By Jan Wyllie
Originally Published on March 6, 2018
The moving spirit for the Elks was an Englishman named Charles Algernon Sidney Vivian. Born October 22, 1842, this son of a clergyman was a successful comic singer and dancer in the music halls of London. In November 1867, Vivian arrived in New York City to try his fortune.
Charles Algernon Sidney Vivian
Other actors and entertainers soon gravitated toward his magnetic personality. With everything closed on Sunday because of New York City Blue Laws, a group of theatrical people began meeting for their own amusement under Vivian’s leadership. A loose organization was formed to make sure the larder was well-stocked for these gatherings. They called themselves the Jolly Corks, a name derived from a trick introduced by Vivian in which the uninitiated purchased a round of refreshments.
When one of their members died shortly before Christmas in 1867, leaving his wife and children destitute, the Jolly Corks decided that in addition to good fellowship, they needed a more enduring organization to serve those in need.
On February 16, 1868, they established the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks and elected Vivian to head it. Its social activities and benefit performances increased the popularity of the new Order. Membership grew rapidly. Elks traveling to other cities spread the word of the Brotherhood of Elks. Soon there were requests for Elks Lodges in cities other than New York. In response to these appeals, the Elks asked the New York State legislature for a charter authorizing the establishment of a Grand Lodge with the power to establish local Lodges anywhere in the United States. When the Grand Lodge Charter was issued, the founders then received the first local charter as New York Lodge No. 1 on March 10, 1871.
New York Elks Lodge #1
Dissension soon erupted. Legitimate actors headed by George F. McDonald wanted to restrict membership to the theatrical profession. This view was opposed by Vivian and his friends. Taking advantage of Vivian’s absence due to an out-of-town engagement, the McDonald group summarily expelled Vivian and several of his closest friends. Years later the Order rectified this illegal act, but it gave rise to a controversy whether Vivian was actually the founder of the Order. In 1897, a formal inquiry firmly established his right to this honored title.
Vivian continued, after his expulsion from the Order, to enchant audiences across the country. He starred with some of the largest road companies of the time. Together with his actress wife, the former Imogene Holbrook, Vivian set up a repertoire theater in Leadville, Colorado. Shortly thereafter he died of pneumonia on March 20, 1880. In 1889, the Elks moved his body from Leadville, Colorado, to Mt. Hope Cemetery in Boston, Massachusetts. Mrs. Vivian received a stipend from the Order her husband founded until her death in 1931.
The legacy of Charles Vivian continues to this day. In addition to aiding members in distress, the Elks raise money for children with disabilities, college scholarships, youth projects and recreational programs for patients in veteran’s hospitals.
On June 14, 1907 the Order held a Flag Day observance. This tradition later was declared a national holiday by President Harry S. Truman.
During World War I, the Elks funded and equipped the first two field hospitals in France and built a 72-room community house in Camp Sherman, Ohio, and a 700-bed rehabilitation hospital in Boston, which they turned over to the War Department. They also raised money for the Salvation Army’s frontline canteens.
Their loans to 40,000 returning veterans for college, rehabilitation and vocational education were the precursor of the GI Bill.
When World War II broke out, the Elks were the only civilian organization asked to help recruit construction workers for the military, a task that was completed three months ahead of schedule. The Elks also contributed more than half a million books to the Merchant Marines so that their men would have reading material on board ship.
The Korean War again brought out the best in the Elks. They donated more than half a million pints of blood to help wounded soldiers.
When the wounded from Vietnam needed help, the Elks responded. They provided the funds for a recreation pavilion at the Navy Hospital on Guam. The wounded at Tripler Medical Center in Hawaii were sweltering in the heat. When the Elks heard of their plight, they purchased 24 air-conditioning units so these patriots could recuperate in some degree of comfort.
When Operation Desert Storm took place, the Elks again led the support for our fighting men and women in the Persian Gulf. Subordinate Lodges undertook letter-writing campaigns to help keep up the spirits of the defenders of freedom. The Elks were also among the first to welcome them home and thank them for a job well done.
Our story is long; our work is humble; our history is proud. As long as there are those who need our help, the Elks will be there to give aid and comfort.
