In the Spring of 1899, three residents of the City of Watertown: Dr. W. S. Huntington, William I. Mackey, and John H. Guest, initiated action to form an Elks Lodge in Watertown. A meeting for this purpose was held with approximately 20 - 25 in attendance. On May 8,1899, a dispensation was granted by Grand Lodge and a Charter was granted on June 22, 1899, with Syracuse Lodge No. 31 as our sponsor. Later in our Lodge history we sponsored Plattsburgh Lodge No. 621 which received its charter on July 25, 1901. Our Lodge also sponsored Ogdensburg Lodge No. 772 in 1912, followed by Lowville Lodge No. 1605 in 1937 and Carthage Lodge No. 1762 in 1948.
The first meetings of our Lodge were held in the Herald Building. Later we met on the third floor of the City National Bank Building. In 1905, the Lodge occupied Kiva Hall which was located on the second floor of the Franklin Arcade Building. The present site of the YWCA on Public Square. The next move was to the Treadwell Mansion propery located on lower Washington Street until it was sold to provide offices for the Agricultural Insurance Company. Since we were forced to move from that location, temporary arrangements were made with Guilfoyle Annex on Stone Street. In 1921, we purchased the old Post Office Building located at 142 Arcade Street where we made our home until December 9, 1988. We sold the building and purchased the former Margaritaville Restaurant at 728 Bradley Street which is our current home. Since we have been here we have also purchased adjourning properties expanding with the hope of future growth.
Originally our Lodge was part of the Northeastern New York District but as more Lodges became chartered, a realignment was necessary. Sometime in the thirties, our area as designated as the North Central District which was then comprised of the following Lodges: Watertown, Carthage, Oswego, Fulton, Syracuse, Auburn, Lyons and Newark. It remained in this alignment until 1959 when the district was restructured by Grand Lodge with the following lineup of Lodges: Watertown, Ogdensburg, Lowville, Carthage, Massena, Gouverneur, and Potsdam. Later in 1985, Malone became part of our North Central District No. 6240.
Our Exalted Rulers have served our Lodge well over the past. Several of them continued on to be active at Grand Lodge and New York State Association levels. We wish to single out Francis P. Hart. He served as Exalted Ruler in 1942 after which he became a Trustee of the Lodge. In 1945, he was appointed District Deputy Grand Exalted Ruler. He contined his dedication in Elkdom and its programs in the New York State Elks Association. He was elected President of the Association in 1956. On May 11, 1957, our Lodge honored him as retiring President of that association with a testimonial dinner at our Lodge. Guests of honor for this event included G.E.R. Frank O. Garland and P.G.E.R. James T. Halliman, Associate Judge of the Appellate Division, Supreme Court of the New York State. In 1960, Francis was appointed to the Grand Lodge Ritualistic Committee and in 1964 as the Grand Esquire. Later, he was appointed as Grand Trustee and elected Chairman in 1966. He continued to be active in the Grand Lodge following his term of Office and he was disignated as Special Deputy of the Grand Exalted Ruler which he served for 15 years. The Lodge has been honored to have one of its members serve Elkdom so well. Francis died September 3, 1984, followed by his wife's death the following day. Our Exalted Rulers continue to be active in the upper levels of Elkdom. In 1991, Nelson Navarra was elected President of the New York State Elks Associaion. In 2005, Timothy E. Kelly was elected as President.
Watertown Lodge over the years has sponsored the appearances of leading figures in the field of sports and in entertainment. One of the outstanding sporting events was the exhibition baseball game played at the fairgrounds on October 15, 1928, in which George Herman "Babe" Ruth and Larrupin Lou Gehrig of the New York Yankees were the star attractions. Following the series that year, the Babe and Lou went on a barn storming trip which included a visit to Watertown and our Lodge to help raise funds for our charity programs. It was reported that 8,000 fans were in attendance, the largest sporting event ever held there. The Babe played first base on the Elks designated team while Lou played on the YMCA. Arch rivals in the city league at the time. The personel of the Elks lineup included: Cam Gravell, Harry Brouty, Bunny VanDusen, Charlie Morrison, and Jitney Hulburt. Lou's team won the game (nobody really cared) even though the Bambino hit 3 home runs while Lou was "held" to a double and a triple. It was a holiday for the kids who were excused from school. They were all there. They swarmed the playing area and retrieved the foul balls as well as the fail balls hilt to the outfield as souvenirs. The game was called off at the end of the 8th inning since the supply of baseballs was exhausted. The heros visited the St. Patrick's Orphanage and Children's Home of Jefferson County.
Under the auspices of the Youth Activities Committee, the Boy's Town Choir for Father Flanagans's Boys' Home presented a concert over the years on 3 different occassions. The same group sponsored concerts offered by the U.S. Military Academy of 90 voices, the third of which was held in December, 1974, and they were joined in the singing by 40 young ladies from Ladycliff College. In recent years, Craig Conroy noted NHL hockey player has visited our Lodge. On the field of play and the concert halls, we have been well entertained and thank all who have played a part in these areas.
Many special kids programs have been offered by our Lodge over the years. Such as: Hoop and Soccer Shoot programs, Youth Golf tournaments, Drug Awareness and Americanism Essay Contests, and recently a Dictionary program where every 3rd grader is given a free dictionary. Our sponsorship of a Boy Scout troop has produced many Eagle Scouts as well as many who have gone on to be outstanding members of our community. We are now proudly sponsoring Girl Scout programs. You name the sport or activity that is involved with our youth and the name of Watertown Elks Lodge will be in there some way.
In the fall of 2001, our Lodge completed significant addition to our Lodge. At a cost of about $750,000, the Lodge nearly doubled in size. We added a dining room capable of seating 294 people, a game room, and an office.
Our membership as of June 2016 stands at 1,359, and of the 134 lodges in New York State, Watertown Lodge #496 is the third largest. Over the years, we have had over 8000 members initiated or affiliated into the Watertown Lodge. Our membership continues to grow with a wide and diversified membership that continues to uphold the time honored traditions of this great order.
Most of the information for this history page was provided from a article published in 1989 celebrating the Lodge's 90th anniversary. It cites the PER Kenneth Brett and PSVP Lewis Manfred as sources.
Photo of gravesite at Mt. Hope Cemetary, Boston, MA. Location in cemetary: Walnut Ave., Lot No. 1650, Grave No. 14.
Photo of the gravesite was taken by Rick C. Barrisford, PER, PEOY, PT on July 26, 2012.