A History of Wilmington Lodge No. 208, A. F. & A. M.

 

Prepared for

 

The Re-dedication and Sesquicentennial Celebration

 

November 10 & 11, 2006

 

Introduction

            Wilmington Lodge No. 208, A. F. & A. M. has a long and respectable history.  Over the years the lodge has been active in degree work, providing valuable assistance to many lodges in the area.  Several of its members have served many families through the presentation of Masonic Funeral Rites.  It has also been energetic participants of many of the Grand Lodge Programs.  It has regularly contributed to the Masonic Home in Sullivan and the Children's Homes in LaGrange and Murphysboro.  In recent years the lodge has also contributed to the Grand Lodge Drug Abuse Prevention Program. 

Over the last few years Wilmington Lodge has embraced many of the new programs of the Grand Lodge.  On a fairly regular basis the lodge has participated in Grand Master Festivals and Blue Lightning Events.  They have used the Invitation to Petition program to bring in new members.  The lodge has also joined in the Eureka Challenge competition (finishing 2nd in the state in 2004), supported the Academic Bowl, and entered the Catfish Days parade as a Community Days activity. 

Recently the lodge assumed the responsibility "policing" the section of Illinois Route 102 from the corner of Water and Baltimore streets to the intersection of Water Street and Kahler Road.  This year the lodge began implementing the Illinois Child Identification Program.  The lodge provided training for members of the community and nearby lodges and has held two IL CHIP ID Sessions--one during Catfish Days in July and one at Bruning Elementary School in late October. 

Like many of the lodges in Illinois and throughout the country, our membership has waned in recent years.  The demands of work and family have made it more and more difficult for men to find time to become Masons.  Some of the newer programs of the Grand Lodge are designed to facilitate joining the lodge.  Hopefully we will see the effects of these programs. 

Over the last thirty years Wilmington Lodge has seen its membership decline drastically.  Changing times, of course, has had an effect, but a changing Wilmington has also contributed.  Many members of the lodge who joined around 1950 had moved into the area to work at the Arsenal near Wilmington.  Many of the members who joined in the 70's and 80's had come to the area to help build the nuclear power stations and other plants in the area.  The Arsenal has been dismantled and the power stations and plants have been completed.   We no longer have a large influx of men migrating into our area looking for fraternal ties.    

In December of 1980 Wilmington Lodge Membership was 335.  Today we have 182 members. 

 

Formation of the Lodge

            On Monday, October 1, 1855, Frank Mitchell of Wilmington presented a petition to the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of Illinois asking for a dispensation to organize a lodge at Wilmington.  Brother Joseph Shirk was identified as the brother chosen to serve as the first Master of the proposed lodge, with Brother Cyrus Stowe as the first Senior Warden and Brother Hezikiah Warner as the first Junior Warden.  (The authors of the booklet prepared for the Centennial celebration in 1956 commented:  "One interesting fact is that when Frank Mitchell went to Springfield for a dispensation, he was not a Mason.  He received his Master Mason's degree [in Wilmington Lodge U. D.] on April 16, 1856.")     

            Satisfied that the petition was proper and supported by the requisite number of brethren, the Grand Lodge committee on "Lodges Under Dispensation" recommended that the requested dispensation be granted. 

            Brother Mitchell carried the "dispensation" back to Wilmington where the lodge was organized and the following officers elected to serve with Brethren Shirk, Stowe, and Warner:

                        Treasurer-          Frank Mitchell

                        Secretary -         George E. Cavanaugh

                        Senior Deacon -  W. G. Cutchaw

                        Junior DeaconWilliam Linslar

                        Tyler -                Nicholas Cotton

            The first meeting of the Wilmington Lodge U.D. of Free and Accepted Masons was held at the Empire Hall on October 24, 1855, at 2:00 p.m.  Opened on the Third Degree of Masonry, the lodge "resolved that the regular meetings Wilmington U. D. be held on each Wednesday of each month on or before the full moon at 2 o'clock p.m."  While the wording of the resolution as reported in the minutes can be construed to mean that the lodge would meet every Wednesday of the month, a survey of the minutes suggest that there was only one meeting each month and that that meeting took place on a Wednesday in the latter part of the month ("on or before the full moon"). 

