Inside the Union Building (p5)

The Union Building was built primarily as a shared meeting space for many of Calumet’s fraternal organizations, specifically the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and the Free and Accepted Masons. But those organizations needed to pay the rent, and they did so by renting out the building’s lower floor to various retails establishments. This dual identity of the Union Building resulted in several design decisions, most notably of all is the placement of the building’s main stairway outside of the first floor retail spaces. This stairway provides access to the meeting halls but does not interfere with the use of the first floor storefronts. That stairway is entered via the first floor corner entrance by means of a pair of narrow wood doors (doors which open outward thankfully).

Once on the second floor the stairway’s classy decor and impressive scale is fully revealed, with dark wood railings, wainscoting, and delicately carved newels. The second floors increased ceiling height (14 feet) requires the stairs to turn upwards in two distinct steps, one short series of steps here where the photo was taken and another longer set seen on the right.

Here’s a closer look at one of those ornate newels, this one sitting at the bottom of that second series of steps leading up to the third floor.

From here the stairs continue up to the third floor, home to the Masons’ own meeting hall. But before heading up there, we had to first check out its companion hall here on the second floor.

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows lodge is really a combination of several small rooms along with the grand meeting hall itself. These peripheral areas include more utilitarian rooms such as the kitchen, reception room, and water closet (added later in the building’s life). It also includes a few more ceremonial spaces, such as the robing room and anteroom (waiting room). There is also a small hallway connected these outer rooms, a hallway we found ourselves upon entering the floor from the adjacent stairwell.

Upon entering this hallway we were greeted with a chaotic series of door choices; one leading back to the stairway, one to the bathroom, one leading to the reception room, and another to the anteroom. This hallway served as the main entrance to the lodge, and would serve to filter the types of people entering it. The servants and workers who were not members of the organization could head through the east door towards the reception room and kitchen while members and initiates would enter through the west door.


Before passing through the door, however, those wishing to enter the lodge had to first ring this bell at the door. At that point a guard inside would look through the peephole seen above to see who it was, possibly asking for a secret code. If the person attempting to enter was on the up and up, the door would be opened and that person would be allowed entrance. Well, at least they were given entrance to the first room on their journey – the anteroom.

The anteroom is really just a fancied up waiting room, and it was here that people awaiting their invitation into the main hall to participate in one of several rituals. Most of these rituals involved the granting of “degrees” to certain members. Odd Fellows had four levels of membership starting with a initial initiatory degree given to any new members. After that members could excel through three more levels of membership known as degrees. These degrees include the Degree of Friendship, the Degree of Love, and the Degree of Truth.

The anteroom contains four doors, one of which leads to a simple store room. Each of the other doors lead to another room of the lodge, with the doors seen above leading – from left to right – to the robing room, the hall itself, and back into the hallway.

Heres the door through which we just entered, the one leading back out into the hallway. Here you can make out both the bell and the peephole through which the lodge’s guard would have checked the identity of prospective visitors.

Here’s a close look at the business end of that bell. I’m not sure if the bell is original or a reproduction, but it still works.

And here’s the business end of that peephole. Just slide the small tab out of the way and you have a view down the adjacent hallway. An identical peephole can also be found on the door into the hall itself, probably there for the same reason.

The anteroom features a rather rich decor, embellished with a great deal of darkly stained trim for good measure. The room’s pair of windows are covered by massive wood shutters, remnants from the building’s original decor. The walls feature a shoulder high slatted wainscoting interspaced with an olive colored fabric wall covering. (the two doors seen here provide egress to a pair of small storage rooms).

The entire room has the feel of a classy gentlemen’s club and I can imagine the air having once been filled with a thick smokey haze from all the pipes the men here were sure to be smoking.

In fact the room is equipped for such cancer inducing habits, as it sports this large brass pipe shelf for men to store their pipes while removing their coats.

Those coats were hung off one of the dozens of hooks that run along the periphery of the room, placed along the top of that high chair rail.

Up above that chair rail is a rather boring wall paint, but that wasn’t the rooms original wall covering. Looking up we see another one of those vignettes, this one revealing the original wall paper that one graced the anteroom’s walls. Honestly it sort of ruins that whole gentlemen’s club vibe a bit, but I guess that’s the Victorian age for you.

Moving on…

The Grand Opening of the Keweenaw National Historical Park’s new Calumet Visitor Center – housed within the newly renovated Union Building – will be held on Thursday October 27th with a ribbon cutting ceremony at 10am. In addition to the visitor center itself, the building will be home to several interactive exhibits about life and work in the great metropolis of Red Jacket. The building will be open to the public between 9am and 5pm, and there is no cost for admission.

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