The charming main street through Odessa will soon have another big gap, when the Rebekah Lodge Building (which burned in mid August) is demolished. This structure was originally the Walker House Hotel, and has a long history. The site was purchased by Johnston Walker in 1847 for 55 pounds. At that time 55 pounds was a reasonable price for a lot with little or nothing built upon it. Johnston Walker was the son of Weedon Walker who owned a hostelry at concession 3, lot 8, Kingston township known as “Five Mile House”. His son may have gained his hotel-keeping experience there.
Johnston Walker built the original, handsome symmetrical red brick building, probably in the 1840’s — early 1850’s as the twelve-over-six fenestration and entrance treatment suggest. The Walker family owned the Odessa building until 1871. It then passed to the Wycott family, who changed the name to “The Royal Hotel”. They sold to the International Order of Oddfellows (IOOF), Lodge 361, in 1914. The Oddfellows were a very popular fraternal society in Odessa. The ladies’ arm of the IOOF are the Rebekahs, and both the male and female societies met in the building with the two coming together to share a sumptuous dinner annually. The old Walker House has another connection to many local families. In the 1940’s, when rural young folk no longer liked to have granny’s wake in the parlour, the front room of the old hotel was often rented for that purpose.
Odessa was once one of the most thriving villages of Ernestown Township and has survived nearly in tact. Ironically, the other major loss on the main street was another hotel, the old Stagecoach Inn. The sign from the facade of the Stagecoach Inn and attached spoolwork elaboration now hang at the Lennox and Addington County Museum in Napanee.
Ernestown Township became part of Loyalist Township in 1999, and there is an active Heritage Committee, but it is doubtful that anything can be done to encourage a sympathetic replacement for either hotel. The lesson is that we need to respect, care for and enjoy those old buildings which remain to us, as their numbers dwindle every year.
I am grateful to Philip Smart and Ross Babcock for sharing their research with me. I also wish to acknowledge the late Glenn Robertson who shared his family photographs with the community, including the one above which shows the Walker House when it was the Royal Hotel, circa 1900.
Below, after the fire.