A History of Marine Lodge by Robert Tilden


LANDMARKS and MEMORIES

of

MARINE LODGE, A.F. & A.M.

 

We know from Falmouth tradition, as well as the archives of Grand Lodge, that Marine Lodge, A.F. & A.M., was chartered and duly constituted a century and three-quarters ago. The names of Frank Wicks, Joseph Webb, Robinson Dimmick, Isaac Parker, Prince Hatch, Davis Swift, John P. Caswell, Hugh Donaldson, Timothy Crocker, Richard Bunker, James Wing and Lewis Parker appear on the petition; and we now honor their memories as the Charter Members.

Where and when had these men been initiated? As leaders in a maritime community,  me, it may be assumed had traveled to larger ports or lived abroad. Colonial America had a generous supply of lodges distributed from Maine to Carolina, as did several British Colonies in the Caribbean. But in what lodge and under the jurisdiction of what Grand Lodge they took their first Masonic steps still suggests further research.

 

A WORSHIPFUL LODGE

The Charter itself duly signed by the officers of Grand Lodge carries the date March 13, 1798. The minutes of Marine Lodge record that the first meeting of our Ancient Brethren was held on March 26, 1798. The first meeting place was the home of Stephen Swift, probably the only member of Marine Lodge ever chosen Senior Steward in his own home.

Bro. William H. Hewins, writing for the 125th Anniversary, identified the location of the Stephen Swift house as “being the old house next east of the Town Farm.” Brothers with shorter memories of Falmouth will need to know that the Falmouth Artist Guild now occupies the building; once used for municipal charity, and that a granite marker formerly situated between the Recreation Building and the General Swift Motel (now replaced by the Holiday Inn) memorialized the site of General John L. Swift’s birthplace. A bronze tablet carried the notation that: “The Marine Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons occupied it at one time for its meetings.” Would it not be an appropriate part of our anniversary observances to seek the restoration of this historic marker?

When sickness in the family of Stephen Swift compelled the Lodge to seek other quarters, it met in the home of Samuel Shiverick, “in the south west upper chamber. ” The site of this house is now occupied by the Post Office. Meeting in private homes continued until the “new” building was completed in 1801.

The construction of our first Lodge Hall is an interesting example of the cooperation of individuals concerned about public education, the Town (which annually expended $400 for schools), and the Lodge. A few months after Marine Lodge was chartered, fifty subscribers pledged themselves to buy eighty shares, “in company with the Masonic Society if they chose to join us,” to fund the building of a school house “where the old one now stands.” The Town was also invited to participate “so far as they may agree for the benefit of a town house.”

Heading the list of subscribers for the school were Timothy Crocker and Frank Wicks, charter members and the first Master of Marine Lodge. Four other charter members can be identified among the subscribers, including Elijah Swift, the second Master.

A year later, 1789, the school house proprietors voted to complete the outside of the building and to lay the floors equally with the Masonic Society. W.M. Elijah Swift received the contract to build the structure, and Bro. Timothy Crocker received the money from the subscribers and signed the contract in their behalf with Swift. On completion of the building the town occupied the lower rooms for school purposes. The Lodge occupied the upper rooms, meeting there until about 1810.

For reasons not yet known, the years 1810 to 1820 were dormant ones for Marine Lodge, with its charter surrendered to Grand Lodge. In 1820 the charter was returned, and meetings resumed under the leadership of Aaron Cornish, who was Master from 1824 to 1829. According to Bro. Hewins, the Lodge continued to meet until about 1832 or 1833, but the names of the officers seem to have been lost. At some time during the latter year the charter, working tools, and jewels were again returned to Grand Lodge and remained there until 1857.

The second period of darkness is more easily understood and suggests that Falmouth was closer to the main stream of national events than might have been supposed. In 1826 the mysterious disappearance of William Morgan had so shocked the nation that the anti-Masonic party was born. Shrewd political leaders determined to exploit popular anti-Masonic feelings in order to unite divergent elements against the rising Jacksonian Democracy. Jackson had frequently spoken in favor of the Order and his stature as a Mason was widely known. The seven electoral votes of Vermont in the election of 1832 was the high tide of the movement politically, but more time was required for social animosities to abate. It is now generally conceded that the anti-Masonic movement was caused by political and social conditions of the time, rather than a resuit of the Morgan episode, but its impact upon Falmouth and upon the fortunes of Marine Lodge was no less severe for being part of a national movement, however transient.

 

A JUST AND LEGAL LODGE

It was 1857, almost a full generation after the Lodge closed, before a number of old members petitioned Grand Lodge to restore their charter. The first meeting fellowing the return of the charter was held in the home of Albert Nye, better known to the present generation as “Mostly Hall.”

Also at the first meeting applications were received from three applicants who were balloted for and accepted. The Deputy District Grand Master being present, he gave the necessary dispensation and the Lodge proceeded to confer all three degrees on all three candidates. In addition, they reorganized the Lodge, electing and installing a full roster of officers.

After meeting for a time in Bro. Nye’s home, the Lodge hired and furnished rooms over the Falmouth Coal Company office. They remained there a few years and then bought the building on Main Street which had replaced the school house of 1801.

