Rally Cry

Madison Elks Club revitalized
with opening of new lodge

Welcome mat is out for
prospective members at club

By Laura Hodges
Contributing Writer

(September 2010) – Four years after a catastrophic fire destroyed its lodge on West Street in downtown Madison, Ind., the Madison Elks Lodge No. 534 has completed the renovation of its new home at 1251 W. Main St.
“Open” is the new watchword at the lodge. It is open to the public for lunch and welcoming to those who want to join.

Bill and Susan Kindle

Photo by Laura Hodges

Bill and Susan Kindle enjoy lunch
with their grandson, Alex, at the
newly renovated Madison Elks Club.

Formerly the Madison Country Club, the location at the west end of Main Street offers an attractive package for those seeking a quiet, elegant yet casual dining venue.
The recent renovation, completed for less than the budgeted $250,000, included new wiring and an upgraded walk-in refrigerator for the kitchen, modernized restrooms, new lighting fixtures for the banquet hall, a screened porch and flat screen televisions everywhere.
The result is a comfortable dining room for cozy luncheons and convivial dinner parties, as well as an elegant banquet hall that can be rented for special occasions. Members get a discounted rental rate. The hall seats 80 people comfortably.
Tony Steinhardt, who leads the lodge as Exalted Ruler, is says he is proud to have the renovation complete. “It’s a nice atmosphere. It allows us to go ahead and do our work in the community,” he said.
With the new building, the Elks have hired a new food manager, Kelly Knight. As head chef, she created a menu that features old favorites as well as more challenging cuisine. Lunch is served 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Senior cook Brent Thacker is the grillmaster.
Knight learned to cook watching her grandmother make comfort food like chicken and dumplings. Now a graduate of Sullivan University culinary school, she has studied under elite chefs and has operated her own Madison eatery, Humble Pie Kitchen.
Elks member Camille Fife said it is Knight’s facility with both classic country cooking and haute cuisine that makes her so valuable to the Elks. They are hoping that the open lunch hours will draw more people into lodge membership.
The dining room and bar are open to the public from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. In addition to those hours, Elks members can use the dining room and bar from 4 to 9 p.m. Thursday through Friday and from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays.
The building now in use as the Elks Lodge and its grounds have as varied a history as any property in Madison. The home was built around 1842 as the private family home of John W. and America Hunter. Next to the Hunter property was land owned by Jesse Whitehead. Whitehead donated his land for use as a fairgrounds, and in 1854 the Indiana State Fair was held there.
During the Civil War, the former Hunter and Whitehead properties became the site of Madison General Hospital, the second largest military hospital for Union troops. The hospital was built at the request of Gen. William McKee Dunn, a congressman and native of Jefferson County. The former Hunter home became the commandant’s residence.

Former Madison Country Club

Photo by Laura Hodges

Formerly the Madison Country Club,
the location at the west end of
Main Street offers an attractive
package for those seeking a quiet,
elegant yet casual dining venue.

During the period 1875-1900, the Beech Grove Trotting Association was formed, taking its name from the impressive beech grove near the Hunter house. The association purchased the Hunter and Whitehead properties and built a half-mile track for harness racing. Historic photos show paddlewheeled steamboats docked near the track as race fans flocked to Madison for a day of racing. Later, in 1901, the Beech Grove Park was converted for use as a summer-long Chautauqua. During the Chautauqua, families pitched tents on the property and enjoyed cultural entertainment such as lectures, music and plays. The Chautauqua continued at this location until 1929.
The Madison Country Club was formed in 1913 and was a popular retreat in its day. One could swim, play tennis and golf right on the premises. The country club disbanded in 2003. The property was owned for a while by Crooked Creek LLC, a group of about 30 former country club members, then sold to Indiana-Kentucky Electric Corp., which operates the Clifty Creek Power Plant. The nine-hole golf course is now privately operated as the River Chase Golf Club. IKEC granted the Elks a 20-year lease on the clubhouse building
John Rees, Elks’ head trustee, said the property is very well suited to the Elks’ needs. “It’s superb. It’s a good asset to the community,” said Rees. Noting that Mayor Tim Armstrong and the city of Madison encouraged the Elks to utilize this location, Rees said, “It’s a good partnership that makes use of a historic building.”
The motto of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks is “Elks Care, Elks Share.” Steinhardt pointed out that the lodge’s primary mission is charitable. Projects focus on youth, veterans and cancer research.
For example, the Elks’ Community Activities Committee is currently collecting new shoes in children’s sizes to donate to the Salvation Army. The community has a big need for shoes at back-to-school time, according to Don Wells, who chairs the committee. At Christmas time, 40 children receive gifts through the Elks generosity.
Another Elks program presented $4,500 in college scholarships to four Jefferson County recipients last year. The Elks Hoop Shoot is another popular youth program.
Veterans are a continuing concern for the Elks. Members are currently using a raffle to purchase a “mobility bicycle” for a disabled vet. Raffle tickets are available at Riverboat Inn, River Valley Financial Bank (downtown), Burris Electric & Plumbing Supply and the lodge.
As its part in the statewide fundraising for cancer research, the Madison lodge will play host to a golf scramble at River Chase Golf Course on Sept. 18. Proceeds will go to cancer research at Indiana University and Purdue University. The Elks National Foundation matches all the money Indiana Elks raise to fight cancer.
“We need members!” is the emphatic message from Rees, the head trustee.
During the time the Elks were temporarily housed on First Street, membership had dipped to 240, but since the new location was dedicated on May 15, membership has climbed to 305.

• Membership in the Elks Lodge is open to men and women of good character who are U.S. citizens. New members must be sponsored by a current member. The membership fee is $100 per year, with a one-time initiation fee of $50. Those interested in joining can contact any Elks member or Steinhardt at (812( 866-2400.

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