About Us - Our Lodge History
The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks held its first meeting on February 15, 1868, in New York City. The 15 young men who had organized the first meeting were young, starving, struggling artists. They gathered for companionship and to help their other out-of-work peers. The cardinal virtues of the order are: Charity, Justice, Brotherly Love and Fidelity.
The Fond du Lac community has been both the caretaker and the recipient of that legacy for over a century. The Order of Elks has spread throughout the Nation encompassing a wide variety of professions and occupations.
The spreading antlers of Elkdom touched Fond du Lac just 18 years after its conception in New York City. These spreading antlers brought 44 Fond du Lac gentlemen together to form our local lodge.
The Fond du Lac lodge was organized in the following manner: "The Grand Lodge of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks held a communication at Fond du Lac, Wis., Nov. 27th, 1886, in the Odd Fellows Hall for purpose of instituting a lodge to be called Fond du Lac Lodge #57."
On that evening, the Lodge was opened by 10 Grand Lodge officers. They in turn initiated the first 44 members of Lodge #57 into the Order. The sponsoring lodge was the Milwaukee Lodge #46, and the installing officer was Simon Guinlan. The first Exalted Ruler of the newly-fomed lodge was J. C. Heitbahn. The first secretary was F. M. Givans.
On December 12, 1886, the Fond du Lac lodge received its official Charter from the Grand Lodge.
On May 2, 1887, after meeting at the Odd Fellows Hall for several months, the lodge took up residency in a building on Main Street in a portion of the Amory Block.
On Dec. 19, 1891, the lodge entered into a contract with the Fond du Lac Council 515 National Union to lease a portion of its building on Forest Avenue.
The idea of building a permanent clubhouse was a "lively topic" of discussion for a number of years. On July 26, 1902, Exalted Ruler H.H. Dodd appointed a five-man study committee. The site which was selected was on the corner of Portland and Sheboygan. The property was owned by a Dr. E. Griffin, whose residence was at that location.
Not only is the present structure historical in its own rite, but also significant in nature by its previous owner. Dr. Griffin was well known because of his vaccine farm located east of St. Agnes Hospital. The doctor is also credited with helping to found the State Health Department.
The efforts of the that five-man committee resulted in the cornerstone being set in place on Aug. 10, 1903, the membership moving into the building on April 19, 1904; and the formal dedication of the present three story red brick clubhouse on Thursday, May 26, 1904.
The dedication was described by the Daily Commonwealth as including "impressive ceremonies" and a "beautiful ritual service." The paper also found it noteworthy to describe the lodge members as they marched in procession from the library (across the street) to the new lodge. The paper described the evening festivities as being "by far the most brilliant social function in Fond du Lac in years."
The total cost of construction and furnishing the new Elk home was approximately $40,000. At a glance, the most striking feature of the gracious home was, and still is, the grand front porch. Railings surrounding both the lower and upper decks provided the membership with private noonday lounging areas. The interior was finished with birch and maple trim and the floors were all hard maple. The grand staircase led to the second floor and to the basement.
The first floor consisted of a library, card rooms, reception rooms, dining hall, kitchen, buffet and billiard room. The lodge room occupied the largest part of the second floor. The ladies reception room was in the southwest corner of the second floor. In the basement there were: four bowling alleys, "toilet rooms," gymnasium and furnace room.
The Board of Governor's Suite was originally the card room. The present bar areas was formerly divided into two sections. The east section contained the billiard table on the south side and a pool table on the north side. On either side of the large fireplace were stationed two comfortable chairs with footstools. The west section (the actual bar area today) contained "an immense table of weathered oak." This table is still in use in the bar room. The "great leather chairs" and davenports were to be found everywhere.
The bar ran north and south in the present Fond du Lac room and adjoining "Stag Room" which is now used for food service. At one end of the bar was a glassed top cigar case. The members had some 25 varieties of cigars to select from. One final remnant of the past can still be found on the walls of the bar room. Doorbells were strategically located so members could summon service at any given moment.
In October of 1929, the Stock Market crashed. The Great Depression lasted well into the 1930's. During these financially difficult years, lodges all across the United States suffered drastic drops in membership. Prohibition was not repealed until 1933. Exalted Ruler A.K. Wagner remembered that during the winter months the bowling leagues kept the lodge very busy, but that during the summer months things really tapered off.
With the Great War over, Prohibition fast fading into the sobering past and no end in sight for the Depression, the lodge looked forward to it's 1936 fifty-year charter anniversary celebration. Allan L. Edgarton, PER (1937-38) remembered parties running to 4:00, 5:00 and even 6:00 in the morning. Mr. Edgarton said "Special care was taken to reduce frivolity so as not to disturb the neighbors."
It was difficult finding a lodge member who remembered attending the 50th celebration, but two fellows who remembered waiting on tables that evening left us their stories. Louis J. Andrews Sr. PER (1949-50) said the sun was up when he left the clubhouse following the party. Elmer J. "Babe" Koenigs, who tended bar the lodge for nearly 30 years, said he was twenty years old at the time. He said his mother "was not pleased when her son came home from the event at 6:30 in the morning."
As the 30's drew to a close, so did the era of slot machines. Of course it was not without a token of opposition. The Elks had three slot machines: 25 cents, 10 cents, and 5 cents. The machines were kept on a wall near the Stag Room. The most "important job" of the bartenders was to determine when to hide the three machines. Sometimes the police came into the lodge three times a day. When the "heat was on" the bartender quickly slid a false wall across the front of the machines!
The 1940's were quick to leave their imprint on the the Fond du Lac Lodge. Lodge officers remained in their chairs for more than the normal one year duration. Many of 57's younger members and potential new members were enlisting. During the war years, the Air Force used the lodge as an enlistment screening center.
Over the years, membership declined and the historic Lodge building became more and more expensive to keep up. In October of 2016, the oldest Elk's Lodge in Wisconsin officially closed.
Original by Jerome J. Brunette Jr. PER and Bill Weinshrott, PER
Edited and updated by Terrence J. Lemke, PER