A Quick History of the Wildey Theater
The Odd Fellows was a national
organization instrumental in devel-
oping parks, public meeting houses
and civic projects throughout the
United States. In 1908, the Edwards-
ville Lodge formed a corporation,
The Edwardsville Investment Company, in
order to accomplish their goal of building a
new lodge and opera house.
The Wildey Theatre, located at 250-254 North Main Street in downtown Edwardsville, Illinois, was constructed in 1909 by a group of local
investors, led by the Independent Order of Oddfellows (IOOF). Wildey
Theater opened on April 12, 1909 with a live performance of "Girl at the
Helm." A reviewer for the Edwardsville Intelligencer complimented the performance but identified the Wildey Theatre as the real star.
The Wildey Theatre was named after Thomas Wildey, an Englishman who helped found the IOOF. The three-story masonry building, which cost approximately $30,000 to construct, was designed by architect G.H.
Kennerly of St. Louis.
Thomas Wildey: Founder of North American Odd Fellows
Thomas Wildey, founder of Odd Fellowship in
North America, was a man of immense vitality,
humor, and warmth.
Thomas Wildey was born in London, England,
January 15, 1783. He was left an orphan five
years later and the Odd Fellow pledge to
"Educate the Orphan" sprang from his personal
childhood experiences. At the age of 14, Wildey
went to live with an uncle. After he had 9 years
of schooling, he became an apprentice to a maker
of coach springs. He joined the Odd Fellows in 1804.
When restlessness brought Thomas Wildey to America in 1817, the
British were still unpopular in the States because of the War of 1812.
In that year Baltimore was suffering both a yellow fever epidemic and
mass unemployment. An outgoing personality, Wildey missed comp-
anyion-ship and advertised in the newspaper to determine if there were any other Odd Fellows in Baltimore; he requested them to meet him at
the Seven Stars Inn.
Included in the original building layout was a formal meeting room on the third floor and a small theatre on the second floor. The auditorium was lavishly decorated with a 1,150-seat theatre with balconies, boxes and a stage area equipped for major productions.
An electrolier (chandelier) was installed and placed in the center of the theatre two days before the grand opening. The theatre was equal to theaters in large cities with 500 seats in the main section, 300 in the
balcony, 300 in the gallery and 50 in the boxes. A. Emerson Jones, the company manager of the first production, "Girl at the Helm," was extremely satisfied when he stepped out onto the stage and ordered the entire contents of their baggage car brought up. Every piece of scenery was used. More than 50 people appeared on stage in "Girl at the Helm," a musical comedy, and as many as six spot lights were operated at a time during the show. The April 13, 1909 edition of the Edwardsville Intelligencer printed, "The Wildey is the largest roomiest and most convenient theater in this part of Illinois." On opening night, Mr. Kennerly, the architect, beamed with pride as he sat in a private theatre box with a party of his friends.
On April 26, 1819, Wildey and the four men who responded to the advertisement formed the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in North
America, dedicating the Order to achieve philanthropic goals. Other Englishmen who were Odd Fellows had grouped in the states along the Eastern Seaboard, and Wildey gathered them all into the newly formed fraternity. He traveled widely to set up lodges in the most recently
settled parts of the country.
At the time of his death in 1861, there were more than 200,000 members
of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in 42 states.