The history of Williamson Lodge Number 307 begins as indicated in the following excerpt from the minutes of the Mother Lodge, Chandler No. 227 of Reading, Pennsylvania: "Information having been received that Brothers Wm. Moore, Jno. Stephen, Jno. M. Schonour, E. Penn Smith, Charles Phillips, John Sell, John Oberly, Wm. A Moyer, and Thomas Searle were about to petition the R.W.G.L. for a Warrant for a new Lodge to be located at Womelsdorf, on a motion made and seconded: Resolved, That the petition be recommended to the favorable consideration of the Right Worshipful Grand Lodge and that in case such Warrant be granted such fixtures as are not in use by this Lodge be loaned to the Brethren above named until they can procure others."
The original Warrant of Constitution was issued on March 2, 1857. (A duplicate was issued March 6, 1907.) The name of Peter Williamson, Grand Master, heads the list of Grand Lodge Officers shown on the Warrant.
The following record in the minutes of April 1, 1857, indicates further that Williamson Lodge No. 307 was so named in honor of the Right Worshipful Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania at that time:
"The ceremonies of installation of officers of Williamson Lodge No. 307 were performed by the Right Worshipful, the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, Peter Williamson, accompanied by his proper officers, and the following persons were installed as officers of Williamson Lodge No. 307 to serve the balance of the term of the present Masonic year ending on St. John's Day next:
John M. Stephen, Worshipful Master
E Penn Smith, Senior Warden
John M. Schonour, Junior Warden
William Moore, Treasurer
Thomas S. Searle, Secretary
The Worshipful Master appointed John H. Oberly senior deacon and John H. Sell junior deacon.
After the ceremonies of installation of officers, the Grand Master delivered an excellent address upon the vital principles of Masonry. After the lecture the Lodge adjourned to partake of an excellent dinner at the hotel of Abel Mishler by the committee of arrangements for the entertainment of the Grand Officers and other visiting brethren which passed off with great harmony and good feeling." The newly Constituted Lodge immediately began a busy schedule as further recorded: "The first stated meeting of Williamson Lodge No. 307 was held in their room on Thursday evening, April 2, 1857. The Worshipful Master appointed Brothers Charles Phillips and W.A. Moyer masters of ceremonies. Petitions of the following were presented for membership and committees appointed by the Worshipful Master: Richard J. See, George S. Lechner, Edwin Lorish, Levi Seltzer, John George Seltzer, William Zeller, Henry Behny, David Matthew, and Levi D. Gockley. Bill of Abel Mishler, $60.75 for dinner, ordered paid and bill of Charles See, $29.12 1/2 for work done, ordered paid. Worshipful Master appointed Moore, Phillips and Smith a finance committee and Schonour, Sell, and Oberly trustees. On motion Brother McFarlane was instructed to procure a cloth for the Lodge. No further business appearing the Lodge adjourned in peace and harmony."
According to the minutes of April 9, 1857, it was just one week later that the first special meeting was held: "Special meeting of Williamson Lodge No. 307 F. and A.M. with Brother J. M. Ditzler of Mt. Lebanon Lodge No. 226 - after a session of Masonic Practice, Lodge adjourned in peace and harmony."
The remainder of 1857, the first year of Williamson Lodge No. 307 was relatively uneventful but busy. Many petitions were received committees of investigation appointed; most were favorably reported and received the appropriate degrees; several were challenged, investigated and later approved or withdrawn. The minutes of the meeting, December 3, 1857, show that prior to the election the District Deputy Grand Master and three Brethren "Passed to the Chair," seven members of Williamson Lodge. Officers elected for 1858 were John Stephen, W.M.; John Schonour, S.W.; John H. Oberly, J.W.; J. A. Sell, sec.; W. Moore, Treas.; and Zeller, Spang, and Phillips, Trustees. Thus, with the installation of the new officers for 1858, came to a close the first calendar year of Williamson Lodge No. 307, F and A.M. We honor those who made possible our Masonic heritage, the Warrant Members:
John M. Schonour of Sinking Spring, Occupation-Clerk, Age 23
William Moore of Womelsdorf, Occupation-Physician, Age 44
John Stephen of Womelsdorf, Occupation-Physician, Age 31
Charles Phillips of Womelsdorf, Occupation-Horse Dealer, Age 41
Thomas S. Searle of Stouchsburg, Occupation-Teacher, Age 34
E Penn Smith of Womelsdorf, Occupation-Lumber Merchant, Age 34
William A. Moyer of Womelsdorf, Occupation-Hotel Keeper, Age 29
John H. Sell of Womelsdorf, Occupation-Merchant, Age 27
John H. Oberly of Womelsdorf, Occupation-Coal Dealer, Age 23
The Early Years
Williamson Lodge No. 307 has truly been representative of broad spectrum of men and their work in this community. Within first year the membership included at least one of each of the follow physician, teacher, clergymen, attorney, clerk, horse dealer, coal dealer, stock dealer, lumber dealer, merchant, coach maker, tailor, farmer, tiller, carpenter, innkeeper, shoemaker, blacksmith, grain dealer, saddler, painter and cabinet maker. Today members continue to represent variety of crafts, the skilled trades, doctors, lawyers, educators, clergy, engineers, businessmen, accountants, judges, and public office Many have achieved careers of distinction in their respective field endeavor and in service to their communities. They have brought honor to their Brethren in Freemasonry.
