lockland Lodge, No. 1710, G.U.O.O.F very finely and appropriately celebrated their Thanksgiving services last Sunday. The parade was imposing and impressive. Upon its formation and headed by the colored cornet band of Walnut Hills, the principal streets of the village were paraded by the procession… with the members of the lodge in regalia and accompanied by the members of the Household of Ruth No. 119 in dark dresses, white waists, and becoming bows… .”
The Lockland Lodge existed into the mid-1920’s, but after that, there is no record of further activities. Fortunately, their building survives. And on a national level, the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows is an active organization. They have a mentoring program and a youth debate team. They host an awards ceremony for persons who work with the special needs community. And they support a variety of anti-racism initiatives – programs that are needed now more than ever.