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“So Charitable a Mission”

The Odd Fellows Home in Elkins

By Karen Stalnaker

Odd Fellows Home
The Odd Fellows Home today. The spectacular structure sits on a hilltop just south of Elkins. It was built in 1908, through the influence and endowment of Elkins industrialist Henry Gassaway Davis on 200 acres donated by the Elkins Board of Trade. Between 1911 and 1954, this was home for more than 700 children. Photographs by Michael Keller.

Many people believe that orphanages and children’s homes are used strictly as institutions to raise children with no parents, or when their extended families cannot, or will not, accept the responsibility. At one time, however, many of these homes in West Virginia were considered community resources, where parents could leave their children temporarily if they were unable to care for them due to poverty or illness, returning for their children when they were again self-sufficient. That is what happened with my Momma.

My great-grandmother Bonnie Withrow Porter, whom I affectionately call “Momma,” was born in rural Kanawha County on October 15, 1914. She was one of six children, and she spent much of her childhood at the spacious Odd Fellows Home in Elkins.

Momma married young. She was lucky — she married a wonderful man, my great-grandfather Homer Porter. Together, they raised eight children and one granddaughter — my mother. For more than 60 years, Bonnie and Homer enjoyed life together in West Hamlin, Lincoln County.

Now, my great-grandfather is gone, and Momma suffers the effects of a stroke and Altzheimer’s. She no longer recognizes family members and doesn’t function well in day-to-day activities. But somehow, through her cloudy memories, she clearly recalls her happiest childhood moments. It might seem surprising to those who think of orphanages or children’s homes as sad and lonely places, but some of Momma’s happiest times are related to the years she spent at the Odd Fellows Home.

You can read the rest of this article in the Fall 2003 issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.