Chester Lodge No. 236 F. & A. M.
135th Anniversary Lodge Plate
Temple - First meeting held here December 2, 1921
Condensed Historical Sketch of Chester Lodge, No. 236, F. &
A.M., Chester, Pennsylvania
Written by: Harry W. Cullis, Past Master
Presented at the Stated Meeting, Thursday, February 6,
1969 commemorating our One Hundred and Twentieth Year.
Tonight as we commemorate the anniversary of the Constituting of Chester
Lodge, No. 236, F. & A. M., permit me to turn back a few pages in our history.
It may come as a surprise to some of you that our history actually dates back
to the immediate post-Revolutionary War days. The threads woven into the
fabric of our history ran straight and true since 1849, but it was not always
thus. At one point in the weaving, the threads became snarled and tangled.
As a young Mason, I never knew Chester Lodge was ever designated by any other
number than 236. At a Stated Meeting in the early 1920's, Brother Charles
Lewis, Past Master, presented the history of our Worshipful Lodge. It was a
revelation to many of us to learn that Chester Lodge, No. 69, was the
forerunner of our present Lodge.
Chester --the County Seat of Chester County --was a Borough of about 600
inhabitants in 1796. In the spring of that year, a small group of Master
Masons petitioned the Grand Lodge F. & A. M. of Pennsylvania, for a Warrant to
establish a new Masonic Lodge here. When this petition was presented, the
United States was in its infancy. Just thirteen years had elapsed since the
Revolutionary War and our Constitution was only eight years old. George
Washington and General Lafayette were then alive, as were Thomas Jefferson and
many other Signers of the Declaration of Independence.
Chester Lodge, No. 69, F. & A.M., was granted a Charter on June 24, 1796, with
nine Charter Members signing the Warrant. The first meeting was held on the
third floor of Hopes Tavern at Fourth and Market Streets. This may have been
the site of what was known in later years as the Swan Hotel – opposite to the
side later purchased by our Lodge. It should be mentioned that taverns, in
those days, afforded the only places for meetings of large numbers. Many
Masonic Lodges met in taverns. The Stated Meetings were to be held on the
first Saturday of every month throughout the year. The Stated Meeting was
later changed to the first Saturday immediately after the full moon.
Incidentally, “Moon Lodges” prevailed among many rural Lodges until the early
1900’s. The Members were to meet at 5:00 P.M. – the Lodge to open one hour
later and close at 9:00 o’clock.
Three articles in the new By-Laws are noteworthy. Initiation and Membership
was set at $20.00. Only four Members were to be Entered, three Crafted, and
two Raised at any one meeting. Every Member shall furnish his own Apron at his
own expense. The first Entered Apprentice Mason’s Degree was conferred in
The Meeting Room was later transferred to the home of one of the Members. The
purchase of a stove to heat the room was authorized. For a few years, the
incoming Worshipful Masters had to be installed in Philadelphia due to an
insufficient number of Past Masters in Chester. Evidently, the new Lodge
prospered for the purchase of a building at Third and Market Streets, Chester,
Pa., was authorized by all of the forty-nine Members.
In the late 1820's, an anti-Masonic agitation swept through the entire nation.
This was accredited to the escapades and disappearance of one, William Morgan,
at Batavia, New York. During the next decade, the membership of Chester Lodge,
No. 69, declined from forty-nine to thirty-five and continued to decline until
only six Members were left in 1835. At the height of this agitation, Joseph
Ritter was elected Governor of Pennsylvania on the anti-Masonic ticket. After
assuming office, he called for an investigation of Freemasonry. Masonic
history tells us that only eight Pennsylvania Masonic Lodges were functioning
during this period.
Chester Lodge, No. 69, could not continue meeting. Its predicament was made
known to the Grand Lodge on February 6, 1837, and the Warrant was recalled in
June 1838. The threads being woven into the fabric of our history became so
snarled and tangled they snapped. Due to circumstances beyond control, all the
assets of the Lodge were taken over by the Charity Committee of Grand Lodge
and the bui1ding at Third and Market Streets was rented. Chester Lodge, No.
69, ceased to exist after forty-two years. During its existence, 186 Members
were either Initiated or Admitted.
About ten years after this anti-Masonic agitation was forgotten, a group of
former Members of Chester Lodge, No. 69, petitioned Grand Lodge to restore the
warrant of the Lodge. The petition was not granted. It was decided, instead,
to set up a new Lodge composed of former Members of the original Lodge and to
be known as Chester Lodge, No. 236, F. & A. M. We now function under a Warrant
dated December 4, 1848. On the morning of February 23, 1849, our Lodge was
duly Constituted and Brother George W. Bartram was installed as our first
worshipful Master. Our first Stated Meeting was held that afternoon.
