The Officers of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania granted a warrant to hold a Lodge of Freemasons in Waymart, Wayne County, on September 1, 1875. Brother John H. Dusenberry, DDGM, then constituted Waymart Lodge #542 on January 12, 1876.
Honesdale Lodge #218 and Carbondale Lodge #249 sponsored Waymart. History tells us all the Brothers petitioning Waymart were members of the sponsoring lodges, except for one.
1876 was the Centennial Year of the United States. One cannot help but think there was a relation between the nations Centennial and formation of Waymart Lodge. As a sidebar and reference point, Lodge 542 predates Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone patent granted on March 7, 1876.
Waymart Lodges’ early written history is scant. The major sources of information are in Grand Lodge from 1876 up to the Minutes Book starting November 25, 1890. There are few local written records from the day the Lodge was constituted until November 1890. Grand Lodge has a copy of the original by-laws prepared by Citizens Print, Honesdale, dated 1877. Stated Meetings were held on Tuesdays succeeding the full moon, hence the term moon lodge, except if the full moon fell on Tuesday. Then the meeting was held the next day. The by-laws of 1877 state the treasurer was to pay warrants signed by the Worshipful Master and Secretary. The Charity Committee could authorize payments up to $ 5.00. The treasurer was bonded for $400.00. Fees for initiation and membership were $40.00 and dues of $3.00 annually. The Secretary and Treasurer were exempt from dues and received $1.00 for each meeting.
There are nineteen members listed in the first by-laws of which seven (7) were charter members. Eleven (11) more had been admitted by the time the By Laws were printed sometime in 1877. The members were:
George A. Cooper, Charter member
John R. Smith, Charter member
Warren A. Thorpe, Charter member
John S. Barry, admitted 2-8-76
Dwight Buckland, admitted 2-8-76
George Starkweather, Charter member
Milo Stanton, Charter member
Hiram T. Hudson, Charter member
Asa Dimock, Charter member
Wallace Case, admitted 2-8-76
James B. Keen, admitted 2-8-76
F.V. Carr, admitted 2-8-76
Thomas Midland, initiated 2-8-76
Charles McMullen, initiated 3-7-76
Alexander McMullen, initiated 4-4-76
H.B. Stephens, admitted 4-4-76
L.G. Dimock, initiated 6-6-76
C.E. Taylor, initiated 7-13-76
W. H. Midland, initiated 11-28-76
F. V. Carr was secretary.
From the list of names, there are many that are locally familiar. The name Stanton exists today at the Stanton Farm north of Waymart and the road from Coggins Corners to Route 296. The name Dimock is contained on a stained glass window in the Waymart Methodist Church. There are three Keens, all past masters of the Lodge, living today. The Keen Lake, a campground and Little Keen’s Pond are familiar landmarks. Buckland is the name of an area on the south shore of Elk Lake and a road along the lake. Thorpe is a name recognized today but not related to the charter member. No doubt there are many other connections that are both known and unknown
A second printing of the by-laws occurred in 1882 and listed 36 members. It is known there were four initiates in 1877, one in 1878, one in 1879, six in 1880 and five in 1881. The fee for initiation and membership was decreased by $10.00 to $30.00. There was no change in dues. It is interesting to note the Charity Committee was then authorized to spend up to $10.00 if there was an urgent need - without action of the Lodge.
The Minutes of November 25, 1890 state a fire occurred on September 30, 1890 and the lodge room being lost. This meeting was held in Patterson’s Hall, which according to the local historical society, is now the Waymart Hotel. There is no mention of any fire details, simply that the meetings were held in Patterson’s Hall until May 19, 1891. A special meeting was held in Masonic Hall on the May 28 nine days later. It is probable this was the first meeting in a new Masonic Hall.
It is apparent there was a period in the very late 1800’s and early 1900’s the Lodge struggled with adversity. There were two documented fires that destroyed the Lodge Room and its entire contents. Minutes do not exist from 1876 to 1980 and are presumed to have been part of the burned building contents. A written appeal was made December 8, 1890 by a written communication to other Lodges for assistance. A copy of the communication is reproduced below:
The Brethren of Waymart Lodge, No. 542, F & AM ask your consideration of the following facts:
This Lodge was organized in1877. In 1879, the Lodge Room was destroyed by fire, and nothing was saved from the room. By borrowing money for the purpose, a new Lodge Room was furnished. On the night of September 30, 1890, the Lodge Room was again destroyed by fire, and its entire contents, including the Charter, were burned. There was an insurance of $300 on the Lodge property, but this is insufficient to pay the remaining indebtedness of the Lodge.
