Highlights from the History of Needham in 100 objects
Odd Fellows Fire and aftermath
Cornerstone of the Odd Fellows Building, built 1874
This cornerstone is just about all that was left of the Odd Fellows Building. It is inscribed "I. O. of O. F." ("Independent Order of Odd Fellows"), a mutual-aid and benevolent society.

The Odd Fellows Building was an extravagant Victorian retail block, built in 1874 on the corner of Chapel Street and Great Plain Avenue. It was by far the most ornate building Needham had ever seen, with large decorative windows, a multi-hued slate mosaic roof, and a central turret with a glass cupola. There were three full floors for offices and retail. The fourth floor was used for the Odd Fellows Lodge itself, as well as for a museum of Needham military memorabilia.

With its highly ornamental façade, the Odd Fellows Building was one of the town's most magnificent buildings. Unfortunately, it was also poorly built and one of the town's least safe structures. In 1876, two years after its completion, the Needham School Committee refused to meet there, calling it a "fire trap."

The Odd Fellows Hall burned down in May 1887, in a fire so fierce that it completely reduced the structure to rubble, and destroyed the properties and equipment of the businesses, most of Needham's Civil and Revolutionary War memorabilia, and several nearby structures. Investigators quickly determined that the fire was caused by arson - the most serious of several fires that someone in town had set that spring. But although a $500 reward was offered for information on these fires, no culprit was ever identified.

None of the building's tenants were considered suspect. They were all underinsured, and most lost everything. Among the business owners were a furniture repairman, a dry goods dealer, a cigar maker, a barber, a dentist, and the offices of Bowers and Brown - printers, who were also the publishers of a new newspaper, the Needham Enterprise. The first and only issue of the Enterprise, displayed upstairs, reported on the fire that snuffed out its brief life.
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Cornerstone of the Odd Fellows BuildingCornerstone of the Odd Fellows Building
Odd Fellows Building before the fireOdd Fellows Building before the fire
Odd Fellows Building after the fireOdd Fellows Building after the fire
Reward for information related to the fireReward for information related to the fire
Needham EnterpriseNeedham Enterprise