Our new Lodge met in the Penn Building at Third and Market Streets, Chester,
Pa. The initiation and membership fee was set at $21.00. Every Member and
Visiting Brother was assessed twenty-five cents at each meeting – Grand Lodge
Officers excepted. Candles illuminated the Lodge Room until 1850 when ten
kerosene lamps were purchased.
Five years after the Constitution of our Lodge, a committee of five was
appointed to select a suitable site for a new Lodge Hall. They reported and
recommended a lot at Broad and Madison Streets, which could be purchased for
$10.00 per foot. The property, at the Southwest corner of Broad and Madison
Streets, was purchased in June 1854. Broad Street, as it was known in those
days, ran from Edgmont Avenue East to Morton Avenue and is now East Ninth
Street. The lot was opposite to what is now the St. Paul’s Protestant
During the time our Lodge was meeting in this location, Lucius H. Scott Lodge,
No. 352, F.& A. M., was Constituted. Arrangements were made to rent them the
Hall for $100.00 per year. Chester Lodge was to furnish all candles and fuel.
We have had harmonious relations with them for more than a century.
At the Stated Meeting of Chester Lodge on January 5, 1865, one of the
remarkable incidents in Freemasonry took place when it was resolved to hold
the Brethren accountable for the back dues of those whom they had recommended.
At a Special Meeting, held July 8, 1875, the purchase of Lincoln Hall at
Fourth and Market Streets was authorized. The purchase price was $26,000. The
first Stated Meeting was held there on October 14, 1875. The new Lodge Room
was leased to Lucius H. Scott Lodge for $250.00 per year. The property at
Broad and Madison Streets was sold for $62.00 per foot. Chester Lodge was then
meeting near the site of the original meeting in 1796.
It was resolved in January 1877 that henceforth Members seeking admission to
the Lodge would send in their names on a slip of paper and the Tyler was to
provide such slips. Sixteen years after moving into the hew Lodge Room, steam
heat was installed and electricity illuminated it, graduating from candles,
stoves and kerosene lamps to modern conveniences.
The sesquicentennial of the Initiation of Brother George Washington was
celebrated on November 5, 1902, in Corinthian Hall, Masonic Temple,
Philadelphia. Brother Edward Nothnagle represented our Lodge. The next day,
Chester Lodge held its own celebration to mark the event. The elaborate supper
consisted of raw oysters on the half shell, snapper soup, chicken croquettes,
roast tenderloin with mushroom sauce, cold turkey, peas, celery, olives, ice
cream and fancy cakes, topped off with Havana cigars.
Shortly after World War I, it was decided that the Lodge Room and Banquet Hall
were no longer adequate. The sale of the property at Fourth and Market Streets
was authorized in November 1919 and consummated mid-year 1920. The final
Stated Meeting was the Annual Meeting in December 2, 1920. The banquet was
held in the Auditorium of the Odd Fellows Temple, Eighth and Sproul Streets.
As we departed for the banquet, we were given a ticket for identification
which was collected at the door of the Auditorium. At a Special Meeting on
December 17, 1920, it was voted to change the place of meeting to the Edgmont
Hall, Fourth Street and Edgmont Avenue. This was the Ballroom over the Edgmont
Theater, now demolished. The first meeting was held there January 6, 1921.
The Tall Cedars of Lebanon, then meeting in the Odd Fellows Temple, authorized
the formation of the Tall Cedars of Lebanon Corporation to purchase a suitable
lot for the new Masonic Temple. At the meetings, the base drum was carried
around the room for the Members to donate towards the purchase. Bills
literally covered the top of the drum each month.
The history of our Lodge being closely connected with the other Blue Lodges,
this sidelight is worthy of mention. While meeting in Edgmont Hall, a petition
was received from a number of Brethren requesting sanction of Chester Lodge to
form a new Lodge in Chester. During --and after --World War I, a number of
Masons from other Jurisdictions came to Chester and eventually made their
homes here. As this was now their permanent residence, they had a choice of
either retaining membership in their own Lodge; demitting from it and
affiliating with either Chester Lodge or Lucius H. Scott Lodge: or to form a
new Lodge. Their number of interested Brethren being sufficient to form a new
body, it was resolved to recommend such a formation to the favorable
consideration of Grand Lodge. When the petition was presented to the Grand
Master, he inquired if this was a split in the existing Lodges. When he was
informed it was not, and the two Lodges were donating towards the expenses of
the Charter, it received favorable consideration. Thus Penn Lodge, No. 709, F.
& A. M., came into being.
Chester Lodge held the initial meeting in our new Masonic Temple, Ninth and
Welsh Streets, Chester, Pa., on December 2, 1921. There were 480 Members and
88 visitors present. One of the architects of the new Masonic Temple was
Raised at this meeting by Brother William Haney, Past Master, who was the
Chairman of the building committee. At no time since has our Lodge Room been
filled to overflowing as it was that evening. It was close to midnight when we
went into the Banquet Hall. Brother Albert Northam was Worshipful Master that
year. He told me later he never put in such a long night as that one. It was
in the wee, small hours of the morning when we arrived home.