The Grand Lodge has given us permission to appeal to our Brethren for aid. Our membership is small and consists almost wholly of working men, in very moderate circumstances. Our limited means do not permit us to resume the Labors of the Craft, without aid from our Brethren elsewhere.
Under these circumstances, we ask your help. Any contribution to our assistance, sent to H. T. Hudson, Treasurer, will be gratefully accepted. Richard Wonnacott, W.M, signed this letter.
The only known response was received from Hazle Lodge #327, Hazleton, PA, in the amount of $2.00. Likely there were others but they cannot be documented. What was known as a circular letter was used to communicate to other lodges in Pennsylvania. It is noted in the appeal that the Lodge was organized in “1877.” This was an error.
Minutes for February 17, 1891 refer to a Building Committee; however, no mention is made of a land purchase or construction. The only fact known is the building committee being authorized to, “ buy carpet, insure regalia and purchase pedestals and altar.” The Trustees were authorized to rent or lease the lodge room as they saw fit. This seems contradictory and is even more mysterious as there was rent received for the GAR, Post 397 on May 19, 1891. How the lodge got from a complete loss by fire September 30, 1890 to meeting in Patterson’s Hall to having a Masonic Hall that was producing rent by May 28, 1891is not known. Minutes of August 18, 1891 authorized building an additional storeroom for Patterson/Wonnacott. Likely we know this section today as the anteroom where we sign in. It is impossible to determine exactly how all the pieces fit together but the available facts indicate the building to have been on South Street and the existing Masonic Hall of today.
Records in the Wayne County Court House tell us the Lodge purchased a parcel for $200.00 on May 18, 1891. The deed was from R.P. Patterson and wife to Trustees of Waymart Lodge 542. There were two (2) Patterson’s listed in the lodge membership but not an R.P. so he evidently was not a Mason. The next information on property ownership is a transfer of the property from the Trustees of Waymart Lodge 542 to the Masonic Hall Association for $1.00 on June 10, 1924. The lodge did hold a lien against the building in the amount of $3000.00 against the Masonic Hall Association. The Trustees were James Keen, Bruce Geer and F.W. Hardler.
Membership grew slowly from 1876 to 1907 when the membership was apparently 49. This is deduced from paying $49.00 to Grand Lodge at $1.00 per member. The lodge seemed quite active in the early 1900’s. The minute book shows that the lodge was painted for $110.25. November 19, 1907. Additional entries are for wood and coal at $11.70, flag stone $12.60 and total bills of $114.74.
The Order of Eastern Star was loaned the Bible, square and compasses, dishes and tables for installation on January 22, 1908.
An addition was made to the building in 1911 as bids were received and an order was written on the Treasury for $200.00. Since note is made on March 26, 1912 for the Trustees to consider a fire escape, it is presumed the building addition is the back part of the existing building and the attached fire escape.
The by-laws were revised in 1908 and the again in again 1919 when the dues went to $4.00, a total of 43 years without change. The next revision, printed by Wagenseller, Masonic Printer, Middleburg, PA took place in 1924 with dues set at $6.00. Richard Wannacott was Secretary. Initiation and membership remained at $30.00. There were 71 members at this time. Moses T. Spangenberg was Worshipful Master.
There is record at Grand Lodge that dues were increased September 3, 1936 to $11.00. Charles Decker was the secretary. Later dues decreased on Oct. 4, 1936 to $8.00 and remained at that level until November 1, 1955 when they increased to $10.00. The next increase was to $15.00 September 3, 1974.
A local story has been told that a fire at the home of Angus Wood, Secretary, resulted in loss of whatever records were in his possession. It is said he escaped the burning house, located along what is now U. S. Route 6 going west up the mountain from Waymart, with not much more than the clothes on his back. His car was in the garage and the fire started from it. Mary French remembers the fire story and she believes the fire occurred about 1940. This story cannot be true, regarding the secretary’s position as it went from Charles Decker, to Irving H. (Red) Merwin in the period around 1940. Angus Wood, although a member, was never secretary according to the minute books.
