VOL 1 NO. 7 THE ILLINOIS LODGE OF RESEARCH PAGE268
A HISTORY OF ROCKFORD LODGE No. 102
BY WILLIAM CONDON
Rockford Lodge No. 102 has had a long and illustrious history. A man named Alfred Ames was instrumental in organizing several lodges in the area, among them the Rockford Lodge. In 1848 Ames petitioned the Grand Lodge of Illinois for a Charter to form a lodge in Belvidere. The petition was allowed and Belvidere Lodge No. 60 was born. The following year several other lodges were formed under his leadership. A Dispensation was granted for Rockford Lodge No. 102 on February 13, 1851, by the then Grand Master, C. G. T. Taylor. Thirteen members became charter members of the new lodge.
The first meeting of the new lodge was held at the lodge room of Winnebago Lodge No. 31 of the Odd Fellows, located at the southwest corner of State and Main Streets, at what was known as Porter's corner. John Porter was a pioneer druggist in Rockford and the first lodge was located above this drug store. The owner of this edifice, called Odd Fellows Hall, was C. J. Horsman, an early Rockford settler. Horsman was the first man to become a Master Mason in the new lodge. Perhaps this was the reason that he charged the Odd Fellows $1.50 a month while charging the Lodge only $1 for the same hall. Horsman Street on Rockford's West Side is named in his honor. Originally, meetings were held on Thursday evenings at or next preceding the full moon in each month. Degrees were to be conferred on the clergy free of charge with the consent of the Lodge. Upon rejection of an applicant, the Secretary was to return the $5 fee in a "polite" manner. Every member was to pay 25 cents, quarterly for dues. Visiting brethren were exempt for the first three visits. After this, they must pay as regular members. The Lodge voted to appoint Brothers Hulin, Spafford, and Kinfield to look for a lot to be purchased by the Lodge. Proper space apparently was not found since the Lodge continued to rent until 1918.
Several of the 13 original members were prominent Rockford citizens. Edward Baker, who holds the record for being Master of the Lodge 14 times, was Mayor for two terms in 1866 and 1868. This Vermont Native was also involved in the organization of the Rockford Central Railroad in 1855. This Road was to run from Beloit to Mendota but was completed only as far south as Rochelle. Jesse Blinn was another Vermonter who owned the first hardware store in Rockford. His partner in this venture was a man named Ralph Emerson who later was a principal in the Emerson Brantingham concern. William Hulin was a Massachusetts native who was active in public service. He was County Clerk and County Recorder in the 1840's and 1850's. He also edited a book on school laws which were of much value to early Rockford education. A street is named in his honor on Rockford's southwest side. Dr. William Lyman was a psychologist and widely acclaimed in the field of therapeutics. He was Massachusetts born and was raised and at one time was a member of the Illinois Legislature. He was also a surgeon and served in the 45th Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War. Charles Spafford was born in New York and was Clerk of the Circuit Court from 1849 to 1856. His brother, Amos Catlin Spafford, helped start the Third National Bank which is now the First National Bank. Charles Spafford also became active in the Rockford Central Railroad along with Edward Baker. Of the 13 Charter Members, Baker was the survivor.
John Holland followed Alfred Ames as Master. He owned a beautiful home at what is now the Amtrak Depot on South Main Street. He was a lawyer and a Virginia native. He was very shrewd in business affairs and had a partner, T. D. Robertson, also a lawyer. These two men organized the first bank in Rockford in 1848. This bank was later called the Winnebago National Bank. His death was untimely in 1855 at age 40. One of the most prominent Masters was Seely Perry who ruled the Lodge from 1871-1877. During, his tenure the Lodge began to be more active. The Washington Birthday celebrations, dating from 1853, took on more significance and these celebrations were carried on until the early 1960's. The minutes tell of oyster suppers starting in December, 1873. In those days, before the membership was much more than 150, every man receiving the third degree would invite the membership to the then famous restaurant of Mrs. Christian Henry, located two doors east of the Schauss Meat Market on East State Street, where all partook of an old-fashioned oyster supper. The Lodge held many public installations and quite a few sociables during the winter months. One of the good members, J. P. Largent, took great delight in organizing the suppers and there would be discussions as to whether crackers or bread should be used when escalloping the oysters. Preparations were made by W. D. M Clark who was the East Side baker of the day and a member of the Lodge.
