The Oddest Odd Fellows Home
Don and I went way off our road trip route, to spend a night at this place!
When I ran across the inn's website on the internet, I was more than intrigued. This place was a winery. (yum) This place was a former Odd Fellows Home. (fascinating) This place once housed orphans. (sad) This place was cheap. (yay!)
I quickly booked one of the 9 rooms for $79 (+tax) then began to wonder. A 650-square-foot suite, with free a wine tasting, for less than 100 bucks. What's the catch?
And why so few rooms, in such a large place? Just guessing that when Belvoir Winery opened (about a decade ago) its main focus was on wine and weddings. The hotel hosting part may have been a "why not?" kind of addition.
As we headed towards Liberty, Missouri, I started getting excited about the hotel+wine combo. But really, I was a lot more excited about staying in this historic building, connected to the Odd Fellows organization.
The history of the Odd Fellows organization, is a curious and secretive one. The Independent Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F) is one of the largest fraternal orders in the U.S. The main purpose of IOOF is to give aid, assistance, and comfort to its members and their families. The organization also assists people in the community. Back before government assistance, that often meant caring for the elderly and children .
This is how the Odd Fellows building looked after it was completed in 1900. It was built to replace an older structure, which had been destroyed in a fire. This beautiful building was designed by architect, William Ittner, who designed over 400 school buildings in Missouri. I worked at one of his schools in St. Louis, when I was a college student. (I love little connections like that!)
Ittner's schools were known for having inviting exteriors, designed with children in mind. (Schools weren't expected to be inviting in 1900) I wonder if this building seemed welcoming to the children who once lived here. I hope so. This Jacobean-Revival style Odd Fellows Home, once held IOOF offices, classrooms and dormitories for orphans and rooms for the elderly.
Arriving in April
We arrived on a dreary looking day last April. We drove through a set of gates and over a bridge, before reaching this view.
The bare trees made the scene look extra mysterious.
Rain threatened, so I made sure to take a couple photos right away. There was a nearby fountain and gazebo, but they looked sad and neglected. I didn't bother with a photo.
I did get a photo of this fine bench. I tried to imagine a wedding couple seated between the 2 griffins. It would have taken a talented wedding photographer to capture loving bridal shots, on this dreary day.
I took this photo nearly halfway up the walkway. I was so surprised to see all the land surrounding this historic site.
Belvoir owns about 35 acres today, but over 100 years ago IOOF owned nearly 8 times that. After this building was completed, more structures were built to house a hospital, school, nursing home, orphanage and offices. The residents who were able, helped work on the 240-acre farm, which helped to support the complex. Crazy to imagine.
Parking at the Good End
When our car reached the top of the hill, we saw only a couple vehicles in the nearby lot. Where was everyone on a Wednesday afternoon?
I recognized the beautiful brick structure from the website photos. The building on the far acted like a sturdy bookend, holding up a collapsing lineup of books. More on those collapsing "books" later!
A Fine Entrance
Don and I headed towards the front entrance, up some stairs and across a patio. It could have been 1920, except for some party lights and a few flimsy chairs. An eerie gust of wind tossed a couple chairs as we passed.
The stained cement and worn wooden doors made me expect a gloomier lobby. But instead we were met with a happy space, lit by 6 attractive light fixtures.
The entry area was a nice surprise. We walked across the original, black and white tile, then looked back towards the split staircase.
The winery/bar was in a cozy room across from the stairs.
Ashely welcomed us from behind the bar. The room was empty except for one woman at a table, with a glass of wine and a laptop. We told Ashely we had reservations and she gave us a little rundown. "Feel free to explore inside the building." We asked about the vacant buildings on the property. She said it was okay to wander outside the buildings. "But don't go inside. And make sure you go before dark. Security is on duty later."
Clean Quiet Hall
We took our key and rode a very noisy elevator to the third floor, which held 8 guest rooms and 1 bridal suit. The floors and walls had clearly been renovated.
A common area off the hall, was quiet and empty. There was a microwave and fridge and tables for the lucky guests who once enjoyed complimentary breakfast, back before Covid.
#9 -The Chardonel Room
I kind of chuckled when I heard we were staying in The Chardonel Room. It sounded like a name that some "creative" parents chose for their baby... when they'd had too many glasses of Chardonay. But I guess Chardonel is actually a hybrid grape of some kind. Not too well known, because when I typed Chardodnel, my Mac spell-checked me and wrote Charlene instead.
To reach our Chardonel Room, we passed through a sitting area. This airy space was available for us, to share with our neighbors in Room #7. Luckily no one booked that room, so the space was all ours. We didn't end up using it, although I might have been tempted if I'd packed some roller skates!
Once we opened our door, we were met with another hall/entry. A spacious bathroom was off to the right.
My photo shows the size well, but I couldn't capture the odd feeling of this bathroom. They had clearly renovated nicely (in 2018 I think) but it felt unfinished. There was so much space you felt like something was missing. Like a picture on the wall maybe?
We hardly needed all this area! Is "too much space" something to complain about? Of course not, but I found it perplexing. And who decorated this room 4-5 years ago?
It reminded me of our own house, when we didn't want to mess up freshly painted walls and waited forever to put up artwork. But they've had more than a few years.
I had issues with the TV as well. It was on the small side and the pixelating image, made watching impossible. Those silly cords dangling below the TV annoyed me a whole lot. Put a little table under the TV maybe? And a coffee table would have been nice! What a complainer!
Window & View
I know I gripe about the wrong things. Some guests might be whole lot more bothered by the peeling paint on the windows. I was okay with that. I liked seeing the age.