The first petition for the degrees in Masonry received by the Wilmington Lodge was that of E. H. Strong--it was accompanied by the required fee of $2.00.  The petition   was referred to a committee consisting of Brethren Linslar, Stowe, and Steen.  On February 20, 1856, Strong became the first candidate of the Wilmington Lodge to be raised to the "sublime degree of Master Mason."

            At the November 25, 1855, meeting, a committee consisting of brethren Shirk, Stowe, and Z. G. Porter was appointed to draft a constitution and by-laws for regulating and governing Wilmington Lodge U. D.  The first set of by-laws was adopted on April 30, 1856.  Interestingly, one of the by-laws required that a ballot be cast on a candidate prior to conferring each and every degree. 

            The first few meetings of the lodge were held in a room owned by Brother R. W. Waterman.  On June 18, 1856, "a suitable and convenient" room for lodge meetings was rented from Mr. Campbell for five years at an annual rent of $80.00.  

            During the year that the lodge operated U. D. (under dispensation) twenty-six candidates were initiated, thirteen passed, and ten raised to the degree of Master Mason.  The total membership of the lodge at the end of that first year was twenty-eight.

            Initiation and degree fees were $15.00; lodge dues were $1.00; and Grand Lodge per capita dues were $0.70. 

            On October 6, at the 1856 communication of the Illinois Grand Lodge, Wilmington's "dispensation" was returned with a petition asking that a charter be granted.  Upon the recommendation of the Committee on Lodges under Dispensation, on October 7, a charter and the number 208 were granted to Wilmington Lodge. 

Brother Frank Mitchell, as the proxy of Worshipful Master Joseph Shirk, received the charter, was seated, and represented Wilmington Lodge No. 208 for the remainder of the meeting.   That charter received in 1856 now hangs in the Wilmington lodge room on the south wall above the secretary's desk. 

On Friday, November 7, 1856, Wilmington Lodge U. D., A. F. and A.M., met in their lodge room at 7:00 p.m. and opened, in form, on the Third Degree of Masonry for the historic beginning of their work as a chartered lodge.  The minutes of that meeting record that the elected officers present were:  Joseph Shirk as Worshipful Master, Cyrus Stowe as Senior Warden, Hezikiah Warner as Junior Warden, Frank Mitchell as Treasurer, and George C. Cavanaugh as Secretary.  Other officers present included Edwin H. Strong as Senior Deacon, George H. Gray as Junior Deacon, R. W. Waterman as Senior Steward, and Charles Hammond as Tyler.  Other members of Wilmington Lodge who signed the register were:  Normandy, Samater, Smith, McIntosh and Tyron.  Visiting brethren included J. J. Huntley of Lafayette Lodge No. 18 of Chicago, and R. J. Cunningham and W. J. Nelson of Mount Joliet Lodge No. 42 in Joliet. 

Having been authorized by the Grand Master of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Illinois, Right Worshipful Brother J. J. Huntley "consecrate[d] and install[ed]" the first officers of Wilmington Lodge No. 208 in the approved Masonic tradition. 

 

Laying the Cornerstone of the Methodist Episcopal Church

As one of their first public services, Wilmington Lodge organized the laying of the cornerstone of the Methodist Episcopal Church on July 22, 1857.  In June of that year the lodge passed a resolution asking for a dispensation from the Grand Master to allow them to lay the cornerstone.  They also requested permission to confer the Fellowcraft and Master Mason degrees on the Reverend Cleveland, the Methodist minister, prior to the laying of the cornerstone.  Both requests were granted.  The Reverend Cleveland "being a man of the cloth received his degrees free."

Brother William Smith was appointed to serve on behalf of James H. Hibbard, then the Grand Master of Illinois Masons, in laying the church's cornerstone.  On the 22nd of July, after meeting the 10 a.m. train, which carried the Masonic dignitaries to Wilmington, the lodge met at Empire Hall and opened on the Third Degree.  They then "proceeded to the church and laid the cornerstone in accordance to ancient custom and usage" of the fraternity.

 

Notes of Interest from Early Minutes

            At a June meeting in 1859, the lodge meeting dates were set for the Second and Fourth Wednesdays of each month.  That meeting schedule was continued until 1956.  Wilmington Lodge currently meets only on the Second Wednesday of each month. 