The early years of Williamson Lodge included the time of the Civil War. It is interesting to note that a Stated Meeting of the Lodge was held on July 2, 1863, while at that very moment just sixty miles away at Gettysburg the most decisive battle of the Civil War was being fought. Without mentioning the war, the minutes state merely that only six officers and no members were present, that six applicants were elected to membership, two men were entered to the first degree, one man was presented a dispensation to pass to the chair, and fifty dollars was invested in government bonds. The minutes of other meetings indicate that dues were postponed for Brethren who were soldiers in the Union Army; that there was prompt action on three degrees when a Brother had to go to war; that Brother John L. Shultz was killed at Richmond, Virginia; and that there was a two-dollar donation for relief of Chambersburg and a five-dollar donation for widows and orphans in Georgia. This demonstrates that minutes of Lodge meetings are limited to the business of the Lodge. The minutes during these times indicate some of the problems faced by the Brethren. Attendance was frequently poor. Several times there were not enough officers present to conduct a meeting. At one time Worshipful Master refused to attend. There were numerous charges conduct unbecoming a Master Mason which generally turned out to be personal problems to be resolved outside the Lodge. There were jurisdictional disagreements with other Lodges. Many communications were received from far distant Lodges describing "imposters" to be aware one Lodge even sent a photograph. Names of suspended Masons were also frequently received. There were quite a number of rejections, particularly on first ballot. These types of problems indicate personal quarrels. However, matters were generally resolved within the principles Masonic Brotherhood.
For many years after the Civil War the minutes note that requests for charity were quite frequent, at times two per month. There were requests for help from Lodges throughout Pennsylvania as well as from other states including Ohio, New York, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Alabama asking for donations to pay off mortgages, to re-build halls, or to build new halls. Such requests were generally placed on file, although in some situations modest donations were made. Fire losses received more consideration, maybe $75 for nearby and $2.00 for a private loss. Brothers in distress and families usually received $1.00 or more; frequently these were paid out of pocket by Lodge members who were then reimbursed at the next meeting. Sometimes active members were treated more generously; for example, one of the Brethren was given "a four-wheel railroad car of coal at $75." A few examples from the minutes speak for themselves: in 1867 five dollars to Cherokee Lodge #66, Rome, Georgia, to help Master Mason's widows; in 1871 twenty-five dollars to sufferers of the Chicago fire and twenty-five dollars to Brother George Parsons, a Williamson Brother in the Chicago fire; five dollars for fire distress for Lafayette Lodge #194 in Selinsgrove; and $2.70 for a "distressed Brother passing this way." Although the amounts and the circumstances have varied with the times, the Brethren of Williamson have through the years honored appropriate requests for charity including, of course, any requests related to the Elizabethtown Masonic Homes.
Excursions by railroad were evidently a part of the social life during the latter part of the nineteenth century. This was particularly true of the Womelsdorf area because of its proximity to a main line railroad. There are recorded numerous excursion trips by the Brethren, New York City and Atlantic City being popular places to go. The minutes of September 7, 1882, report on a trip to Atlantic City stating that 213 railroad tickets were sold at $2.40 for a total of $511.20. Making the trip were forty-five members of Williamson Lodge and others from Womelsdorf, Lebanon, and Reading.
The Brethren traditionally have enjoyed the food and fellowship of banquets, particularly the celebrations of St. John's Day and the various anniversaries. It seems the delicacy usually included was oysters. The minutes of a Special Meeting on December 16, 1875, indicate that plans for the St. John's Day supper for sixty persons included 2000 oysters, two turkeys, one boiled ham, coffee, one keg beer, one keg ale, $10.00 worth of wines, pies, and cakes. Various motions were proposed to include 3000 oysters, sweetmeats, beef tongues, terrapins, fruits, champagne and cigars, but they were defeated. However, by the time of the eightieth anniversary in 1937, the menu was very similar to what would be planned today. It is records such as these that indicate the culture, in which our Brethren lived and developed the heritage of Freemasonry, which we enjoy today.
Dr. Walter A. Rohrbach