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Chester Lodge #236 F. & A. M.

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The Masonic Temple - First meeting held here December 2, 1921

Photo courtesy of Terry Redden Peters
in memory of her grandparents, Frank and Bertha Packer.

Pictures of the Masonic Temple under construction

Lodge History | Recollections

Lodge History: Chester Lodge #236 Free and Accepted Masons was constituted February 23rd, 1849. It is located at the corner of 9th & Welsh Streets in Chester, and meets the 1st Thursday of the month.

The first Worshipful Master was George W. Bartram

William "Bill" Carpenter, a Chester resident (now deceased) was elected the Most Right Worship Grand Master of all Pennsylvania Masons in 1984.

The Masonic Temple was built in 1921 at a cost of $498,000 to build and furnish.

A 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 September 1796.

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 Episcopal Church.

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 Havanna 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 ther 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 Belonging.

Fraternally submitted
Harry W. Cullis, Past Master,
February 6, A.D. 1969, A.L. 5969.

Recollections: Betty-Jane Bennett Smith recalls that many of the school proms were held in the facilities at the Masonic Temple.



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© 2002 John A. Bullock III.

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This page last updated 10/18/05