Yorktown’s subterranean Teen Canteen

Yorktown’s home to a nice row of landmark, historic buildings on the north side of Smith Street between Broadway and Walnut. One of the most prominent is the IOOF Hall, built in 1914. Not many know it today, but the sidewalk along the north side of Smith Street once featured stairwells that led to businesses in the building’s basement. For a brief period around the Second World War, one of those tenants was the Yorktown Teen Canteen. Wouldn’t you have loved to have an underground bunker to hang out with your friends in? I would have!

Downtown Yorktown, as it appeared on November 7, 2022. The Odd Fellows’ Hall is the red building.

Before we talk about the teen canteen, it’s worth providing some information about the organization whose space it utilized. The Independent Order of Odd Fellows was established in New York City in 1806. Founded by three boat builders, a comedian, and a singer, the group apparently got its unusual name from the diverse trades of its charter members: back then, boatwrights, funnymen, and vocalists didn’t have enough members to form organizations like the Masons. They worked odd jobs, and that’s where the name came from1. At least it seems like it did- as with other mysterious fraternal organizations, the exact origin of the group’s name has been lost to time.

Yorktown’s Odd Fellows’ Hall, above the “30,” as it appeared on a Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from 1950.

Yorktown’s Odd Fellows’ Hall was completed in 1916 after a disastrous fire that started in the back room of Greer’s drug store two years prior destroyed three businesses, the old IOOF lodge, the new IOOF lodge, and the town’s post office2. After the new lodge was restored, a variety of businesses set up shop in the basement. In the 1930s, the subterranean room was home to a hobby store that made wooden toys. The basement was home to Stewart’s Tavern in the 1940s3.

An old postcard of Yorktown’s Odd Fellows’ building, third from left, as seen from between 1914 and 1941. Image courtesy of the Yorktown Indiana Historical Alliance.

Around 1944, the Yorktown Teen Canteen -also known as the Teen Age Canteen- opened up in the Odd Fellows’ underground storefront. One of several in Delaware County along with a branch in Gaston and another that took root in Muncie’s YWCA gymnasium4, the place was part of a brief, nationwide craze of opening up school-sponsored entertainment centers to curb the scourge of juvenile delinquency during the Second World War.

Designs painted in the basement of Yorktown’s Odd Fellows’ hall date to the room’s time as the Yorktown Teen Canteen. Photo taken July 26, 2019.

The Yorktown Teen Canteen was open to Mt. Pleasant Township boys and girls, aged 13-19, on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 7:30 to 10:005. It featured a dance floor, a lounge area with games, a soda fountain, a popcorn machine, a juke box, and a billiards table6. Though similar canteens usually had one or two adult chaperones, their operation was dictated by a school student council. Jane Stewart, who represented Ball State College for the title of Hoosier Princess in 1950, was a past president of the Yorktown Teen Canteen. Later, she became an elementary school teacher at Sutton, Garfield, and West View elementaries in Muncie7.

Cinder blocks cover old access to the Yorktown Teen Canteen space from Smith Street. Photo taken July 26, 2019.

Yorktown’s Teen Canteen only garnered a few mentions in Delaware County newspapers. I get the impression that it didn’t last long after the end of the war since a second iteration of the club was organized by officers Linda Pennybacker, Sandy Sheward, Jackie Howe, Larry Ellis, Gary Hensely, and Tom Thomas in 1957. Housed in Yorktown’s Knights of Pythias Hall, the second Teen Canteen was open Tuesdays from 7:00 to 9:00, Fridays from 7:00 to 10:30, and Sunday afternoons8.

The front stairway to the basement of the Odd Fellows’ lodge were just behind the awning in this 1917 photo. Image courtesy of the Yorktown Indiana Historical Alliance.

The steps down to the front of the Teen Canteen from the sidewalk had been covered by the time the Teen Canteen opened at the Knights of Pythias Hall, first by glass blocks and later with more permanent materials. The stairs were still visible as late as 2007 from the IOOF Hall’s basement before an INDOT project that reconfigured Smith Street –State Road 32– filled them in10

Windows, now blocked in, once let light into Yorktown’s subterranean Teen Canteen Space before they were covered in a 2007 INDOT project. Photo taken July 26, 2019.

Even though the building’s basement is no longer accessible from Smith Street, a visit to the spaces serves as a reminder of a lost piece of Yorktown history, from toy store to bar to teen canteen. If you venture down there, be sure to bring a flashlight! I didn’t, and my iPhone struggled to illuminate the space. It’s hard to imagine spending time down there with friends, drinking a Cherry Coke as atomic bombs dropped over Japan. I think I’d rather play Playstation at home!

Sources Cited
1 The Name “Odd Fellows” (n.d.) The Sovereign Grand Lodge Independent Order of Odd Fellows [Winston-Salem]. Web. Retrieved April, 9, 2023.
2 Yorktown’s Fire Loss Estimated At $50,000 (1913, January 27). The Muncie Morning Star. p. 1.
3 McBride, M. (2007, March 25). Out of sight, out of memory. The Muncie Star Press. p. 4.
4 Teen Canteen Drive Planned (1944, October 10). The Muncie Evening Press. p. 3.
5 Yorktown Senior Party (1945, January 7). The Muncie Star. p. 14.
6 WANTED – Billard cues for canteen in Yorktown (1945, November 11). The Muncie Star. p. 24.
7 Jane Italiano Obituary (2022, December 23). The Muncie Star Press. p. 8.
8 Officers of the Newly-Organized (1957, February 18). The Muncie Evening Press. p. 7.
9 (See footnote 3).

4 thoughts on “Yorktown’s subterranean Teen Canteen

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s