The Frederick Allen Lodge, a chapter of the International Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World (I.B.P.O. of W.), has been described to me as the “last Black establishment” in Saratoga Springs, New York. This organization, focused on community building and charity initiatives, has been a part of the city of Saratoga since 1925. For 90 years, the Frederick Allen Lodge and its members have witnessed the city of Saratoga Springs undergo many changes. Elk’s member and native of Saratoga Springs, John Rockwell shares that he speaks to non-natives that say ‘Saratoga Springs has always been a white washed town’. Rockwell, a white member of the Frederick Allen Lodge, confronts this notion with stories of Saratoga Springs when it had a thriving Black community. This “collective forgetfulness”, as described by Michelle Pacquette of the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation, is due in part to the lack of a visible Black presence in the Saratoga Springs community. In 1962, the city of Saratoga Springs’ Urban Renewal Board was created with Donald Veitch as its leader. For the next twenty years, the buying of property, “relocating of residents, contracting for demolition, and subsequent grading and utility work, and reparceling out the land for sale” was taking place on the west side of Saratoga Springs (Saratoga County Chamber 2010). This redevelopment removed the city’s Black neighborhood and replaced it with an apartment building, a shopping center, and other commercial buildings on Congress Street. The Saratoga County Chamber acknowledges that their Urban Renewal project wasn’t without flaws: “In Saratoga's case, Congress Street had been a vibrant African-American community for several generations, and its residents were dispersed throughout the city, losing their familiar community context of churches, businesses and homes” (2010). As of 2014, the Census Bureau has suppressed data on Black owned businesses on account of there being less than three Black owned establishments in Saratoga Springs.
Frederick Allen Lodge resides at 69 Beekman Street, but the building is more than a location for a chapter of the I.B.P.O.E. of W. The lodge is the only establishment from the Congress Street neighborhood that has survived. It is the memories of this time period that fuel the members’ desires to preserve what is left of the city’s Black community. In this sense, the Elk’s lodge is the primary vessel holding the memories of a once thriving community. Memories play an important role during the urban renewal process. Collective memory informs preservation efforts. The active members of the lodge and their many supporters value that history that lives through the stories, artifacts, and charity traditions of the lodge.
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