Big Spring Lodge Number 361
Big Spring Lodge No 361 was duly constituted on June 1, 1866. Samuel Blunston, a land agent for William Penn, who began to issue license to prospective settlers in 1732 in the Big Spring Area. By 1735 all of the land touching both sides of the Big Spring was occupied and claimed through the issuance of Blunston licenses. These license have stood the test of time and now rest in the Pennsylvania Department of Internal Affairs.
The town of Newville had its beginning in 1788, and due to the nature of the lot sales, the town proceeded to grow in a disjointed fashion. Lots sold for as low as $8.00 each and as high as $50.00. Desirable lots measured 60 feet frontage and 180 feet in depth. Newville was incorporated in the year of 1817. Its population today of 1,800 is just a few hundred more that what it was during the Civil War times. Because of its favorable location, Newville lays at the crossroads of many trails to Pittsburgh and points in the West.
Newville in 1735 consisted of five Taverns, where thirsty teamsters could refresh themselves and their teams before journeying into the wilderness. Even at that period, Masonry played an important part in their everyday life. Although there were no lodges, or regular meetings of Masons, there were, however, many of the Masonic Brethren scattered throughout the territory. Since communications were poor and law practically non-existent, men were compelled to rely on their neighbors and to accept passing strangers at face value. Masons soon found other Masons and through this fellowship determined a trust and reliability which helped them against Indian attack and other perils of the day.
In the early 19th century, lodges were started in Harrisburg, Mechanicsburg, and Carlisle; however, it was not until 1865 that a group of Masons from the Newville area applied to the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania for a warrant to organize a Masonic Lodge. The applicant was signed by J Atlee Kunkel, the first Worshipful Master and by William B Shoemaker and David W Gilmore. The Lodge was warranted on December 27, 1865, by the Right Worshipful Grand Master, Leiby H Scott, and was constituted the following June 1, 1866.
Charter members of the Lodge were: Peter A Ahl, David Ahl, MD, Anthony Byers, Samuel Byers, William Boland, James Boland, James Elliot, Henry Ferris, George H Graham, David W Gilmore, John S Hays, George H Hammer, Samuel Irvine, J Atlee Kunkel, William A Klink, Henry Manning, Robert McCachren, Charles T McLaughlin, James McCandlish, John O Rhoads, William B.Shoemaker, Henry Snyder, Samuel A.Sollenberger, Joseph A Woodburn, Muhlenberg Williams and Samuel Wagner.
During the year 1866, the following brethren were initiated and became members of the Lodge: George W Haldeman, Samuel R Claudy, John Hefflefinger, Phillip K Shoemaker, Henry Myers, Moses Conner, John Benton Morrow, John Givler, Samuel Thrush, John S Dougherty, and James Chambers. Lodge membership of the first lodge numbered 37. One hundred years later, membership was to stand at 157.
Many of these men played an important part of the early life of Newville and surrounding area. Even today some of their descendants are members of the lodge and take an active part in community affairs. It might be of interest to examine a thumbnail of these men.
Henry Manning; owned and operated the "Big Mill" or that mill at the headwaters of the Big Spring in 1862. It was he and his brother who sold flour to Queen Victoria. Mr Manning was elected to the Pennsylvania Legislature in 1896.
George Graham: was the father of John Graham who donated the present library for Newville.
John McCandlish: was a well-known merchant and local businessman.
James Elliott: was the son of John Elliott, a judge in Cumberland County for many years.
John S. Hays: was a descendant of early pioneers and a captain in the United States Army during the Civil War. This man distinguished himself at the battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Maryland.
Anthony Byers: became an agent for the Cumberland Valley Railroad. He was a friend of the children of Newville, who much admired and respected him.
Robert McCachren: listed his profession as an attorney. His father was one of the early pastors of the Big Spring Presbyterian Church.
James Chambers: served as a lieutenant in the United States Army during the Civil War. He was the grandson of James Chambers, who was one of the first settlers in the Newville area.
Muhlenberg Williams: was an attorney and a successful farmer.
Samuel C Wagner: owned and operated the "Big Mill" at the headwater of the Big Spring. This man made extensive improvements in flour milling production in the late 1800’s. Mr Wagner was later to become a State Senator from this area. He was also a Civil War veteran.
