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By John Oliver, President, Historical Society

In an article in The Hartsville Vidette from March 1947, the editor of the paper commented, “Hartsville is the most “organized” town in existence. Among the civic, social, and religious clubs are the Trousdale Club, Young Farmers and Homemakers, Lions Club, Kiwanis Club, Civic League, American Legion, VFW, two young ladies’ circles, a business and professional women’s circle, two or more missionary societies, the Farm Bureau, Home Demonstration Clubs, Ladies Auxiliary of the VFW, and other clubs.”

That is, indeed, quite a number of organizations!

As we have seen in this series of articles, Hartsville has had groups of people meet socially and professionally for quite a while.  We have met with the Wednesday Afternoon Club, the Young Ladies Outing Club, The Pastor’s Aid Society, the Anti-Saloon League and a group of suffragettes! All of these were from the 1800s and early 1900s.

And they were all ladies’ groups!

Submitted photo
This old picture of Mr. J.W. Throp shows him in his Knights of Pythias uniform. The ribbon on his coat refers to the local lodge. Throp was an officer in the club as well as the local undertaker!

But there were groups of men who met regularly, and we are not talking about the crew who sat on benches in front of the courthouse to whittle, spit and discuss politics!

The Hartsville Masonic group goes back to 1845, making them the oldest of our civic organizations.

We might point out that Hartsville also had its own Jockey Club, which helped manage the old Hart’s Race Track. We don’t have a concrete date on when they were organized, but they continued up to the start of the Civil War, when the racetrack shut down.

After the War Between the States, the camaraderie of that conflict led to new groups of men forming. In the aftermath of the war, men wished to continue with the friendships forged during combat and also wished to create groups that would, hopefully, help our nation mend its wounds and prevent any future wars on American soil.

One of those newly created fraternal, or “men only,” organizations was the Knights of Pythias, started in 1864 in Washington, D.C. by a former soldier. His goal was to create a group of men devoted to the ideals of “Friendship, Charity, and Benevolence.”

The group took its name from a well-known Greek legend of two men whose friendship was tested by the threat of death. And while in the Greek legend both men survived, many men had not survived the Civil War and there was no national welfare system in place to take care of the thousands of widows and orphans created by the bloodiest conflict America had ever fought.

That was why charity and benevolence were so important to its goals.

The Knights of Pythias was the first fraternal organization in the United States to receive a charter under an act of the United States Congress – and many groups soon followed its example.

There were the Knights of Columbus, The Lions Club, The Elks Club, the Odd Fellows, the Civitans, the Kiwanis, the Moose, Rotary, Ruritans, the Woodmen of the World and many more!

The earliest reference we have to the Knights of Pythias locally is from an article in The Tennessean dated April 8, 1894. In an article on that organization across the state, it mentions, “Hartsville will soon have a new lodge.”

The local club was quick to get involved in the social whirl provided by meeting and working with fellow Knights in the surrounding towns.

We know this from a report on the Knights of Pythias group in Lebanon. The Nashville paper wrote up a large event that took place in Lebanon on Nov. 27 1895, “Lotus Lodge, Knights of Pythias, gave quite the affair of the season last night. The courthouse was under their control and they used it all. Some 300 or 350 people were present and Knights from Nashville, Cookeville, Watertown, Alexandria, Carthage and Hartsville were to be seen mingling with the crowd. An elegant banquet was served and the music was furnished by DePierrie’s Band.

“After the K.P. banquet the services of DePierrie’s Band was secured and at 12 o’clock, at the North Side Hotel, a small, but very swell crowd of Lebanon’s society people engaged the spacious dining-hall, where they tripped the light fantastic until the breaking of morning.”

As we can see, it wasn’t all boring meetings and charity work!