|Volume LVIII||May 2011||Number 2|
Pennsylvania Freemasonry in the Philadelphia Region
"Every Pennsylvania Mason is a part owner of the world's greatest Masonic structure at One North Broad Street in Philadelphia."|
- Thomas K. Sturgeon, R.W. Grand Master
In November 1682, William Penn created the first three counties in Pennsylvania - Philadelphia, Bucks and Chester. The people and Masons of this region shaped our country. These resilient Masons, grounded in patriotism and brotherly love, helped to lay the cornerstone of Freemasonry in the Western World.
Bro. Benjamin Franklin published the earliest authentic record of the introduction of Freemasonry in the United States. "The Pennsylvania Gazette" for Thursday, Dec. 3 to Tuesday, Dec. 8, 1730, stated that Masons had erected several lodges in this Province.
Indeed, Philadelphia became the mother city of Freemasonry as the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania was the first formed in America in 1731. It declared its independence from the Grand Lodge of England in 1786.Philadelphia County
Philadelphia was one of the first planned cities in the new world and served as the county seat and capital of the Province. The "City of Brotherly Love" was the most economically-sound city in America until New York City surpassed it around 1830. However, it retained its leadership in transportation and manufacturing textiles, shoes, ships, trains and machinery.
Since its constitution on Aug. 3, 1780, Lodge No. 9 has never gone dark. During that time, it has cared for children of deceased members, financially supported widows, provided firewood and food for the needy and assumed burial expenses in cases of financial distress. During its 150th anniversary, the lodge's membership reached 980. From the crash of the stock market in Oct. 1929 to the onset of World War II in Sept. 1939, the lodge disbursed more than $16,000 for benevolent purposes, which has about $230,000 in buying power today.
After 99 years of meeting in the Masonic Temple, on Sept. 1, 1972, Lodge No. 9 held its first meeting in the Tacony Masonic Temple, where it meets today. "Sharing a building with other lodges makes it easy to visit each other's lodge meetings," Bro. Philip Batula, Secretary, said. The lodge is now home to about 290 members and provides a scholarship program for members and donates to various local charities. To support the Masonic Children's Home, Lodge No. 9 hosts a banquet and silent auction in June, and throws an annual holiday party for the children.
Of the 32 lodges in Philadelphia County, 24 meet at the Masonic Temple in Philadelphia. Bro. James H. Windrim, Philadelphia-Potter Lodge No. 72 (constituted Jan. 14, 1797), designed the Masonic Temple, which was dedicated on Sept. 26, 1873. A year later, on July 4, 1874, then-R.W. Grand Master Alfred R. Potter laid the cornerstone of City Hall across the street from the Temple. Bro. John McArthur Jr., assisted by Bro. Thomas U. Walter, designed this prominent landmark featuring a statue of William Penn at the top of the tower.
Columbia Lodge No. 91, constituted on Sept. 7, 1801, weathered the anti-Masonic sentiments, sometimes called the Dark Age of Freemasonry, that flooded the nation from 1826 to the mid-1830s. Masons who remained part of the lodge during this period were called "Adhering Masons." Columbia Lodge provided three Grand Masters to Pennsylvania Freemasonry - Bros. Samuel Badger, Samuel H. Perkins and Samuel C. Perkins. Bro. Julius F. Sachse served as librarian, curator and historian of the Grand Lodge at the turn of the 20th century and was recognized as one of the nation's premier historians on Freemasonry. He gathered many of the items now in the Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania.
On Feb. 19, 1810, 13 members of Washington Lodge No. 59 (constituted June 24, 1793) consecrated St. John's Lodge No. 115. During the Dark Age of Freemasonry, the lodge considered joining Lodge No. 2, but after World War I, 116 men were initiated. In Dec. 1985, Perkins Lodge No. 402 merged with St. John's Lodge. "St. John's is in many ways very unique. We draw our membership mostly from the people who work in Philadelphia, so our lodge is very diverse. We form very strong bonds of fraternity among our members, and we have strong connections with other lodges," Bro. David Director, P.M., Secretary, said. "Masonic education and the discussion of Masonic philosophy and how it relates to our lives and the making of good men are of great importance."
St. John's Lodge provides financially for both the Pennsylvania Masonic Youth Foundation and Shriners Hospitals. "We've had a tremendous revitalization of the lodge in recent years," Bro. Director said. In 2010, the lodge celebrated its 200th anniversary and initiated 31 new members - a lodge record since the end of World War II. This year, the 200 members have embarked on the exciting challenge of integrating new members and mentoring them to become active participants in the lodge.
