The Pythian Children's Home
One of Decatur's Legendary Haunted Sites & Its Lingering Memory

Although not a single trace of it remains today, it has since been replaced by the Decatur Y.M.C.A. and various parts of Decatur Memorial Hospital, the old Pythian Home is still remembered as one of the most unique buildings in the city's history. It is also a place that is still remembered for its ghostly legends.

In the tradition of the Freemasons, a number of fraternal organizations appeared during the Nineteenth Century. One of these groups, which was especially prevalent in Decatur, was the Knights of the Pythias. The Freemasons had based their secret order on the construction of the Temple of Solomon, while the Pythian ritual centered around the Grecian legend of the friendship between Damon and Pythias. The Pythians were a large order at one time, numbering over 700,000 members with about 6,500 lodges across America. They are no longer in existence today but in the Decatur of the early 1900's, there were three Pythian lodges in the city with more than 550 members.

During that same time period, 22 homes were built across the country to house aged Pythians and to house the widows and orphans of lodge members.

One of these homes was built in Decatur and it was constructed on rural property at the time, away from the populated areas of the city. The land is now located across McKinley Avenue from the Decatur Memorial Hospital complex. In those days however, it was wide open countryside.

The Decatur Pythian Home, which had been based on the design of other homes in Ohio and Indiana, was started in June 1908 and finished two years later in the summer of 1910. It cost just over $200,000 to build and when completed, was in a huge building in a gothic style. Its floor plan was a classic double-barred cross that offered housing for 200 residents. The gothic style was carried out with octagonal towers with battlements, steeped dormers, arched windows, solid limestone walls, a marble vestibule and intimidating wooden doors that were made from single planks of mahogany.

Once a visitor had breached the front entrance, a three-story rotunda was revealed. It was decorated with a marble wainscoting, mahogany woodwork, tiled floors and colorful frescoes that climbed the walls for three looming levels. Directly overhead was a stained glass skylight, which offered natural illumination for the foyer.

The first floor of the building contained offices, a reception room, library, kitchen, dining room and rooms for elderly occupants who had no access to the upper floors. An auditorium was located near the dining room on the second floor and the remainder of the space was used as bedrooms, dormitories and recreation areas. The higher floors were used solely as living quarters.

In 1916, a second, less impressive, Pythian Home was opened north of Decatur. The building now houses the Lincoln Laboratories in Forsyth. The aged and retired Pythians were moved to the new home and the first location was used for children only.

The orphans housed in the original home ranged in age from 2 to 18 and each child was given a specific responsibility, such as mowing the grass or working in the garden. The home also kept a variety of farm animals, which allowed it to be largely self-supportive. The children attended the local schools and walked each Sunday morning to the Grace United Methodist Church, where they attended services.

Although the home had been built to last for a century or more, it only served for 28 years. The cost of two homes in Decatur, as well as a drastic decline in Pythian membership across the country and the years of the Great Depression, closed the home in February 1938.

The building stood abandoned for the next seven years and then it was purchased by a local realtor named Harry W. Moss in 1945. He bought both of the old Pythian homes and sold the larger structure to the Missouri Province of the Society of Jesus in 1946. After some extensive remodeling, they turned the building into a Jesuit retreat house, re-naming the place St. Joseph's Hall.

Decatur Catholic churches used the retreat house frequently during the 1950's and 1960's but it eventually was closed down in the late 1960's and sold to Archie Cremens. He turned the structure into a nursing home, called Cremen's Manor, for a short time and then it was sold and re-named the North Park Residential Facility. By this time, the building had been neglected for years and its decaying state was considered dangerous for the nursing home occupants. The facility was eventually shut down due to unsafe conditions. The crumbling building, and the acres around it, was purchased by Decatur Memorial Hospital and the structure was left to decay for years.

The building was left empty, save for the pigeons and rats --- and if you believe the stories, the ghosts ---- until 1995. The battlements on the towers and roofline had been removed and the three-story rotunda had been sealed off years before. The stained glass panels, expensive woodwork and painted frescoes, had long since vanished. By 1995, the place was a ruin and a shadow of its former self. The lawn was overgrown and strewn with garbage and the lower windows were boarded up and decorated with graffiti. The Pythian Home had been condemned and was off limits to visitors because of the dangerous conditions that existed inside.
But that didn't stop everyone from going inside….

Abandoned buildings, whether they are old hospitals, asylums or empty homes, seem to beckon to otherwise harmless trespassers who answer the call of these ruined structures and slip inside for thrills and often because of rumors of ghosts and hauntings. The Pythian Home was no exception to this and I have spoken to many people over the years who entered the place after it had been closed down. Not surprisingly, many of them reported strange occurrences and eerie happenings.

Several people told of hearing the sound of pacing footsteps in the building, often from the floors overhead. When they checked to see who was there however, they always found themselves alone. Others spoke of hearing disembodied voices and on one occasion, the sound of small children's footsteps and then a tinkle of laughter, as if the residents of days past were still running and playing in the now empty corridors.

What was it about this place that caused history to impress itself on the atmosphere of the building in a way that we would be experiencing it decades after the final occupants had departed? No one can really say but it cannot be denied that nearly every expression of human emotion must have been played out within the walls of the Pythian Home during its years of operations. It can be said that those who expressed these emotions "left a little piece of themselves behind" at the place and to many that I spoke with who actually lived at the children's orphanage that once existed here, that was not a bad thing at all. Many spoke of it as being one of the most wonderful experiences of their life, which leads me to believe that perhaps a haunting does not have to be a frightening thing after all.

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© Copyright 2006 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.