A complete list of Past Masters exists from 1876 to date. Records at Grand Lodge show Bert S. Hull as a four-time past master. On eight separate occasions, the then Master succeeded himself. Dale R. Keen, one of the 35 living Past Masters, served twice, 1964 and 1971. Being Master more than one time was common in the early years but not recently. This speaks to the vitality and membership growth since 1971.
Irving H. “Red” Merwin became acting secretary in September 1, 1942 succeeding Charles Decker in midyear. He was elected to the office and remained in the position until Jan. 6, 1979, when Murrell Champion was elected. There is nothing in the minutes that explains the transition from Decker to Merwin. Red Merwin’s 37-year tenure is a record for continuous service as secretary in Waymart Lodge. Wallace “Wally” J. Cramer was Treasurer for 27 years from 1946 until his death in January 1973. These are the longest terms for any officer in the 127-year history of the lodge.
The Lodge membership was 94 as noted in the audit for 1953. It remained in the range of 93 to 99 until at least the early 1980’s. A decline occurred were 80 Brothers in 1986. That was the low point based on the available records. Membership then grew slowly reaching 110 on 12/27/00. On May 2, 1982 at an Extra Meeting, the six Vinton Brothers were raised. Wilbert Vinton, their father, had the opportunity to witness his sons receive their degrees. This was the only time in the Lodge’s history that an event of this type happened.
Waymart Lodge observed it’s 100th anniversary with a special meeting on April 10, 1976. Joseph Podunajec was Worshipful Master. There were 32 members, 21 visitors and 14 Grand Lodge Officers including R.W.G.M. John L. McCain in attendance. The meeting convened at 4:30 PM and closed 1 hour later. After closure the Grand Officers and Brethren traveled to Ladore Lodge for dinner and a program. Brother Bruce Box read a short history of the Lodge. Unfortunately that document cannot be found.
The Masonic Hall has under gone some remodeling from time to time in more recent years. In 1964 the second floor room used for Lodge social activities and the Order of Eastern Star was improved with monetary support by the OES. Prior to the 100th anniversary the steps were changed, paneling, lighting and carpet were added to the Lodge Room. Brothers Walter Fletcher and Murrell Champion were leaders in the work. Worshipful Master Joseph Podunajec presented them with gavels for their work as well as plaques to the members. Joseph Podunajec, Rexford Lookwood and Grant Fairchild were also instrumental in the work.
There was a time in the early 1980’s when finances were meager and it was all most impossible to maintain the hall. Through member’s donations and fundraisers the situation improved significantly. The roof was replaced out of necessity and the vacant first floor room previously occupied by the school district was converted to a social room with financial support by the OES. Social room improvements included new wiring, insulation, dry wall and flooring. Also the oil furnace was placed back in service. Other major changes were the addition of new siding, a durable wall covering for the social room, air conditioning and new wiring in most of the building in 2000. The Eastern Star contributed to the funds to Masonic Hall Association for the improvements.
Minutes over the years do not provide much information about fraternal activities and community involvement until recent times. There were people sponsored to the Patten School and money was given from time to time for charitable purpose primarily to Masonic widows and children of Masons. Recently the DARE program has been strongly supported since coming to the local school district in 1993. Contributions have been made to the Debbie Robbins Christmas Fund since it’s beginning. The fund is named for the deceased wife on a member of the lodge. The most ambitious project was to raise $19,181 for the Waymart Volunteer Fire Company to purchase a new Jaws of Life. This activity reached its conclusion in March 2001 and enjoyed considerable support from community organizations and businesses.
As we look at the lodge history we see many changes. The $3.00 dues seem so little today. But, by researching economic data, source EH.net; it is possible to place that sum in 1890 in current dollars. It is $60.57. Quite sobering to think our dues of $48.00, soon to be $50.00 are less than our early brethren paid. The $200.00 for the 1911 addition translates to $3,860.77 and the two (2) gallon of oysters December 21, 1921 would cost $53.47 today. Using the same CPI tool the $225.00 fee would be $4,540.00 in 1890.
This works is not intended to be a complete history or to contain all the interesting facts that may still be available. Much time and energy has be extended but more can be added. It is a very humbling expeience to try to capture 127 years on a few pages of paper.
Wendell R Hunt
May 31, 2004
There are currently two fifty-year members, Bernard Robinson and Eugene Villaume.