Elks Club members vow
to survive, rebuild after fire
in progress but future is on hold
(October 2006) Disheartened and disillusioned,
the men diligently searched through the charred and sodden ruins, looking
for anything salvageable amid the devastation that occurred in the early
morning of Friday, Aug. 25. A piece here, a part there, slowly a few
precious remnants from what once was a thriving and vibrant brotherhood
were pulled from the rubble of the Elks Lodge fire at 420 West St.,
Madison Edition Cover
About to give up, the call went out that something big,
something really precious had been found. Those dedicated Elks Club
members who had sifted through the grit and grime all day long had found
perhaps one of the most historic and significant items to the clubs
heritage the ledger that held the minutes of the Elks
first meeting. Recorded in the book was the history of how the Elks
Club began and who had been a part of this historic event.
Tony Steinhardt, a 40-year member, took charge of the historic book,
which was found completely water-soaked in an old filing cabinet. With
some advice from experts, Steinhardt carefully used white paper towels
and a fan to dry the wet, ink-smeared pages.
The book was then taken to the Jefferson County Historical Society,
where the staff plans to carefully copy each page in order to preserve
the historic information that was nearly lost. It is amazing that
this particular book, which is so important to the history of the club,
was found, said Ron Grimes, the museums archivist.
Irreplaceable and priceless, in terms of sentimental value, the book
stands as a reminder of the rich and historic past of the Elks Club,
yet it also stands as a symbol of fortitude for the future, since club
members have vowed to rebuild and continue the organization.
We are in the process of planning and looking at every available
option there is for our future, but we will continue, said Trevor
Lytle, Exalted Ruler (lodge president) of the Madison Elks Club.
by Don Ward
for Davis &
haul out charred debris
from the Elks Club building
in downtown Madison.
In the predawn hours that morning in late August, a ferocious
fire lit up the sky and quickly engulfed Lodge 524 of the Benevolent
and Protective Order of the Elks. The out-of-control blaze leapt to
the roof of the building next door, the historic Old City Hall located
at 416 West St. Three other buildings were also damaged before nearly
150 firefighters from nine firehouses in Madison and neighboring communities
battled for three hours to put the fire out as TV News helicopters filmed
the action from the sky. Forty-two firefighters were treated for heat
exhaustion, Indiana State Fire Marshal Roger Johnson said.
When it was over, the Elks lodge had been decimated; the Old City Hall,
which housed the Gardner Insurance Agency, had lost its top floor, and
the other buildings had also sustained damage. Two families living upstairs
were forced out of their homes. The two structures were considered significant
among the 2,200 historic buildings in the recently designated National
Historic Landmark District by the National Park Service.
Elks Club members had begun gathering as the word spread quickly throughout
the community about the fire. They solemnly watched the building burn,
knowing that more than just a building was gone; wonderful memories
of past gatherings, community events, weddings, fun, friendship and
camaraderie were also being destroyed.
The fraternal organization had completed a $250,000 renovation, including
installation of a new air-conditioning system, just two years ago. The
Elks housed a restaurant and bar and was home to Thursday night bingo
games and community meetings, social events and weddings.
It made me literally sick, said past Exalted Ruler Bob Center,
a 29-year member of the Elks. My kids grew up in there, and my
sons wedding reception was held in there.
Others echoed his sentiment. Roger Kittle, a 49-year member, was out
of the country on a trip to England when the fire destroyed the building.
It was devastating and just tragic, he said. Kittle visited
the club several times a week to have dinner or simply meet his friends
Wilbur Heitz, a 39-year Elks member, said, I could hardly believe
it. Heitz, 85, joined the club because it does so much good for
the community. My grandfather was even a member of the Elks.
Steinhardt said it was totally disheartening to see the
damage the fire had caused to the building.
by Don Ward
Lockridge, a partner in Davis &
Lockridge Construction Co. and an Elks Club member, holds up what
is left of the
11 oclock hour steel plaque that hung
in the lodge hall and has meaning in the
clubs ritual. Lockridge found several ledger
books and other artifacts that will be
turned over to the club.
Lytle said, Think of all the history we are losing
with that building.
At first, fire officials had called the fire an accident, but as investigators
sifted through the mess, they labeled it an arson investigation. There
were several factors that led investigators to change their mind, officials
According to a member of the Elks Club, the cash register in the bar
area had been broken into and several vending machines had been also
Because a group of Elks had been playing cards in the building the previous
evening until around 2 a.m. a regular occurrence at the
club investigators said the fire must have begun sometime
after that and spread rapidly in order to have consumed the building
by the time it was discovered around 6 a.m. None of those in the group
of card-playing members noticed anything amiss while they were in the
building, officials said.
A smoking ballast in a light fixture would surely have been noticed
by one of the card players at some point during the evening if that
would have been the true cause, as was originally reported, said
The Madison Police Department is leading the ongoing investigation but
so far, no suspects or further information have been announced.
Both members of the Elks and citizens throughout the community are perplexed,
however, over why anyone would want to torch the building. The Elks
has a long and prominent history of community good works and fund raising.
Elks history and mission
Nationally, the Elks started in 1868 as a drinking club called the Jolly
Corks, which was established to elude New York City laws about
the opening hours of public taverns. Early members belonged to theatrical
troupes in the city. It has since evolved into a major fraternal, charitable
and service order throughout the country with more than 1 million members,
both men and women, and 2,100 local lodges nationwide. Current members
must be at least 21 years old and believe in God.
Madisons Elks Lodge was granted a charter on Nov.
8, 1899. At that time, G.S. Taylor, an assistant deputy auditor for
the county, was named Exalted Ruler. Each member paid $15 in dues and
met at the Madison Cycle and Athletic Club.