You recall that the Proprietors of the School House had shared with the Masons in the construction and use of the “new” school. About 1810 the lights went out in the Lodge Hall; they apparently went out in the classrooms as well, and the building passed into private hands. In July of 1845 Thomas Swift sold for $200 to

“School District No. nine the second story of the building (formerly the Proprietors School House and Masonic Hall) with the privileges of the stairway at the west end of the building and at the wes end of the piazza as far as the casing of the first window where shall be made and kept a permanent partition, together with the undivided privileges of the land upon which said building stands.”

Ten years later, in 1855, William Sherman and Mary T. Sherman granted to the Trustees of Succanessett Lodge No. 135, I.O.O.F., a piece of land “near the old Academy, so called…” The following year Henry H. Shiverick also conveyed to the same Trustees,

“all my right in and to the second story of the building (formerly the Proprietors’ School House and Masonic Hall) with the privileges of a stairway at the west end of the building together with the undivided privilege of the land under and said building . . . being all the property conveyed to said school district No. 9 by Thomas Swift.”

By a deed dated August 2, 1862, the trustees of the Odd Fellows conveyed to the

“members of the Marine Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Falmouth … a certain parcel of land … near Shivericks Pond . . . containing one fourth of an acre … with the buildings thereon.”

One can only speculate what tides of fortune brought about this transfer. Whether the Odd Fellows were moving to larger or to smaller quarters, does not appear. Perhaps they remained, sharing the same hall as tenants, as they did during recent years. Whatever the circumstance, we can well imagine the pride with which our Brothers moved into the new facilities. Home at last!

The significant fact is not so much that the Lodge acquired its present property more than a century ago, but that it returned to the site of the building in which the Lodge met from its earliest period, i.e., 1801. Except to change the form of record title from “the members of Marine Lodge” to the Trustees it is my belief that the title to the property has never since left our possession.

As the purchase of a lodge hall indicates, the second half of the 19th century was a period of resurgence and continued development for Marine Lodge in particular, and for Masonry generally throughout the country. One need not accept the literal accuracy of the anecdotes of many Masonic writers to share the popular conclusion that the agonies of the Civil War, which took thousands of men from hearth and home to struggle in alien surroundings, gave new significance to their fraternal ties and demonstrated the value of shared Masonic affiliations.

To those familiar with Camp Edwards and Otis Air Force Base, it may seem strange to consider the experience of the Civil War noteworthy. Whenever servicemen are stationed within the length of our cabletow, we are accustomed to confer degrees as a courtesy to other lodges. Many servicemen have joined our Lodge while stationed here, and many, many more visit with us regularly.

The steady growth of Marine Lodge during the second half of the 19th century is also remarkable when the population of the town declined from the time of the Civil War to the turn of the century.

In 1923 the Lodge observed its 125 Anniversary, and among the participants at the occasion was the Sutton Commandery Band from New Bedford. Bro. Chris Knowles, a long-time resident of Falmouth, came here as a member of that band and preserves souvenirs of the occasion.

 

THIS TRUE AND PERFECT LODGE

The most dramatic event of the period following the 125th Anniversary was the construction of the present Lodge building. In 1935 funds were collected and the cornerstone laid by M. W. Claude L. Allen; he returned in April the following year for the dedication.

Ably managed by Wor. William W. Peters, Wor. Evan W. Moore, and Wor. Howard R. Delano as Trustees, our Lodge Hall also provides facilities for meetings of the Order of the Eastern Star and the Order of Rainbow for Girls. The work and the objectives of both organizations we enthusiastically applaud and support. Two commercial tenants contribute to the financial strength of the property and make possible our remaining on Main Street. During War War II, in addition to entertaining visiting brothers in our own Lodge, 52 members of Marine Lodge entered military service, three of whom never came home. Similarly, during the Korean conflict and the tragic decade in Viet Nam, brothers have served with pride.

In 1948 Marine Lodge observed its 150th Anniversary under the direction of the late Wor. George H. Bigelow, and the late Wor. Cornelius P. Van Tol presided as master of ceremonies. The Grand Master, M.W. Roger Keith, attended with a distinguished suite.

This occasion was the beginning of twenty-five years of growth for Marine Lodge: At the 125th Anniversary in 1923, we boasted 186 members; at the 150th Anniversary in 1948, we had grown to 268. The Secretary informs me we now number 416, approximately half of whom reside in Falmouth and an equal number, throughout the country. For a fraternity which conducts no membership drives, this is a flattering record and, I believe, better than the corresponding figures for Grand Lodge.

We are still too close to this period of our history to view it with any clear perspective. Physically, the Lodge continues to occupy the same building which was so lovingly constructed in 1935 and 1936. Numerous able Masters have in their time worked to beautify and adorn the several apartments of the Temple. I remember the late Wor. George H. Potter’s urging, “Let there be lights,” and there were lights as we had never known them before. Many a candidate, waiting to be received, has pondered on the square and compass Wor. Samuel H. Wright had inlaid in the anteroom floor. I well remember fraternal debates between Bro. Ernest A. Sterling, an operative as well as a speculative architect, and the late Bro. Jack Overy, an equally versatile craftsman, on how best to reconcile the Master’s ambitions and the Trustees’ budget.