The Lodge was re-located to 402 E. State Street beginning in about 1858 and rented space on the third floor of the building from Kirk and Haines for $105 per year. This was at one time the Manufacturers Bank and later a pharmacy on the main floor. By the time Seely Perry became Master in 1871, people in the community began to recognize the Lodge as a very important part of early Rockford history. Perry devoted himself untiringly to Rockford's business development. He was President of the Rockford Lumber and Fuel Company and was Mayor for one term in 1858-59. He was an Alderman from 1873 to 1876 and was President of the Board of Education. During his time as Master in 1874, the membership voted to exempt all members in good standing at age 70 or older from all dues. In 1875 the membership mourned the passing of the first Master, Alfred Ames, who upon leaving Rockford had gone to Minnesota and had become Grand Master.
In 1876, on June 22nd, the Lodge along with other Lodges in the city, arranged for the dedication of the new Court House. The procession was the largest and most imposing that Rockford had ever witnessed. The Lodge was also active in reaching to aid worthy distressed Brothers. On August 5, 1875, sixty dollars was drawn on the treasury to pay the interest on a worthy Brother's house mortgage. Due to sickness the man could not work and thereby meet the mortgage payment. Something like this would be unheard of in this day and age. Many times the Lodge would help out on home payments even after the member had died and his widow was in arrears: Donations were also made during the Chicago Fire in 1871 and during the Johnstown, Pa., flood of 1888. The Lodge membership numbered 163 by 1879 and Grand Lodge dues were $122.25.
Thomas Lawler became Master in 1878 and served for eight consecutive years. He was a Civil War Veteran and served as Commander of the GAR Post forty-two times of which thirty-seven were served consecutively. He was on the board of numerous business enterprises, one of which was Rockford Lumber and Fuel Company. At the time of his death in 1908, he was Postmaster, a position he had held for over twenty years. The man that followed Tom Lawler as Master was perhaps the most faithful member of Rockford Lodge. Eliakin S. Bartholomew was a New York native who first settled in this area in 1843. He was a farmer and owned land in section 36 of Harlem Township. He was raised in Rockford Lodge on August 31, 1854 and served as Junior and Senior Warden and Chaplain for four years each. He then served as Marshal for two years and was finally Master in 1866 and served through 1888. He then came back to serve one more term in 1890. He was widely known as a devoted Mason and was familiar to many while travelling on horseback in rain, snow, or sunshine to attend Lodge. This was quite a chore since he had to ride all the way from Harlem Township. The Rockford Morning Star of September 2, 1904 had a large article having to do with him receiving his fifty-year pin along with another member, David Atwood.
Henry H. Stone was Master in 1889 serving between Bartholomew's terms. He was a farmer originally but retired to the city where he became active as a wholesale dairyman doing a large business. He supplied milk to hotels and restaurants throughout the county. He was one of the original stockholders in the Rockford Burial Case Company. He joined the Lodge on December 16, 1875 and was a prominent member of the G. L. Nevius Post in Rockford. The Swedish element entered into the Lodge after Bartholomew's last term, as Charles Huldt became the first Master of Rockford Lodge to be born in Sweden. He served from 1891 to 1893 and it was during his tenure in 1892 when a committee was formed to install electric lights in the Lodge hall. His home was at Sixth Street and Second Avenue and he was widely acclaimed as a pattern maker. He was so exceptionally skilled that he won a contest as the most popular worker in the community. This enabled him to visit his former home in Sweden. He was a stockholder in the Central Furniture Company in conjunction with numerous other enterprises.
One of the most colorful of Masters was Thomas D. (Uncle Tom) Reber who served from 1894 to 1896. He was a Pennsylvania native and arrived in Rockford in 1883. He worked at various jobs and in 1884 became associated with Seely Perry and his partner, Mr. Lakin. Perry was in the lumber business and Reber became a partner in 1885. This firm then merged with the coal firm of Lawler and Keeler in 1889 and formed the Rockford Lumber and Fuel Company. It should be pointed out that the merged firm contained three Past Masters serving a total of eighteen years as head of the Lodge. Tom Reber was popular in Rockford social circles and was an imposing individual weighing about 300 pounds. He became the first member of the Lodge to receive the thirty-third degree in Masonry. He originally joined Medinah Temple in Chicago and was instrumental in securing a Charter for Tebala Temple in the early 1890's. Besides his Masonic work, he still found time to be a stockholder and director of two banks and the Nelson Hotel. He was also involved in the Excelsior Furniture Company and Ingersoll Milling Machine Company. Uncle Tom was also a great lover of horses and was President of the Rockford Driving Club which he organized in 1890.