Robert A. Lamberton Lodge No. 487, constituted March 1, 1871, the smallest lodge in this region, was named after Bro. Robert Lamberton, R.W. Grand Master in 1869-1870. It focused on charity by aiding brothers affected by the 1871 Chicago fire and the 1889 Johnstown flood. The lodge became famous for its elaborate celebrations and, after World War I, its musical showcases. The lodge recovered from the Great Depression's financial strain and continued the lavish celebrations through the 1950s when the lodge had 600 members. By the 1970s, with the social trend of families moving to the suburbs, the lodge had fewer than 350 members and could no longer afford to hold extravagant banquets. As of 2010, membership stood at 70.
Fernwood Lodge No. 543 was constituted Dec. 9, 1875, on the second floor of a schoolhouse. When it outgrew the space, Masons and community members alike helped to fund the construction of a lodge building where the members met for 21 years until a fire destroyed it. The records, which were at the secretary's home, were the only items saved. Beginning in 1898, the lodge met at the Masonic Temple in Philadelphia. At the climax of its membership in the 1930s, Fernwood Lodge had 1,150 members. During World War II, the lodge formed the Fernwood Masonic Military and Naval Service Committee, which sought to provide comfort to 35 members and sons of members serving in the war. The committee sent letters with newspaper clippings and/or "The Fernwood Newsletter" every week. In 1943, District B collected 725 radios, and before they were sent to hospitalized veterans, a member of Fernwood Lodge repaired the broken ones. Last year, about 10 new men were initiated, and the lodge now has approximately 200 members. "We have men of a variety of ages in our lodge, and in coming years, I'd like to see more young people coming out and joining the fraternity," Bro. Ronald Laub, Secretary, said. Most recently, members of Fernwood Lodge participated in a 5K run/3K walk to support an organ donor charity.
Only eight lodges in Philadelphia County meet outside of the Masonic Temple in Philadelphia. Those lodges include Hiram Lodge No. 81, constituted May 24, 1800, and Palestine-Roxborough Lodge No. 135, constituted April 16, 1813. Meeting at the Tacony Masonic Temple, the other six are: Lodge No. 9; Widener-Apollo-Kensington Lodge No. 211, constituted April 30, 1827; Frankford Lodge No. 292, constituted Dec. 19, 1854; Jerusalem Lodge No. 506, constituted March 23, 1872; Tacony Lodge No. 600, constituted Nov. 27, 1893; and Joseph H. Brown Lodge No. 751, constituted Oct. 9, 1929.
Tacony Lodge No. 600 owns the Tacony Masonic Temple, which was built in 1963. Since then, many Masonic bodies have begun to use the building and partner together to improve it, build Masonic bonds and impact the community. The temple is used for the stated and extra meetings, fundraisers, dances and activities of the lodges and appendant organizations that meet there, including the Masonic District D officers; the Tacony School of Instruction for Masonic Districts A and D; Philadelphia Rainbow Assembly No. 47; Northeast DeMolay; and the Order of the Amaranth.
"The building has brought all of our lodges together, and we have given back to the community in many ways," Bro. David Tansey, District Deputy Grand Master of District D and member of Jerusalem Lodge, said. "The lodges that have the wherewithal to financially support functions will often support the lodges that do not have money. The lodges without great financial means are heavily involved in the volunteer efforts. We work together as one common organization. ... We do good acts, and people see that our fraternity is comprised of good people. This shows how Freemasons love one another and endeavor to contribute to the happiness of others."
A sampling of the lodges' community involvement includes hosting a District D canned food drive, holding a neighborhood picnic; collecting and handing out candy to residents at the Masonic Villages in Elizabethtown and Warminster, visiting local VA Medical Centers, supporting the Masonic Youth programs however possible and hosting a Dorney Park picnic. Jerusalem Lodge also donated to the Ill. Joseph E. Trate, 33º Fund through the Children's Dyslexia Center; gave a $40 gift card to each child at the Masonic Children's Home for Christmas and supported members of the lodge who suffered financial hardships from the current economic climate.
"My hope would be that our whole thought process and everything we're currently doing will continue to grow," Bro. Bill Harner, W.M., Tacony Lodge, said. Membership stands at 266 men, and in 2011, the lodge has already received 12 petitions.Bucks County
Named for Buckinghamshire, England, this county boasts fertile farmland; a dairy industry; textile, pottery and decorative tile making; and a U.S. Steel Company plant which increased the county's population after World War II.