In 1895 there were 3 prominent gentlemen living in Port Huron who belonged to the Flint Lodge of Elks #222. These 3 men, David McArron, B. J. Karrer, Sr. and Frank S. Beckton, conceived the idea of establishing a lodge of Elks in Port Huron.
In the early part of 1896, 34 prominent business and professional men and on April 28, 1896, a lodge was organized here. District Deputy Joseph B. McInnes of Grand Rapids Lodge #48 came here to assist in the organization. At that time, he was assisted by members of Saginaw Lodge #47, Flint Lodge #333, New York Lodge #1, and Duluth Lodge #133.
The initial meeting was held in Woodmen Hall which at the time was over Knill Drug Store, on the N.E. corner of Quay Street and Huron Avenue. The meetings were held there until 1902 when the quarters became inadequate and it was necessary to move.
On September 12, 1902, Port Huron Elks Lodge 343 engaged the 3rd floor of the Moore block and furnished it ready for occupancy. The opening in the new Lodge rooms was on October 9, 1902.
During this period there was great interest taken in ritualistic work, so much so, that on June 27, 1908, a team went to Kalamazoo and won the much-coveted state trophy for that work against such men as “Puss” Palmer, who was the Attorney General of the State of Michigan. The trophy is still on exhibit in our Sylvie Room.
The Lodge prospered and became the social center of Port Huron. In 1910, the Moore Block quarters also became inadequate. A movement was started to build a new temple in Port Huron. On June 24, 1910, a resolution was passed authorizing the Exalted Ruler to appoint a committee of 3 to investigate the advisability of erecting a Temple, select a site, secure options on such property as would be adaptable, purchase or otherwise secure the necessary land.
An appointed building committee submitted a report to the Lodge on October 7, 1920 to the effect that suitable property was available at Pine and Military Street and it was decided to purchase that site.
The corner stone was laid on October 9, 1910 and the Temple opened on October 9, 1912. A formal ball was held on December 3rd that year.
The Temple became increasingly popular and in November 1922, the First Mortgage Bonds were paid off. During the depression years, the Lodge had rough sailing to meet the payment of the Second Mortgage Bonds. However, the crisis was met in 1941 and to signal its freedom from debt, the Lodge burned the mortgage on the Temple.
In 1970 the Elks were dying a slow death and the building needed much maintenance. A group of several younger members formed to see what could be done and they came up with a proposal to sell of the old building and purchase enough property for a lodge and a golf
course which was approved at a special meeting with over 200 members in attendance.
On November 16, 1971 the committee formed a non-profit corporation called 343 Valley, Inc.
On December 5, 1971, 343 Valley purchased 3292 Beach Road (our present location) from Hidden Valley Country Club, Inc. and the Oxbow Island from Andrew Bryan for $210,000. A down payment of $50,000 was made with the balance on a land contract.
On February 25, 1972, the downtown bar and most of the bar contents were sold for $30,000 and we moved our daily operations to 3292 Beach Road.
The land contract was paid off in 11 years and all the 343 stock was repurchased by the Elks within 13 years.
Through the years there have been tons and tons of volunteer work and fundraising efforts to improve upon what we started with. Thanks to the many efforts of the Lodge Improvement Committee, monies raised have paid for the majority: new entry, new chairs, new carpet, painting, new air conditioning, heating, and much more.
Jan Wyllie has been a member of the Port Huron Elks Lodge 343 for the past 22 years being initiated on August 8, 1996. She was the second woman to join the Elks after the first woman, Marion Evans who was initiated on January 25, 1996. Jan has been the editor of the P.H. Elks Lodge newsletter called the Expositor since April 1997 through the present with a little break in the middle from June 2006 to March 2010. Jan has been an Officer of the Lodge several times being Lecturing Knight, Loyal Knight, Inner Guard, Tiler, Esquire, Chaplain, Trustee and Chairman of the Board of Trustees. Through the years she has sat in for absent Officers on numerous occasions. She has chaired many events at the Lodge including Children’s Christmas Party, Easter Egg Hunt, New Year’s Parties, Super Bowl Parties, Expositor Parties, Family Picnic, Spam Fest, and many more. She continues to this day to make posters for events, tickets for events, programs, and more.