Some things improve with age ... such as wine, cheese and Betty White. Most things however just get older. I don’t look as good as I did a half century ago -- too many hamburgers, too little hair. With talk of an anti-blight ordinance I have started to look more judgmentally at downtown Derry. Some buildings there, like the Opera House and the Gerrish Center, look better now then they did in the 1960s. One building that I remember as having once looked better, though perhaps not blighted, is the building at 43 East Broadway.
I suppose most locals think of this building as Anthony’s Cucina Restaurant because of the big sign above its entrance. Actually that eating place was only there for a short time before it closed at the end of 2011. Before that it was the home to Chase’s Lunch and the Home Food Kitchen going way back in the 1930s. The stores are now empty and owned by a real estate trust from Boston. There are some recent stories about the building that might be grist for a column on another day.
The building was originally built in 1913 by Derry’s Knights of Pythias. Nationally the Knights were formed in 1863 in Washington. This was during our bloody Civil War when the idea of a fraternal organization to promote “Friendship, Charity and Benevolence” seemed like a very good thing. The only requirements for membership were that you couldn’t be a professional gambler or a liquor seller, you must believe in God and you pledged not to try to overthrow the government. The Knights got its name from a 5th century BC Greek legend about Pythias, who was willing to sacrifice his life to help his friend Damon.
The secret society grew and within 20 years there were chapters in 17 states including ones in Manchester and Nashua. On Dec. 12, 1886, Rockingham Lodge No. 29 Knights of Pythias was founded at the Odd Fellows Hall, which was where the Cumberland Farms store is today. There were 26 charter members who were soon partaking in elaborate and secret rituals while resplendent in military style costumes complete with plumed admiral’s hats, bejeweled medals, sashes and swords. In 1886, the Knights of Pythias was not the only fraternal organization in Derry; there were also the Grange, Masons, Odd Fellows, Pilgrim Fathers, United Workmen, and the Grand Army of the Republic. The Derry Knights of Pythias’ first outing was by horse-drawn wagon barge to Nashua in January 1887. On their first anniversary they had a celebration for 100 guests that lasted until 2 a.m.