            Committees often need a little encouragement to get their work done.  The lodge of 1860 found a way to encourage one of their committees to meet its responsibility.  At the December 26, 1860, meeting of the lodge, it was noted that the finance committee that had been formed over a year before had not completed it work.    By vote of the lodge the committee was directed to complete its work and report at the next regular communication--or be fined "two bits apiece."  The records show that they made their report at the January 9, 1861 meeting. 

            Over the years many technological improvements were made to the meeting rooms of Wilmington Lodge.  In February of 1861, for example, a motion to remodel the lodge to enable the use of "coal oil" was passed.  A special "hand lamp" was to be furnished for the secretary's table. 

Changes in societal attitudes and practices are also reflected in the history of Wilmington Lodge.  Not long ago the lodge chose to make its building a "smoke-free" facility.  This attitude towards tobacco is far different from that of the lodge in 1863, which approved a bill for "one dozen spittoons." 

Although we find many changes in technology and social practices over the years, much of our Masonic heritage, as reflected in tenets and ceremonies, has changed little.  In the same minutes reporting the purchase of spittoons, a bill for one pair of columns (used in the Fellowcraft Degree) was also approved.  Even in the face of constant change, much of Masonry remains unchanged. 

In keeping with the patriotic tradition of our fraternity that claims George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Paul Revere, and many other prominent leaders of our nation's formation, the Wilmington Lodge of 1866 voted to endorse a resolution authored by Tyron Lodge No. 333, A. F. & A. M. decrying the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

 

From a 1972 History of the Lodge

            A document dated June 4, 1972, has provided a brief history of events affecting our lodge and its appendent bodies.  While the authorship is unclear, it is thought to be the work of WB Leslie Allott, Sr.   Below are recorded some of the interesting information the "history" contains. 

            The Wilmington Masonic Temple that was replaced by our current building in 1989 was purchased by the Wilmington Chapter of Royal Arch Masons No. 142 in 1903, and after extensive remodeling, it became the home of the Masonic bodies in 1904.   

            The building had been built as a place of worship for the Episcopal Church in 1867 at a cost of $7,000.  When Chapter bought the building, it had been empty for several years and was in great disrepair--the roof leaked, windows were broken, and hundreds of pigeons made it their home.  Because of its condition, the Royal Arch Masons were able to buy the building for the bargain price of $600.  The $473.43 required for repairs was also a bargain--especially by today's standards.   

            The building was dedicated as a Masonic Temple on October 21, 1904, and in December of the same year, Wilmington Lodge No. 208 became a tenant for $200 per year.  The lodge continued as a tenant in the Chapter's building until the deed was purchased by the Temple Association prior to the razing of the church building and the building of the new temple.  The Temple Association bought the building and the parking lot for a token price of $1.  (The parking lot had been purchased by the Chapter while James Stickel served as High Priest in the 1960's.)

Electric lights were installed in the building in 1907 at a flat rate of $6 per month.  The author of the 1972 history writes that "gas or carbide lights had been in use for three years, but because of the explosion that killed Companion George Scheibner's father and Mr. Pope, it was decided to install electricity for safety."  He added, "The gas light fixtures are still in place in the balcony [of the old temple building]."    Interestingly, when an electric meter was installed in 1913, the "light" bill dropped from the original $6 a month to just $1.08. 

            Coal to heat the temple building cost $38.12 in 1909.  It reportedly was purchased from the J. H. Ray Lumber Co.  The company was owned by the uncle of Mrs. Ray Banker, the wife of Brother George Banker who was active in Masonry until his death at age 94. 

Many hands have touched the sword that is used by the lodge tyler.  It had belonged to Companion George W. Ashton, who carried it as a captain in the Civil War.  His wife presented it to be used in the Temple in 1904.   

Another gift to the lodge was the Grand Father's clock that sits in the lobby of the Masonic Temple.  It was built by Brother James Robson, who was raised as a Master Mason in 1880.  In 1940, four years after his death, Brother Robson's daughter presented it to the lodge.     

