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Anderson lodge's decline mirrors city's changed demographics

June 11, 2013

After over 50 years there, the Anderson Elks Lodge 209 wants to auction off its building at 1803 Broadway St.

"We don't plan on closing down at all," said Dick Dunn, secretary of the local lodge and state president-elect. "But we're definitely looking to downsize."

The economy and a declining membership have hit fraternal orders pretty hard — the Elks included, he said. "It (the building) is just too big for the membership we have now."

Lodge 209 has about 260 members currently, and only about 15 percent actively participate in events. That's a sharp decline from the nearly 2,000 members the Elks boasted in the 1970s, shortly after moving to Broadway Street in 1962.

Since then, the number's been tapering, eventually taking a nosedive after General Motors officially closed shop in Anderson. The city once was home to 20 GM plants with 25,000 workers, but the auto industry started to fade in the late 1970s.

Anderson's population fell from more than 70,000 in 1970 to less than 56,000 in 2011.

"The jobs moved out of town," Dunn told The Herald Bulletin. "And so did a lot of our members."

Worse, the average age among remaining members is 68. "The only people left are retirees," he said, "And not many want to do the things they used to do."

The 12,345-square-foot building — which contains a club room, two dining rooms, a meeting room and a bar — will be sold in a closed-bid public auction, handled by Symmes Auction Co. Inc., at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. The property includes six city lots, three of which are parking.

The lodge has deep roots in Anderson dating back to June 30, 1891, when 31 new Elks met at the Odd Fellows Hall at Ninth and Meridian streets.

After about a year, it earned its charter. Then later, it spent about $17,000 to move to the third floor of a new building being erected at 11th and Meridian streets by C.W. Hoover — one of many homes it's had in Anderson over the past 100-plus years.

Dunn said the club hasn't yet decided where it will go now, but is actively scouting. The only thing he knows for sure: "We're not planning on closing."

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