Peter Ahl: who with his brother, Daniel, operated many business enterprises in and around Newville. He and his brother had controlling interest in the old Carlisle Turnpike, the Paper Mill, Bib Spring Hotel, a distillery, a warehouse, a mule yard, a stockyard, a brickyard and a tannery. At one time these two men owned four of the seven mills along the Big Spring. They also dabbled in railroading and iron mining.
Dr David Ahl: Inventor of Ahl’s Porous Splints.
The secretary’s minutes over the many years have divulged many interesting facts concerning the lodge and its membership. The minute book containing years 1866-73 could not be located; therefore, many facts could not be noted.
It was in 1876 that a $40 initiation fee was established, but reduced to $30 in 1880. The initiation fee was raised to $75 by 1916, and again raised to $125 in 1955. Early dues were set at $4 and raised to $6 and thence to $10. Today the initiation fee is $255 and the dues are $85.
The fortunes of Lodge 361 have not always been smooth. Its membership was not large, certainly not wealthy. In 1874 the Lodge feared suspension for failure to pay its Grand Lodge dues, and in 1875 the renting of the Lodge Room to the Grange to help pay expenses was seriously considered. Interest in the loge in 1877 dropped so low that members discussed the possibility of returning the charter to the Grand Lodge. Apparently things improved for the Lodge after 1880, as we were invited to lay many cornerstone for public buildings. By the 1920’s membership had increased to one hundred twenty-five.
With the exception of the Two World Wars in which may of our members served with honor and distinction, the progress of the Big Spring Lodge ran smoothly and in harmony and good order.
The site of the first Masonic Hall was said to be the old Hackett Building on East Main and Corporation Streets on the southwest corner. Early minutes show that in 1866, the Lodge held meetings in the Swigert building, later the Newville theater, today the site of the Newville Print Shop. It is interesting to note here that Lodge members in 1908 voted to have the hall wired for electricity. The first electric bill received was for 50 cents. In 1937, the Lodge rooms were moved to a room over the Farmers National Bank and the Lodge Room laid out in accordance with Masonic Law. These rooms were adequate but not in any sense luxurious. The rooms were redecorated in 1964 and a new heating system installed. Meanwhile in 1962, a movement was initiated to erect a Lodge home. After much thought and deliberation, the Big Spring Masonic Home Association, with the approval of Grand Lodge, was voted and formally chartered.
It was evident from the early minutes that Lodge meetings were held the second and fourth Thursdays of the month. Meetings were also on a twelve months’ basis. Later on regular meetings were held the second Thursday of each month, and suspended during the months of July and August.
In 1921, the custom of giving Past Master Jewels was originated, and it was in this year that five Past Master Jewels were given to five of the oldest living Past Masters. Each Past Master since has been honored in this manner.
There seems to be little in the record to indicate that special anniversaries of the lodge were unduly celebrated. In 1893, Henry Manning, a charter member of 1866, gave a verbal history of the first 25 years. John Kunkel, first Worshipful Master of the Lodge, was still living in 1905 and invited to the Lodge’s 40th anniversary. Evidently the Lodge took little notice of its 50th anniversary in 1916. In the 75th anniversary in 1941, a special anniversary committee was appointed by the Master to note the occasion. Special quest in attendance at the Lodge meeting during the 75th anniversary were: William H Brehm, Grand Master from Philadelphia; Scott Leibey and Samuel Goodyear, Past Grand Masters of Pennsylvania. Following the regular meeting, Lodge members and visitors journeyed to the Newville Zion Lutheran for their annual banquet. Brother George H Detwiler, District Deputy Grand Master from Philadelphia, was the principal speaker for the evening. Robert Graham was the Worshipful Master on that historical night and later became the Lodge secretary.
Over the years the members of the Big Spring Lodge have put feet on their Masonic teachings and the people of the community have looked with respect on their example of that Masonic Ideal. "Let us practice out of the Lodge, those principles we are taught within." The Lodge met above the Farmers National Bank on Big Spring Avenue until September 1991. In February 1991 Big Spring Lodge purchased the Church of God at 131 Centerville Road and began to do extensive renovations to make it suitable for Lodge meetings. In September 1991 Big Spring Lodge No 361 had its first meeting in its new Lodge building. The Worshipful Master was Brother David G Shively. On May 16, 1992 the Lodge had a building dedication and the officers of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania were in attendance.