One of the distinguishing features of the lodge room is the beautiful wooden canopy that covers the dais in the East.  Very little information is available about the canopy.  Records indicate that it was "purchased from the Joliet Masons for $48.50" in 1912.  We can only speculate about how it was disassembled, transported by wagon to Wilmington, reassembled and installed in the lodge room.  We do know, however, that it has added greatly to the appearance of the lodge.

When the old temple building was razed, everyone agreed that the canopy should be preserved and used in the new lodge room.  Accordingly, it was carefully disassembled and a local woodworker was hired to refurbish it.  A broken piece in the lattice-work (maybe broken during its trip from Joliet) was repaired and the finish of the canopy was restored to its original condition.  Because the canopy was so important, the dais was designed accommodate its dimensions.  

As the old temple building aged various repairs were made.  One of the repairs that ultimately had an ironic twist was the installation of steel rods extending from the south wall of the building through the north wall to reinforce the sides of the building.   The 1972 history reports that the tie rods "were hand made by Atkinson and Jardine for a cost of $6.25.  Atkinson was a wagon maker and Jardine was a blacksmith."  Ironically, when the building was being taken down in 1989, when a workman attempted to remove the rods, he found that they were not providing any support to the building at all--they were simply lying across the building. 

In November 1936 a huge safe was purchased in Chicago and carted to Wilmington by Les Allott, Sr.  Due to rough roads and the safe's great weight, the casters on the safe wore holes in Allott's new truck bed.  For years the safe sat in the hallway in the front of the old building.  When the new temple was being built, a section of the exterior wall of the room behind the secretary's desk was left open until the safe was fork-lifted in.  The wall was then completed, making the safe a permanent fixture in the lodge. 

While we have a fairly good idea where much of the furniture in the lodge came from, some pieces remain clothed in mystery.  The five "oriental" chairs used by the Master (and his guests in the East), the Senior Warden, and the Junior Warden have been furniture of the lodge for a very long time.  As the author of the 1972 history say, "they are thought to have been brought from the third floor lodge room of the old Empire Hall on Water Street.  Their history before that time is unknown." 

The lives and activities of the "lodge" and "chapter" are so inter-twined that it is only right to include at least some of Chapter history in this report.  A long-standing tradition of Chapter was its annual Strawberry and Ice Cream Festival.  The event reportedly began in 1907 when an emergency arose to feed 75 unexpected guests attending a Royal Arch degree.  Legend has it that Companions Henry Allott and Thad Gunning served strawberries and ice cream to the large group.  Because Chapter had authorized only $1.60 for the refreshments, Allott and Gunning ended up donating the treat.  The treat was so successful that a "Strawberries and Ice Cream Festival" became an annual Chapter event, lasting into the 1980's. 

 

Building a Temple

            The Masonic Temple that we enjoy today was built in 1989.  On May 1of that year, the old temple building was demolished and by Labor Day of the same year, a new building was being dedicated as the home for the Masonic bodies of Wilmington.  Meeting in the temple at that time were Wilmington Lodge No. 208, A. F. & A. M.; Wilmington Chapter No. 142, Royal Arch Masons; Wilmington Chapter No. 176, Order of Eastern Star; Wilmington Court No. 13, Order of Amaranth; and Bethel No. 75, Order of Jobs Daughters.  Today, only the Lodge is still occupying the building; the other bodies have either disbanded or merged with other groups of their order. 

            Projects of any magnitude take time.  The activities that resulted in building the present Masonic Temple probably have their origin as long ago as 1924.  In that year a committee was appointed "to ascertain ways and means of building a new temple in Wilmington."  But, as the 1972 historian says, "nothing was accomplished at that time." 

            The idea of a new temple surfaced frequently.  Groups and individuals made sporadic attempts to bring the idea to fruition.   Worshipful Brother Bill Warriner maintained an account for funds that were now and again donated by individuals and groups for the eventual new temple.  Others, whose names and activities have been lost in time, also helped to keep the dream alive.  Finally, on May 14, 1972, the Wilmington Masonic Temple Association was chartered as a non-profit corporation by the state of Illinois.  The Association was made up of all the bodies that were to occupy the temple after its completion in 1989.