In 1810, several German-speaking Masons formed a lodge where German would be used for all proceedings. On Jan. 25, 1811, Hermann Lodge No. 125, Philadelphia, was constituted. Due to the anti-Masonic sentiments of the time, the lodge grew slowly, but with waves of German immigrants moving to America, the lodge reached 125 members in 1859. With a 2002 merger with Humboldt Lodge No. 359, constituted in 1866, the lodges became Hermann-Humboldt Lodge No. 125. The more than 180 members still conduct the proceedings in German (along with English) and speak the language at gatherings and meetings at Frey Southampton Masonic Center, located at the Masonic Village at Warminster.
On Aug. 27, 1850, Doylestown Lodge No. 245 was constituted. (Previously, there had been a Doylestown Benevolence Lodge No. 168, from 1819-1837.) With an average of 30 new members per year and a membership expected to tip 600 this year, it has grown to become the largest lodge in Philadelphia, Bucks and Chester counties. The lodge's young leaders emphasize outstanding ritual, fellowship and being a part of the community. Doylestown Lodge hosts an annual golf outing, pancake breakfast and spaghetti dinner. It opens its doors on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Sharing and the town's First Friday, when local merchants remain open into the evening. Through these initiatives and additional funding, the lodge provides for the Masonic Villages, Scottish Rite Children's Dyslexia Center and the LuLu Center golf outing.
In 1768, Lodge No. 11 was warranted in Newtown. After the Revolutionary War, the lodge received warrant No. 57 from the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania. Decades later, in 1806, the lodge went dark. The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania constituted Newtown Lodge No. 427, Woodside, as it is now known, on Nov. 6, 1868. From 1880 to 1900, the construction of a local electric trolley system allowed Masons from a larger region to attend meetings. On March 1, 1899, the hardware store where the lodge met burned to the ground. After its reconstruction, the lodge continued to meet there until 1955 when the lodge decided to construct a new building. It created the Lower Bucks Masonic Hall Association with several lodges, including Fairless Hills-Levittown Lodge No. 776, Fairless Hills, to build the Lower Bucks Masonic Hall where it still meets.
Fairless Hills Lodge No. 776 was constituted Sept. 25, 1954, with 190 warrant members - the largest warrant membership of any Pennsylvania lodge constituted at the time. It is also the youngest lodge in the Philadelphia/Bucks/Chester County region. "It has nothing to do with age," Bro. Ronald Meredith, Secretary, admitted. "Our active membership provides a more intimate, one-on-one experience. The object is to build a better man, and it's an ongoing learning experience that builds integrity and morality."
A 2002 merger with Levittown-Brittingham Lodge No. 778 resulted in the name Fairless Hills-Levittown Lodge. For years, the members of the lodge have partnered with many local organizations and individuals to provide services to the community through the Lower Bucks Masonic Hall Association, including helping a local woman provide Thanksgiving dinners to those who cannot afford them. The local DeMolay and Job's Daughters use the facilities for meetings and the local Pennsbury School District takes students there for training. The Shriners hospitals also use the facilities to meet with and examine children who may be good candidates for the medical services the hospitals provide.Chester County
Chester County is named in tribute to the homeland of many of the earliest settlers-Cheshire, England. Chester County's industries include iron works; textile, paper and brick making; and farming. It is home to portions of Valley Forge National Historic Park and Brandywine Battlefield, as well as the institute that became Lincoln University, founded in 1854 to educate African Americans.
On Feb. 6, 1837, at the height of anti-Masonic conflicts, Downingtown Lodge No. 174 went dark after just 17 years. Two decades later, Williamson Lodge No. 309, Downingtown, was constituted on Nov. 21, 1857. The lodge now has more than 200 members and participates in the Masonic CHIP program, supports the March of Dimes and began an annual pancake breakfast in 2010.
In 1869, eight members withdrew from the lodge and petitioned the Grand Lodge for a new warrant. As a result, Mount Pickering Lodge No. 446, Upper Uwchland, was constituted July 23, 1869. Bro. J. Benner Evans, the first Worshipful Master of the lodge, wrote the first 16 years of its history from memory after a mysterious fire destroyed the records on Aug. 15, 1894, a day before the lodge building was to be torn down. In 1895, the members started using the brick building they constructed on Byers Road where they still meet.
New London Lodge No. 545, West Grove, was constituted April 10, 1876. During its early years, members contributed to relief funds for yellow fever sufferers, the Chicago fire and the Johnstown flood. The lodge meetings often closed at 11 p.m., even though the brothers did not use electric lights in their meeting place until March 1896 and had to travel home at night by foot, horse or wagon.
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