Prior to the completion of the Temple, plans were formulated to revive the
then defunct Keystone Club, providing club quarters on the First Floor. In the
original plan, provisions were made to enroll 1,000 members at the annual dues
of $10.00. This revenue was designed to defray the operating expenses of the
Temple. This looked well on paper, but the plan did not materialize as
intended. Insufficient income, after five years operation, required drastic
changes to be considered. The annual dies of each of our Blue Lodges were
increased in 1926 from $10.00- to $20.00. The need for this increase was fully
explained to each Body and was so accepted by the Brethren.
A worldwide depression was heralded by the market crash in the Fall of 1929.
We managed to keep our heads above water somehow and to weather the storm. We
thought we had pulled in our belts three years previous, but we managed to
take in one or two extra notches during the next several years. As one of your
Trustees, along with Brothers Gallagher and Northam, Past Masters, we, along
with the other Members of the Chester Masonic Association, burned a lot of
midnight oil each month, seeking ways and means to keep afloat. We tried to
rent the club quarters to the Boyd Theater Corporation, but it was not
adaptable for their purpose. We did lease those rooms to the Pennsylvania
Unemployment Bureau. The rental checks were a salvation. By agreement, this
income was earmarked for current and back taxes. This agreement was faithfully
adhered to throughout the term of that lease.
When Brother Alfred Wunderlick passed away, he willed the bulk of his estate
to the Masons of Chester, and not to Chester Lodge, No. 236, as was assumed by
many. He also donated the Altar and Bible in our Lodge Room. After meeting all
provisions of the Will, the Chester Masonic Association has now attained a
firm financial status. I have been told the entire real estate bequeathed to
us has now been sold. All of this has, of course, reflected into the well
being of Chester Lodge, No. 236. As a Masonic Body, we are now in a healthier
financial situation than we have been for many years.
The threads woven into the pattern of the history of Chester Lodge, although
snarled, tangled and broken during the last century, are again running
straight and true. Time being the loom on which this fabric is woven, no one
can foretell when other snarls or breaks may occur. If the membership of
Chester Lodge continues to select worthy qualified Brethren for the Elective
and Appointed Offices, there is no doubt in my mind that any future storms
will be weathered, should they occur. I might add one word of caution learned
from the lessons of the past. If any plans are considered for a future Masonic
Temple, don't build on promises. Build solidly beforehand, keeping your eye on
your goal and know where you are going before taking the first step. We have
been through some mighty embarrassing situations to the Fraternity in years
gone by. Avoid letting history repeat itself.
I have been asked, on occasion, what was the site of our present Masonic
Temple prior to its erection. I described it some years ago. It may bear
repeating briefly. The corner was the site of the Bunting Coal and Lumber
Company office. Their lumber yard was across the street, occupying the entire
square from Welsh Street to Sproul Street between Eighth and Ninth Streets.
The coal yard was on the other side of Ninth Street, along the Chester Creek.
This property was vacant for a few years before we purchased it.
One more note of historical interest and I will have finished. I have been
asked at times why Pennsylvania Masons are known as F. & A.M. while their
Jurisdictions are designated as A. F. & A. M. To put it briefly, during the
first hundred years of Speculative Masonry in England, there were two distinct
Grand Lodges, namely the Grand Lodge of England at London, and the Grand Lodge
of all England At York. In 1735, ten Lodges subordinate to the London Grand
Lodge seceded, taking the title of Ancient York Masons – applying the title of
Moderns to the London Grand Lodge.
From the Ancient York, or seceders, the present Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania
had its origin. Our Grand Lodge is the third oldest one in the world. It is
only antedated by the Grand Lodge of England and the Grand Lodge of Ireland.
Pennsylvania was a Colony under British rule when our Grand Lodge was formed
in 1731; fourteen years after the Grand Lodge of England. Our Grand Lodge was
held in high esteem in those days -- just as it is today.
Our heritage is one of which we can be justly proud. Steeped in antiquity, but
modern in its present day thinking, it should make one proud, indeed, to be a
Member of Chester Lodge, No. 236, Free and Accepted Masons of the Right
Worshipful Grand Lodge of The Most Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free
and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania and Masonic Jurisdiction Thereunto
Harry W. Cullis, Past Master,
February 6, A.D. 1969, A.L. 5969.
A Special "Thank You" to Joanne
Havlicek whose father Brother John McCracken was a Philadelphia Freemason and
also a Police Detective from the 1st District for donating to our museum the
beautiful pewter 135th Anniversary Plate seen above.