BY MIKE AVITT
You may have read the Odd Fellows building in Mount Ayr will undergo a restoration effort. I believe I have found the beginning of this historic hall.
The 1877 Ringgold Record newspapers are digitized and on the internet, but I could not find the newspapers from 1878. So, I have only half the story.
There were at least two other brick buildings in Mt. Ayr in 1877 and I know where one of those sat. The Odd Fellows Hall seems to have been built jointly by the Mount Ayr Independent Order of Odd Fellows and a man named John Currie in 1877. Work did not start until the first of August so it was not completed until 1878. S. W. Stewart was burning bricks for this project and a Mr. Foregraves seems to be the construction supervisor. I know from the 1886 Sanborn plat maps, the two storefronts on the ground floor were occupied by a drug store (102 E. Madison) and a hardware store (106 E. Madison).
Mr. John Currie is a very important figure in Ringgold County history. Currie, whose parents were born in Scotland, came to Afton about 1872. A year later he moved to Mount Ayr and started a stage line from Mount Ayr to Afton.
This was greatly needed as Afton had gotten the railroad in 1869 and Mount Ayr would not see the rails until 1879. So, Currie would take mail to Afton to be put on trains and bring Ringgold County mail back. And not just mail, but passengers and dry goods, too. The ‘hack line” was a taxi, freight, and mail service. Currie’s stage office was located in the Mount Ayr Hotel, then owned by Francis Ellis.
John Currie bought the Ellis Hotel in 1874. He already owned a livery business and was in a position to build up Mt. Ayr. In 1877, it was a certainty Mt. Ayr would get the railroad. The Odd Fellows would surely hold conventions when rail service arrived and the hotel and the Odd Fellows Hall would be 120 feet apart. In 883, the Currie House underwent a major reconstruction.
Currie would own the Mount Ayr Hotel until his death in 1897. John and his wife Sarah had two sons, W. K. and John Byars Currie.
J. B. Currie had worked at his father’s hotel but, in 1907, went into the jewelry and optician business in Mount Ayr. J. B. operated in several locations until 1920 when he moved to 120 W. Madison, a location he would occupy for 25 years. Currie also did watch repair.
While J. B. Currie was in his last store, he hired a young man named Harry Gunter. Harry opened his own Jewelry and watch repair business at 106 N. Taylor in 1946. Also in 1946, Currie moved his optical business to his home and sold his retail stock to P. M. Place.
The Mount Ayr Odd Fellows building has been unoccupied for many years. It will be interesting to see what develops.
BY MIKE AVITT