The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (BPOE) was founded in 1868 by a group of actors and theatre-workers in New York City. It began as a social club, but over time added benevolent activities, and the promotion of American patriotism and the “four virtues” (Charity, Justice, Brotherly Love and Fidelity) to its mission. In 1871, a national organization capable of establishing local branches was founded. It soon expanded beyond the entertainment industry to other professions.
The Grand Rapids Lodge, Number 48, was chartered in 1886. Over the years, it added offices, a meeting space, and cafeteria to its downtown facilities. In the early 1960s it purchased and operated the Highlands Golf Course, which hosted national tournaments. They sold the property in 2011. Members also hosted conventions, engaged in fundraising for charitable causes, and held parades and other civic events.