As an organization, with a charter and officers, the Association began to make headway in the long and arduous task.  Serving as President during the early years of the Association was Worshipful Brother Russell Stuart, who was active in many of the bodies--serving as secretary for the Lodge for over fifteen years.  Elsa Butler, active in Amaranth, Eastern Star, and Jobs Daughters, was Secretary during the early years.  A report made at the end of 1973 showed the total assets of the Temple Association to be $15,647.99.  Donations, memberships in the Association, a fund-raiser dinner, and interest on earlier contributions had raised $5,486.60 during 1973.  Hard work and dedication was keeping the dream alive. 

Over the years many other men and women helped the fund grow.  In 1986 Worshipful Brother Basil Crutchfield was elected as the president of the Association.   Working with his secretary-treasurer Bill Locke and members from all the bodies, a decision was made to make a strong push to bring the temple project to completion.  Among other endeavors, donations were solicited with target levels identified.  Those who made contributions of $1000 or more were named as "Super Builders;" those who made contributions of $500 or more were named as "Grand Builders;" and those who made contributions of $300 or more were named as "      Builders."  A board of honor was created by Worshipful Brethren Ralph Solomon and Wayne Austin.  Brass name tags identifying the level of generosity of the givers were mounted on the board.  Another board, made by the same two brethren, contains name tags for those making lesser gifts.  Over $50,000 was raised through personal donations.  

With input from all the member bodies, Brother Basil Crutchfield drew up plans for the building.  His plan called for a building with absolutely no windows--to ensure privacy for degree work and to minimize opportunities for vandalism and trespass.  A well-appointed kitchen, including an exhaust system, was also planned to allow the brethren to exercise their cooking skills for fund raising.  A gift from local funeral director Charles Reeves paid for the installation of a chair-lift to carry the handicapped up and down the stairs between the lodge room level and the basement social area.  A special donation was made by one Amaranth family who asked that accommodations be made so that speakers could be added at some future period.  Pocket doors were designed for the lodge entryways to allow for easy passage in and out during ceremonies of the several organizations.  And, one of the best additions was the acquisition of theater seats for the lodge room.  A lot of time, thought, and energy went into the planning and execution of the building. 

During the time between demolishing the old building and constructing the new one, all the belongings of the bodies of the Temple Association had to be removed and stored.  It was during this time that the canopy in the East was refurbished.  Everything else was stored in rental units or in space provided by friends of the lodge.  Many men and women worked many hours to see that everything of value was preserved and returned to the new temple in good shape. 

On May 7, 1989, with the old building demolished and removed the five Masonic bodies that were to occupy the new temple met for an official groundbreaking ceremony.  Among those present were Basil E. Crutchfield who was serving as president of the Temple Association, Elsa Butler from Amaranth, Eastern Star, and Jobs Daughters; Bill Whitmore, Jr., who was a Past Master of the Lodge and its Treasurer for over fifty years;  Bill Warriner, a Past Master and active in Chapter, Amaranth and Eastern Star; Past Master Skip Tarran who was to become the president of the Temple Association in later years and guide them in fund raising breakfasts that would pay off the temple's indebtedness; Past Master LaVerne Melbourn, who generously loaned the Association the $12,000 it needed to complete the building; and many other Past Masters, Companions, and active members of Amaranth, Eastern Star, and Jobs Daughters. 

Less than four months later, state and local Masonic dignitaries gathered to lay the cornerstone and dedicate the building as a Masonic Temple.  Accompanied by his line of Grand Officers, the Most Worshipful Grand Master Willie B. Elliott directed the ceremonies.  The cornerstone with its appropriate engraving was donated by Brother Roger A. Freitag.

Instrumental in seeing that the building was built according to the requirements of the Masonic bodies was Basil Crutchfield.  Basil had retired after spending many years as a superintendent on a variety of construction jobs.  His knowledge of the building trades ensured that the building would be properly constructed.

Lending his expertise to the building of the temple was Howard Clennon, owner of Clennon Electric of Wilmington.  Although not a Mason, Howard was a good friend of Bill and Basil Crutchfield and Bobby VanDuyne.  He spent many hours working with our brethren in planning and installing the building's electrical system. 