I did appreciate having a corner room, with 2 views. The scenery was a bit gloomy and the glass was dingy, but I wanted to be able to imagine some of the history in this old building. I know some of that history is sad. Maybe it wasn't such a good thing to think of those children long ago, gazing out through the glass... I decided to wonder instead, about how this property looks when all the leaves turn green!
Quiet and Clean
Our suite didn't have artwork, but it was nice and clean and the bed was comfortable. With all the square footage, it would have been nice to have had 2 bedside tables.
But as I said, it was cheap! And it was quiet. I read reviews from other guests and evidently the walls are thin. We lucked out having no neighbors.
After checking out our suite, Don and I did a little exploring downstairs. We found some art in the halls. There was a nice display of photography by local students.
We found a few rooms, that are used for events. Exposed brick here, old fireplaces there... nice floors and a few antiques, some sort of funky drapes.
I peeked in a "ballroom", with a grand piano and some conference tables. Again, it was clean, but the space was missing something. It felt like the character had been washed away.
I did like the old light fixtures.
Most were brought in after renovation. The Odd Fellows Home was empty for years. I wonder how many original goodies were carted away by vandals?
Rain was predicted, so I was eager to get outside to explore the grounds.
This vintage photo must have been taken before the the 1950's. You can tell because the old children's school is to the left of our hotel.
This is how the property looked on a gloomy day in April 2022.
There are still 4 buildings today, but 3 are vacant.
The building next to our hotel didn't fit the row of classic structures. In the old ariel photo, you can see the "original" school building in this spot.
The original school was built in 1904, to educate children of the orphanage. By 1912 there were 111 children and 55 adults living on the property. A separate school was needed.
The number of children in the orphanage dwindled over the years. Programs like foster care, caused a shift in residents.
By 1951 there were no more kids at the Odd Fellows Home, but the number of elder adults had risen. The school was torn down and this modern structure was built as a hospital. The broken windows and metal awning looked sad and eerie.
Don and I continued down the remains of a walkway. Clouds and wind made the scene even more omnious.
This structure was built in 1908. It was called the Old Folks Pavilion.
It was sad seeing the broken windows and overgrown grass. There were signs telling us to stay out, but we could have easily walked right in.
The last building was completed in 1923.
This building was the first hospital. I have no clue how it was used after they built the newer hospital... which replaced the school.
The glass door at the entrance must have been busted long ago.
Again, we could have disobeyed and given ourselves a tour.
But we didn't need to. We could peer through a few glass-free windows and study the artwork, that covered the institutional green walls.
Back of Our Hotel
We circled around and headed back to the main building, approaching from the rear.
I wondered about all the people who once stared out those windows. German POWs were housed on the property during WWII. Was this the building where they were held?
As we came around towards the front, I looked up and spotted our guest room windows, on the corner of the third floor.
I wondered about the old folks who lived here in the 1970's after the other buildings closed down. By 1973, there was no school or hospital. The children had been gone since the 1950's. A nursing facility was all that remained and it continued into the early 1990s.
Time For Wine
After our self guided tour, Don and I were ready to sample some wine. As we tasted a few, we chatted with Ashley, as well the young woman who was still sitting at a table with her laptop.
They both knew about some of the history, as well as some of the hauntings. There was of course no bar or wine back in the IOOF days. But the old fireplace was original. It was oddly pieced back together, with a most unworthy fake fire.
Remembering the Kids
We talked with the young women about the children who once lived here. Both were aware of how the foster care system, pretty much put an end to orphanages. The woman at the computer said she wished there were still good orphanages today. I wanted to ask why, but then she mentioned that she'd grown up in foster care and knew how flawed it could be. She was very fond of this place.
Ashley talked about some of the eerie happenings in the building. Many of the ghostly stories are related to kids. She pointed out the stairs and how worn they were, closer to the railing. I pictured little children holding the railing as they climbed. Boys on one side. Girls on the other. Ashley told a story of a little boy who was a guest. He became distraught about going up the wrong stairs. No one had told him that there had been a strict rule in the past.
Cheers to Past Residents
Before Don and I headed up the stairs, Ashley offered to take our photo. We let her know we'd be staying put for the evening. We bought a bottle of wine to go with our classy chicken salad sandwiches.
Ashely made sure we had her number to call, if we had any concerns. She would be on the property until midnight. (doing laundry or something?) The doors would be locked at 8.
Quick Cemetery Run
Don and I started for the stairs, when I suddenly realized I hadn't checked out the cemetery up the dirt road. I knew it might be raining in the morning.
I let Don take the wine to the room and I headed up the road, just as a soft rain began to fall. I started to jog as the skies threatened to pour.
At the top of the hill I found a cemetery, with around 600 graves. There were names of men and women and dates, going back to the early 1800's. Jay B. Noe was born in 1848. Looks like he lived to be 85.
I walked to the bottom of the fenced area and looked up at the bare tree and entrance. I wish I knew more about these folks who were buried here. Were they all residents of the nursing home? Were there any children? I couldn't stay long. The rain chased me back.
What Was Notable?
We spent a night in a 122-year-old building, that once housed orphans and now houses wine. That might be a first for us. It's pretty amazing how few changes there are in the building's exterior, after so many years.
There have been many changes inside the building. The decor and paint and furniture has changed. But mostly, the people have changed. How I wish I had access to more stories or letters or photos, of the people who belonged to this building.
I think what I'll remember about our stay at Odd Fellows Home, is the odd combination of eerie old building and strangely refurbished room. We met no ghosts, but we did hear weird and constant clanking in the bathroom. If only we'd met a ghost, I could have had many questions answered.
My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!