CARLISLE – A recent donation of spare change from local students may help to shed light on a treasure trove hidden on the third floor of 29-35 W. High St., Carlisle.
The “Pennies for Preservation” campaign ran from early January to late May in every school of the Carlisle Area School District, raising a total of $721, said Kevin Wagner, a high school teacher and program chair for the social studies department.
The campaign goal was to help the Cumberland County Historical Society preserve what was once the meeting hall for the Carlisle chapter of the International Order of Odd Fellows. This large rectangular room features a vaulted ceiling, stained glass windows, a hardwood floor and extensive murals depicting fables and scenes from the Bible.
The society has plans over the next five years to gradually restore design elements within this fraternal hall leading up to a capital campaign in 2020 to improve public access to the space, said Jason Illari, its executive director.
He explained how the $721 raised by “Pennies for Preservation” will be used to restore the original Odd Fellows chandelier that still hangs from the ceiling of the meeting hall. The plan is to invite students from the schools that raised the most money to flip the switch and light up the chandelier during a gala celebration in October.
The “Pennies for Preservation” campaign was run as a competition among the schools to drive up participation, Wagner said. Collection bins were set up at all seven elementary schools, Lamberton and Wilson middle schools, and the Swartz and McGowan buildings of Carlisle High School.
Lamberton Middle School raised the most money with $460.84, according to Wagner. English teacher Marie Korns led the charge to beat out every building in the district.
“Her 8G team at Lamberton single-handedly collected $449.11,” Wagner said.
The McGowan building came in second with $134.21, while Mount Holly Springs Elementary School collected the most among the elementary schools with $27.39. Wagner presented a check to Illari at a school board meeting last week.
Wagner got the idea for “Pennies for Preservation” campaign after talking with Illari early in the 2014-2015 school year. “I was interested in getting students more active in civic engagement.”
Illari mentioned to Wagner the plans to restore the meeting hall, which is located above the History on High the Shop and an educational center currently under development on the east side of the first floor.
Illari said the society’s board of directors recently approved a strategic plan covering the years 2015 to 2020. The plan outlines a long-term vision to draw attention to the Odd Fellows hall through a series of smaller projects that lead up to the capital campaign starting in 2020 to raise about $1 million.
“We want the public to know that it is there,” said Illari, adding that the bulk of the money from the capital campaign will be used to install an elevator to the third floor meeting hall, which is now only accessible by stairs and available for tours by appointment. The chandelier is one of the small projects leading up to the bigger capital campaign.
“I drive by that building every day to and from work,” Wagner said. “The building’s history and architecture is definitely unique.”
Wagner said the hall itself represents a lost period of 19th century when men joined fraternal organizations purely as an expression of civic duty. The paintings on the walls and ceiling reflect the strong religious ties of the Odd Fellows chapter.
The chapter was active from the late 1800s into the 1930s as a social service organization tasked with helping the downtrodden in the community, Illari said. “They were one of the primary groups that widows and orphans would go to.”
As time passed, fraternal organizations like the Odd Fellows struggled to find their place as local government began to provide more services, Illari said. Membership dwindled, and eventually the Carlisle group merged with other nearby chapters. The third floor hall sat vacant and unused for decades.
Linda Witmer was the previous executive director of the historical society prior to her retirement. In March 2008, The Sentinel ran a story on work being done to upgrade the building’s mechanical systems and make structural repairs and improvements to the front half of the building – portions of which date from the mid-1880s.
The society had purchased the building in 2005 with plans to expand its museum shop by relocating it to West High Street from the main historical society building on North Pitt Street. Witmer told the newspaper that the third floor meeting hall could be used in the future for education programs, conferences, receptions and large group meetings.
In an interview Thursday, Illari mentioned how the hall could be used for art shows, musical performances and a digital café.
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