The dining hall, the heating plant, the ventilation system, the elevator are all eloquent memorials of a continuing tradition that a Master of Marine Lodge must have wisdom to contrive, strength to support, and beauty to adorn the Lodge building as well as all other great and important undertakings. Current proof of the present vitality of this tradition may be found in the renovations recently carried out under the leadership of our most junior Past Master, Wor. Kenneth C. Smith.

The roster of the other Past Masters need not be recalled. Each has played his part and each has made his unique contribution to the prosperity of our Order. I am sure that for every Mason the Master who presided when he first entered the Lodge, the Master who raised him, and the Master or Brother who labored so long and patiently to teach him the several lectures will always linger in memory as the special exemplars of Masonry. In that context, I cherish a special regard for the late Wor. George H. Bigelow, who received me; the late Wor. Gustave E. Anderson, who raised me; and Wor. Samuel H. Wright, who tutored me.

For those who have gone through the chairs, the Master who started you in line and the Brothers who helped you learn the ritual can never be forgotten. For me these debts are due the late Wor. George H. Potter and Wor. Russell H. Brown. How many of us have been assisted by Russ Brown! For me, these men gave Masonry its form and substance, just as for each of you, others have done the same and more. But these are personal memories and no more the measure of worth for a lodge than for a Mason.

Marine Lodge’s fame is built on stronger facts. In recent years we have sent three officers to serve Grand Lodge: Wor. George E. Rose, as Junior Grand Warden; Wor. Elisha Robbins, as Grand Pursuivant; and the late Wor. F. Gordon Jaynes as Grand Lecturer. Everyone familiar with the duties of Grand Lodge officers gratefully recognizes that these avenues of service are supplied only by generous investments of time and energy by the incumbents.

In earlier years the late Wor. Joseph R. Hall was known as Master, District Deputy, and Secretary, to name only a few of his roles. I doubt whether there was a member of the Lodge during his time whose Masonic experience was not influenced by Joe Hall. Similar mention should be made of Wor. Russell Hartwell Brown, Master and Secretary of Marine Lodge, Master of the Lodge of Instruction, High Priest of Orient Chapter, Eminent Commander of Sutton Commandery No. 16, and industrious worker in behalf of innumerable other related Masonic bodies. Enthusiastic boosters of Freemasonry, ardent ambassadors of Marine Lodge, these are two names writ large in our history.

Of the same caliber are our three living District Deputy Grand Masters: Rt. Wor. Sumner I. Lawrence, Rt. Wor. Milton E. Williamson, and Rt. Wor. Howard R. Delano. By serving the District, they have brought honor to us.

More important than the Masters and officers, I should like to mention the late Alden H. Boothby and Lyman J. Clark, two Brothers who for years worked to make Masonic service a reality. Those who knew them well remember the quiet fidelity with which they performed the duties and privileges of the Service Committee. Similarly devoted and of major importance to the work of the Lodge has been Bro. Harold Ruschky, who has exhorted us to part with blood, that others might live. Who knows how many lives have been extended because of his efforts.

Nor should anyone infer that our Masonic service has been kept within the Order. Although no Brother runs for public office as a Mason, many members have served and do now serve the general good through public office. As examples, I invite your attention to Wor. Roger L. Savery, County Commissioner; Wor. J. Edward Nickerson and the late Bro. Granville Beale, former Selectmen; the late Wor. Milford R. Lawrence, Town Moderator for twenty years; Wor. Frank L. Nickerson, School Committee; Bro. Henry G. Behrens, Finance Committee; Wor. William W. Peters, Wor. Russell H. Brown, and Bro. Charles A. White, Planning Board; and the late Wor. F. Gordon Jaynes as Town Accountant.

In the Police Department Bro. Harold L. Baker, father of three Masters of Marine Lodge, including our present one, served as Chief for many years. Wor. Kenneth C. Smith is now a Sergeant, as was his father-in-law, Bro. Clayton W. Collins, before him. With many Brothers in the full-time, as well as the special, force we are well protected. One could—and probably should—continue in this way to mention other Brothers who have served the Lodge and the Town in various ways: cooks and craftsmen, town meeting members and civic committees are only a beginning. In trying to name some, I am certain to omit others. It is better to suspend while recognizing the contributions of many more. Thus, in numerous ways the members of Marine Lodge practice outside the Lodge the Masonic principles inculcated within it.

Every fraternal history, however brief, should include some record of the banquets shared, the visits of the Most Worshipful Grand Masters and other distinguished Masons received, the anniversaries, the special nights, and other memorable occasions which have marked our fellowship. Some will recall the visiting degree teams; others, the times when half of those present wore service uniforms. Few will agree as to which are most noteworthy, so I leave each to his own memories. Let it suffice to say that the fellowship of Marine Lodge is a many-splendored thing, wherein each Brother makes his own contribution and finds satisfaction of his own particular need.

So mote it be.

 

ROBERT J. TILDEN, Past Master

Falmouth, September 18, 1973