Shortly after the temple had been dedicated, Brethren Bud Bever, Richard Bjarnarson, Christopher "Skip" Tarran, Clifford Tull, and Herbert Akins installed a sign identifying it as the "Wilmington Masonic Temple."  Made of stainless steel, the sign is weather-resistant and will last almost indefinitely. 

In order to pay off the debt that remained after the building was completed, the Lodge and its ancillary bodies held monthly Sunday morning breakfasts.  Most active as cooks were Bill Crutchfield, Bobby VanDuyne, Basil Crutchfield, Skip Tarran, and Cliff Tull.  With the passage of time, other Association members became more involved.  Near the end of the regular breakfasts, Worshipful Brother Jerry Stewart had assumed the role of director--ordering food and generally overseeing the event.  The breakfasts with a menu that included pancakes, sausage, bacon, eggs, biscuits and gravy, and potatoes were praised by many of the community who were regular patrons. 

In addition to the breakfasts, the debt and operating expenses were paid for by renting the temple building to governmental, business, and religious groups.  For a time the Wilmington city court was held in our building.  Personal Products (a branch of Johnson and Johnson) also used our basement for training.  Lastly, the Baptist Church of Wilmington rented our facility as they saved to purchase a building of their own.  Our fraternity has been very fortunate over the years to have revenue sources that have helped us survive and thrive.  Most recently, a bequest given as the John and Evelyn McGraw Memorial Fund by their son Gene McGraw, a brother from this lodge, has put us in good financial circumstances that should continue for many years to come. 

Our Masonic Temple is a realized dream.  The dedication of many brethren, companions, and members of associated orders led to the completion of the beautiful temple we now occupy.  Today's Masons are truly fortunate.

 

Lodge Work in the Community

            One of the most frequently asked questions by non-Masons is:  "What do Masons do?"  Besides having meetings, our lodge, at least, is very much involved with the community.  Over the years Masons have touched many lives in this community and throughout the world--by their service and through their generous gifts of money.

            Although our lodge minutes suggest that interest in forming a "Blood Bank" surfaced as early as the 1950's, it was not until 1977 that our lodge took a meaningful role in that activity.  In that year Basil Crutchfield was appointed chairman of the newly conceived district blood drive.  The members of our lodge, working with the other lodges in our district, were able to draw over 150 units of blood.  Most of the blood was donated by members of our lodge or by individuals recruited by us.  Subsequent blood drives, while not quite as successful, often drew 70 or more units.  The family of Worshipful Brother Billy Joe Craig--Billy, his wife Glenna, and three of their four children--gave five units of blood during one of our drives.  With the encouragement of their teacher, Bill Locke, several high school students also supported the activity. 

In 1981, during the year that Worshipful Brother Bill Crutchfield was Master, the lodge implemented a scholarship to be awarded to deserving graduates of Wilmington High School.  Through the year 2004 our lodge consistently rewarded one graduate with a $500 scholarship each year.  In 2005 an additional $500 award was made through the generosity of several Masons.  In 2006, the lodge voted to award two scholarships of $1,000 each.  The scholarships are given with absolutely no restrictions.  With the help of the high school guidance department, we have been fortunate to select deserving and successful graduates. 

Over the years our lodge has taken an active role in many worthwhile projects.  Early in the history of Kuzma Care Cottage, our local food pantry, several Masons made significant contributions to its success.  Calling itself "The Crazy Eight Plus One," the group consisted of Bill Crutchfield, Bobby VanDuyne, Basil Crutchfield, Bud Bever, Cliff Tull, Skip Tarran, Dick Bjarnarson, Herbie Akins, and the "plus one" Howard Clennon.  A food wagon they operated during Catfish Days and at other times earned them money that they contributed to local groups and causes.  Kuzma Cottage was one of their beneficiaries.  The same group also spent one Saturday going around town soliciting a pick-up load of food and other items needed by the Cottage.  Basil Crutchfield recalls the heart-felt appreciation the group received from program manager, Sister Ann Ellen, when they delivered the load. 

Wilmington Lodge No. 208 has a long and interesting history.  Over the years, it has effectively served the members of the fraternity by maintaining an active lodge.  It has also served its community by its programs and its participation in local activities and charities.  We all hope and pray that its future is as bright and worthwhile as its past.