The Elks building was erected in 1902 and, according to Elks members
Mike Cosby, a 10-year member, and Bill Kindle, a 19-year member, the
Madison club is the oldest in the Midwest that has operated continuously
in its original building. Research is being done to confirm whether
the club is the oldest in the entire country to stay in the same building,
Lytle said the current membership is about 325 men and women. The organization
is a not-for-profit fraternal organization whose focus is charitable
works, including veteran support, youth activities and patriotism.
At one point in the early history of the club, the Elks had their own
band and were active in minstrel shows. The minstrel shows were
popular community events years ago, said Grimes, the county museum
According to additional information at the historical society, the Elks
band was also popular and played at the Madison Chautauqua Festival
of Art each year and at other community events.
Many members cite the clubs charitable works as the main reason
why they joined. The clubs youth programs are popular, and each
year, the club sponsors a Student Government Day, in which
high school students from Madison learn to run the city. One participant
serves as mayor, while other students run the various offices at City
Hall. The Elks Club donates the plaques that each participating student
receives. The Elks organization also sponsors three scholarships each
year for high school seniors from the area.
post card shows what the Elks Club,
left, and former City Hall building, right,
looked like when they were built in 1902.
Elks Club members say their structure will be saved and rebuilt,
once insurance adjusters are finished and an arson investigation
by the Madison Police Dept. has been completed.
In addition, the local club participates in the national
Elks Hoop Shoot program. In it, more than 3 million boys and girls
from across the country compete in a basketball competition.
Only 72 players advance to the final competition to determine the national
Locally, close to 200 students participate annually in the program,
club officials said. The club runs the program and finances the expenses
for any player who advances to the state competition.
The organization also supports veterans. Numerous fund-raising activities
to support veteran needs are conducted by the Elks. For instance, the
local chapter helps support the Veterans Administrations van,
which takes veterans to doctor visits and other appointments. They also
hold benefits and fund raisers for other veteran services.
The building itself has been offered to the American Red Cross to hold
its fund raisers and other local clubs that need a place to hold a fund-raising
events. Kittle said the national organization is the largest contributor
for cancer research in the country besides the federal government. The
local club raises money by holding raffles, dances, parties and benefits.
Rebuilding for the future
Despite the devastation to their building, Elks members say the club
will rebuild and prevail. We are looking for a temporary building
to hold meetings and continue our community work, said Lytle.
He said the club is in a wait and see mode until insurance
and other financial issues are worked out. The rebuilding may
take a few years, he said. Apparently, the arson ruling has no
effect on the insurance, which is provided by Aon, a Chicago company.
Insurance should cover most of the cost, although we were a little
light on content insurance, said Lytle.
The club is still paying off a loan for the remodeling project that
was completed two years ago. Repaying that loan will likely cut into
funds available for rebuilding, Lytle said.
Relocation and stabilization are our primary focus at this point,
said Kindle, who is in charge of fund raising for the rebuilding efforts.
He said the club has already started fund-raising efforts, including
the sale at the recent Madison Chautauqua of historic photos of the
building and the Elks band. He said donations from other Elks
lodges have also been pledged, including furniture and decorations.
The Jeffersonville, Ind., lodge, which was the sponsor for the Madison
lodge when it first formed, is waiting to see what it needs to do in
order to help. Other local service groups, including the Historic Landmarks
Foundation of Indiana, have pledged to contribute to the Elks Club rebuilding
According to Lytle, structural engineer Russ Zeckner of Louisville-based
Donovan Engineering has said in an initial report that the exterior
of the building is structurally sound and can be rebuilt. Lytle said
the report is good news because it will allow the building to retain
its historical significance, which could make it available for certain
The club is looking into all aspects of federal, state and local grants
or financial aid to help in the rebuilding process. John Stacier, executive
director of Historic Madison Inc., said the Elks building and former
City Hall are important structures in the historic district. They
are so designated as important structures in that district, and therefore,
research to determine what can be done and whats out there is
being conducted, he said,. He added that HMI is assisting
the building owners in whatever capacity it can.
The former City Hall building, jointly owned by Scott and Kathy Lynch
and Seven LLC, parent company of Gardner Insurance, sustained heavy
damage during the fire. The top floor of the building was gutted, while
much of the bottom floor sustained water damage.
Robin Goodnight, co-owner of Gardner Insurance, said nothing important
to her insurance business was destroyed. She wanted to re-assure clients
the company is 100 percent in order.
At this point, the insurance company has temporarily relocated to the
former Halls Carpet building, located at the foot of Hanging Rock
Hill on Hwy. 7. Goodnight said the owners are getting bids and weighing
their options on what to do with the building.
The building, built in 1879 on the site of a former school for African
American children, was originally intended to be a new school for those
children. However, plans changed and, on March 19, 1880, Madison Mayor
J.T. Brashier, who served from 1876-1882, and the city council held
its first meeting in the building.
In 1925, the building received a new red-brick, stone-trimmed front,
thanks to a generous donation by local resident A.H. Gibson.
The building housed the city government until 1994, when the Lynches
bought it and converted the upper floor into living quarters and the
main floor into their business office for Scott Lynch Realty. The main
floor was later sold to Seven LLC, and the real estate company relocated
to the Madison hilltop. Gardner Insurance had been operating in the
building for about 15 months before the fire, and private residents
were renting the upper floor.
A fund has been established for anyone
wanting to contribute to the rebuilding of the Elks Club. Send donations
to Madison Elks Fire Fund, P.O. Box 207, Madison, IN 47250.
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