Towards the center of downtown Richmond, running by the capital building, and eventually emptying into Monument Avenue, is Franklin Street. Franklin Street is perhaps best known as one of the streets involved in the 1863 bread riot, or where Robert E. Lee resided. Today, though, you will find that Franklin Street is marked primarily by office buildings designed, in a futile effort, to retain some of the old beauty of Richmond, but its antebellum and Civil War character was much more diverse.
On the corner of Franklin and Mayo Street, which is now Interstate 95 overpass, was Odd Fellows’ Hall, home to a chapter of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, an international service fraternity. Odd Fellows’ Hall hosted events and gatherings throughout the Civil War. Notices for activities at Odd Fellows’ Hall appeared regularly in the local newspapers during that period. The only thing that seemed to change were the activities that took place there. During the mid-1800’s—a period of much development in the South, especially in Richmond—Odd Fellows’ Hall seemed to stay almost untouched. The Civil War had an effect on the activities conducted at Odd Fellows’ Hall, but the versatility of the hall, and the greater network of Odd Fellows, allowed it to survive the war with little impact. The Odd Fellows’ Hall demonstrates how versatility is an important attribute to surviving in wartime.
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a non-political, non-denominational, benevolent organization established in 1819 “for the purpose of giving aid to those in need and of pursuing projects for the benefit of all mankind,”, did not claim to have a standing opinion on war. The Civil War, however, was powerful enough to cause independent chapters to take a stand. When the Southern states seceded from the United States, the Southern Lodges of Odd Fellows met “for the purpose of dissolving the connection existing between the Southern Lodges and the Grand Lodge of the United States.” The southern chapters of the Odd Fellows fully supported the war and the Confederate army and claimed they would “hold no fraternity nor fellowship with men who, while they call us brothers, seek to make us slaves.”
The hall was situated amidst many businesses, such as law firms and medical practices. It was just down from the synagogue Beth Shalom, next to Mrs. E.C. Graves Boarding House, and there was even an art store close by offering painting lessons for ten dollars—something that was unheard of in the poorer neighborhoods, and quickly disappeared after the start of the war. As stores went out of business, the synagogue lost members, and the elite either moved or fled Richmond, Odd Fellows’ Hall remained standing, occupied and relevant to the day-to-day life of Richmond during the Civil War.
While many events held at Odd Fellows’ Hall were innocuous and neutral, events such as slave auctions and calls to arms indicated the chapter’s opinion on slavery and the Civil War. The hall hosted meetings for different Odd Fellow Chapters almost every night of the week, and many other times was used for town meetings. It housed offices for various local companies and served as a place a company could temporarily set up to sell products. It even had a highly recommended drinking house located beneath it run by a Mr. Fin Coan, who was enlisted as a soldier at some point during the Civil War. As the war progressed, though, the hall was used for events more related to the war. It was used as a place for soldier to meet and rally, was turned into a hospital for a time during 1861, was used as lodging for confederate soldiers at various times, and funerals for fraternity members became more frequent. It was this versatility that allowed the building to remain standing, and remain occupied and vibrant while the neighborhood around it changed.
The Odd Fellows’ Hall was situated in one of the more elite and prosperous neighborhoods of Richmond. Behind the “impressive façade of Federal and Greek Revival townhouses,” on Franklin Street, slave labor was used to keep the homes of the upper class running smoothly. In fact, Odd Fellows’ Hall was furnished with a room where slave auctions were held. In this way the hall supported a neighborhood whose activities were reliant upon slave labor. In fact, “almost one hundred slaves labored in just fifteen houses along Franklin Street.”iv Odd Fellows’ Hall was located close to the epicenter of Richmond’s slave trade, so it’s no wonder the slave trade made it to their hall. In any Richmond Daily Dispatch issue articles advertised the private sale of “Negroes” by various companies such as S. N. Davis and Company, who were “negro traders,” or Pulliam and Company, who were simply auctioneers.iv Pulliam and Company might have had a little more influence when it came to conducting business at the Hall because the company that organized the business dealings there was Pulliam, Hanes and Weisiger.
The Pulliam, Hanes and Weisiger Company most often dealt with the more wholesome business in Odd Fellows’ Hall. The ads for their goods often included “a nice lot of Bacon and Pork” or “a lot of No. 1 old whiskey, chewing and smoking tobacco, mackerel, soda, salt, vinegar, and ground coffee.” The company never seemed to sell the same thing twice, but focused on food and home goods, with “valuable houses and lots” for sale every once in a while. The Pulliam, Hanes and Weiseger Company is evidence that versatility is key to enduring through change. This company had a hand in so many different types of business that it would be almost impossible for all of their ventures to fail.
At Odd Fellows’ Hall the only thing that stayed constant was the selling of slaves. From 1860 all the way through 1865 advertisements proclaimed slaves for sale at Odd Fellows’ Hall. The Hall hosted many events based on the needs of the Richmond, and particularly the Franklin Street communities. On Franklin Street there was a versatile company, located in a multipurpose building, on a busy street. The Pulliam, Hanes and Weisiger Company and Odd Fellows’ Hall are accurate representations of the look and feel of Franklin Street, and how it was used. They also exemplify how important it is to serve a variety of interests and uses. Like the company Franklin Street served many different purposes, and like the hall Franklin Street was used by a myriad of people. This intersection of Franklin Street, Odd Fellows’ Hall, and the Pulliam, Hanes and Weisiger Company proved to be versatile, and this characteristic allowed them to survive the war. Though Odd Fellows’ Hall no longer stands today, and the Pulliam, Hanes and Weisiger Company is no longer in business, Franklin Street still runs through Richmond, and is still a testament to how versatility is key to persevering not only through war, but through the change of time.
 The City of Richmond, 1860 Richmond Business Directory (Richmond, 1860), http://www.mdgorman.com/Written_Accounts/1860%20Business%20Directory.htm.
 The City of Richmond, The Stranger’s Guide and Official Directory for the City of Richmond (Richmond: GEO. P. EVANS and CO., 1863), 1:accessed February 17, 2011, http://www.mdgorman.com/Written_Accounts/1863%20Richmond%20Directory.htm.
 Coan, Fin. National Park Service. U.S. Civil War Soldiers, 1861-1865 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007.
 Gregg D. Kimball, American City, Southern Place (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2000), 65