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New Castle Elks Lodge

The original New Castle Elks Lodge (BPOE 69) was built in 1887 and was one of the earliest Elks lodges in the country. By 1915 the Elks had outgrown their building and in 1916 a new one was built that was one of the most prominent and remarkable in its town. The parade and the dedication were huge events that drew Elks members from all across the region and tours were offered to townspeople of the new quarters. Elks lodges members were primarily from vaudeville and theater groups, which may explain the theatrical character of the oval room on the third floor of the building. According to the Lawrence County Memoirs website, "The new building had a large basement and three full stories, with a large meeting/dancing hall on the top floor, a billiards parlor, social rooms, a two-lane bowling alley, a kitchen and dining area, locker rooms and shower facilities, and a reading and writing rooms."

In the 1980s the membership had dwindled and the remaining Elks decided to relocate to a smaller building. In the 1990s ownership of the building was given over to the city, which allowed the building to continue to deteriorate with no effort made to restore or reuse it. By 2011, the city decided to demolish the building despite the state museum and historical commission's interest in potential rehabilitation. A little over a month after I visited the site for the first time, I went back to reshoot several pictures and two thirds of the back half of the building had been torn off. The rest was in the process of coming down - a sad and wasteful end, as there appeared to have been no effort to salvage anything other than the seats in the theater.

Finding the New Castle Elk Lodge was essentially dumb luck, as I stumbled across it when going to visit family in that part of the state. I had no idea what to expect when I went inside, but the doors on the back were wide open and a dish of cat food was on the back step. I quickly realized that a squatter was living there when I saw a roomful of water bottles and trash. This is always a little unsettling because there is no real way to tell what kind of person you might encounter, whether they're violent, whether they'll ambush you, and so on. Considering I was by myself and nobody really knew I was in the building, that would potentially pose a problem.

The second issue that made photographing this building an uneasy experience was that the floors were in pretty bad condition and it was very dark in most of the building. When I reached the large, theater-like room on the top floor I had noticed several holes and as I approached the raised area with the elk head, my foot went through the floor - something that is hard to get used to, no matter how many times it happens.

And then there was the elk head. after the initial rush of awe at seeing the huge oval room on the third floor, I took a closer look at the rotting head on the far wall. It seemed every viewing angle was more horrific than the last, and it was perfectly positioned in a dusty patch of sunlight in such a way that you couldn't really not look at it. The wood boards and hay they had stuffed it with were exposed by the drooping skin, likely further damaged by mice who crawled in to get hay for their nests. It was one of those things that you know will make for interesting and distinctive pictures, but still makes you inwardly recoil when you look at it leering out from the shadows.

There were a number of really amazing spots in the lodge. The scorched theater-like room on the first floor really was interesting, and the oval room on the third floor, with its dangling ring of lights in the center and the old benches lining the walls, was very distinctive and really showed the ravages of unmolested decay. When I went to go back a little over a month later, I was dismayed to see that the building was undergoing demolition. My first visit was also my last.

There is little in the world as disappointing as making a trip out to take pictures of a location, only to find that you are unable to photograph it for some reason or another. It is even worse when you are confronted with the evidence that you will never have the chance to photograph it again. Seeing rooms I recognized and had walked through two months earlier hanging off the end of the building was surreal. I could make out a few of the benches still tenaciously clinging to the wall on the third floor, some of the enormous steel roof supports in the rubble, and bits of the chessboard tiled floor at veering off odd angles. It was tempting to try to go into what was left to get a few last pictures but I decided against it. The structural integrity of the building had been bad enough when it was still intact. There really was little else I could do but work my way behind the fencing and take a few shots of the lodge before it was gone forever, taking most of the wood paneling, masonry, bricks, and interesting curios with it to the landfill.

If you'd like to learn more about this location, it is a featured chapter in the new Abandoned America book Abandoned America: The Age of Consequences. Signed copies are available through my website, or you can find (unsigned) copies available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many other online booksellers across the globe.
New Castle Elks Lodge (New Castle, PA) | Original Lodge
New Castle Elks Lodge (New Castle, PA) | Historical Photo
New Castle Elks Lodge (New Castle, PA) | Exterior View
New Castle Elks Lodge (New Castle, PA) | Elk Head
New Castle Elks Lodge (New Castle, PA) | Nightmare Fuel
soon enough
sitting room