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Exploring the Long-Shuttered Odd Fellows Hall in Carlisle, PA

Carlisle, PA is a town known for the Army War College, two historic institutions of higher learning, and its great downtown. But did you know that the downtown is home to a hidden secret: a long-shuttered Odd Fellow Hall?

Even as a resident of Carlisle myself for the past several years, I’ve walked right passed this spot dozens of times, having no idea of the beauty tucked away above me as I strolled down West High Street.

Stained glass windows in the abandoned Odd Fellows Hall in Carlisle PA
There are beautiful stained glass windows within the hall.

This Odd Fellow Hall is located above History on High, a store run by the Cumberland County Historical Society, who currently owns the building. The building’s exterior does look a little out of place if you really look at it, but the beauty of this spot is largely hidden from view.

However, if you walk up to the third floor of the building, the beauty is sure to astound you.

History of the Odd Fellows Hall in Carlisle

The exterior of the Odd Fellows Hall in downtown Carlisle PA
The Odd Fellows Hall is the third floor of this building in downtown Carlisle. Note the large windows which are made of stained glass.

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) was founded in Baltimore, Maryland in 1819, and was based on the Order of Odd Fellows founded in England in the 18th century. Odd Fellow Lodge Number 91 was founded in Carlisle in the late 19th century and acquired an 18th-century building on West High Street in 1895.

Over the next few years, they constructed their lodge on the building’s third floor. Odd Fellows lodges were typically constructed near the highest point in a town to help keep prying eyes out, which made this a perfect spot.

In 1900, a local painter, John David Braught, was brought in to paint the incredible murals on the walls and ceilings of the main hall. These murals tell the story of the Good Samaritan, among others.

Mural on the ceiling of the Odd Fellows Hall in Carlisle PA
One of the many murals on the wall and ceiling.

This is, in large part, because the Odd Fellows, despite the secrecy and even rumors of rituals with real skeletons, was a fraternal society that was first and foremost designed to help people. This was especially needed in the time before things like social security, health care, and pensions.

While the Odd Fellows was a thriving organization at one time, they left their location in downtown Carlisle in the 1930s. While the building was used for a variety of things over the years, the hall on the third floor was largely left abandoned for over 70 years until the Cumberland County Historical Society purchased the building in 2005.

Carlisle Theater seen through the stained glass windows of the Odd Fellows Hall in Carlisle Pennsylvania
Peering out of the hall onto West High Street.

When they took over the building, the lodge was inhabited by birds and rain was seeping in through the ceiling. Fortunately, work was done to stabilize the roof and clean the area to help preserve the space.

Since then, though, little has been done to refurbish the space, which gives it a bit of an abandoned look. Obviously, I’d love to see it restored, but, as a fan of abandoned places in PA, I also really love the current patina of the space.

The historical society does hope to refurbish the space at some point, though it won’t be an inexpensive endeavor, so timing and future plans are a little up in the air right now.

Exploring the Odd Fellows Hall in Carlisle

Staircase up to the Odd Fellows Hall in Cumberland County PA
The Odd Fellows Hall can be found at the top of this nondescript staircase.

There are several rooms that make up the Odd Fellows Hall in Carlisle, and all are accessed via a non-descript door at the top of a long staircase. While the space is only opened for tours a few times a year, I was privileged to be granted access to the space by the historical society.

The first and second rooms of the space are essentially empty, but take note of the peepholes in the doors that can be opened or closed by those inside to keep prying eyes out. A sliding piece of metal can open and close this hole from the inside of the space.

Looking through one of the peepholes into the Odd Fellows Hall in Carlisle PA
Looking through one of the peepholes into the Odd Fellows Hall.

Off of the second space, there is a room that was used to store items used by the Odd Fellows. While there are no longer any items in the cabinets and drawers, the built-ins remain in the space, and the woodworking here is absolutely incredible.

A bathroom can be found off of this room, and while it’s obviously been updated a bit, it still retains a lot of historic charm.

Wooden built-ins in an abandoned room at the Odd Fellows Hall in Carlisle Pennsylvania
The built-ins in one of the side rooms show incredible craftsmanship.

While the other rooms are interesting, though, without a doubt, the highlight of the space is the large main hall with its 20-foot ceilings.

This is an incredibly impressive space with amazing light streaming in through the immaculately preserved stained-glass windows. Looking up, the murals, while faded and, in spots, cracked, are stunning.

An open door leads from a green room into the mall part of the abandoned Odd Fellows Hall in Carlisle PA
Entering into the main hall.

It’s truly remarkable that a space with so much beauty is hidden right in the heart of town and unknown to almost everyone who walks and drives down the street.

Walking into the room, the first thing you see are the 11 stained glass windows that showcase various aspects of Odd Fellow identity. While I don’t know what much of the symbolism means, I still found them to be incredible to look at, and it’s amazing they survived being neglected for seven decades.

Wall of stained glass windows at the Odd Fellows Hall in Cumberland County Pennsylvania
The stained glass windows are truly spectacular.

At either end of the room, you’ll find a small wooden stage, though I don’t know if this is an old feature or not. Behind the stage, there are murals on the walls that are quite well-preserved.

The murals continue along the entirety of the arched ceiling, and while some of these are a bit rough, they are all shockingly well preserved given their age and the years of neglect. The painter of the space was definitely very talented.

While these types of murals and windows might be common in other Odd Fellows’ halls, I can’t say I’ve ever seen something like this outside of some of PA’s most beautiful churches.

A wooden stage sits in front of a beautiful mural at the Odd Fellows Hall in Carlisle
The architecture of the room is quite stunning.

In addition to the stained glass windows and murals, there are a lot of other interesting details to see here including some really great architecture, antique wall sconces, and more.

This is truly an incredible room and something that is well worth seeing if you ever have the opportunity. Again, it’s amazing that this space isn’t widely known.

How to See the Odd Fellows Hall in Carlisle

The main Hall of the Odd Fellows showing signs of decay
Tours are offered periodically throughout the year.

The Odd Fellows Hall is not regularly open, so you’ll have to plan ahead if you want to see it for yourself.

The Cumberland County Historical Society offers periodic tours of the space for a small fee a few times each year. Make sure to check their Events page for any upcoming tour opportunities.

Looking for more places to visit nearby? Check out the abandoned POW Camp in Michaux State Forest, White Rocks Trail, and tours of the PA State Capitol.

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2 thoughts on “Exploring the Long-Shuttered Odd Fellows Hall in Carlisle, PA”

  1. Very fascinating! Could this be a potential spot for a workshop?

    The peepholes reminds me of wickets. I was involved with the Elks lodge for a number of years and they were used to seek permission before entering a room during ritual. The person on the outside would knock, from the inside someone would open the wicket to see who was seeking entry.

    The main hall was likely their ritual room with the stages being used to elevate their “president” and “vice president” during meetings/ritual ceremonies.

    I

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