John Barker became Master in 1897 and 1898 and Barker Place which is located between East State and Charles just west of Ninth Street, is named in his honor. He was another faithful and devoted member of the Lodge and was originally a harness maker when he was raised on September 4, 1856. When the 75th anniversary was celebrated in 1926, Barker was the oldest living member. A large portrait of him hung above the fireplace in the inner clubroom in the Masonic Cathedral. He is remembered as a kindly gent with a white flowing beard. He at one time was reported to be the oldest Mason in Illinois.
As we approach the 20th Century, it is appropriate to view the Lodge and its role in early Rockford society and how it is today. In the last half of the 19th century, the Lodge played a much larger part in the individual member's activities. It appears that a Master Mason felt a larger responsibility towards the Lodge than today. Lifestyles were different and recreational activities were limited. Lodge provided a social-and religious outlet for people in those days. There was no television, bowling, snowmobiles, automobiles, or motion picture shows. Attendance at Lodge was considered mandatory. It would not be uncommon to have thirty to forty per cent of the membership present at a meeting. When a Brother passed away, the Lodge would be draped in black for a period of thirty days. Aiding needy members occupied a large part of the Lodge's responsibility. This of course was many years before such things as Social Security or health insurance. It was common to help out with mortgage payments or outright monetary gifts for living expenses. Many members were farmers since a relatively large segment of the population earned their living from agriculture.
Life was simple in those days; and yet, in some ways it was very difficult. For instance, the Tyler of the Lodge was paid a yearly fee to keep wood cut for the wood-burning furnace. This was a big task since he would have to leave his job to get wood ready to stoke the furnace to be ready for the evening meeting. Many of these meetings would last until midnight. In some cases, members would have to ride four to five miles to get to lodge. This was considered a privilege.
Nowadays many Lodges have trouble finding enough members to occupy the chairs. The Blue Lodge is considered in many cases only a stepping stone to the thirty-second degree and the Shrine. There was no Shrine in Rockford until 1894 and no Consistory until 1867. The third degree was considered the ultimate in Masonry. Members took their Masonic work seriously and were always more willing to help out needy members. Let us now look into the first half of the Twentieth Century to see how the Lodge may have changed.
On December 20, 1900, the Lodge became the benefactor of three homes on Pope Street as part of the Will of Isaac Orton, a member of the Lodge. A sum of cash was also received and by April 1903, the amount equaled $2864.00. This helped the Lodge get on its financial feet and the Orton Fund was very helpful through the Great Depression. Orton was very aware of the place that philanthropy occupied in the Masonic Creed and acted accordingly. This, of course, was many years before the Shriners' Crippled Childrens' Fund was set up which today is a conduit for many Masonic member's money. As we open the Twentieth Century, we find that interest was mounting for the securing of a building for the Lodge as something permanent. In June 1904, a committee was formed to investigate the idea of finding a lot on the East Side with the view of erecting a building at some future time. It was also decided to confer with other local lodges in order to explore the idea of joining together in erecting an edifice. No lodge in the community had permanent quarters at the time and nobody had enough members to support such an idea as a building. In July 1904, Rockford Lodge had only 283 members. Thus, nothing came of the idea of purchasing land, or any existing building at this time. Members of Rockford Lodge then decided to do the next best thing, and in August 1905, they met for the first time in the newly remodeled quarters at 402 E. State Street which had been home since the late 1850 's.
Membership stayed static in the early years of this century, yet more funds were needed as costs were beginning to increase. In November 1906, a committee within the lodge voted to raise dues from $2 to $3 per year. Also, fees for the degrees would rise from $35 to $50 under the proposal. But the membership voted down the proposals. New-fangled inventions were making their way into the Rockford community in the early 1900's. On February 20, 1908, the first telephone was donated to the Lodge by Charles D. Mulford, Master in 1910. The donation was made as the membership had voted down a proposition to pay for the phone out of the lodge funds. Mulford made the donation for a six-month period but apparently the idea caught on since no mention is made in the minutes-of having the phone removed. This incident occurred during the term of Richard Lock who served the Lodge as Master in 1908 and 1909. Locke was a brilliant orator and also had a fine legal mind used in his profession as an attorney. Those who remember him say that he was one of the greatest speakers the Lodge ever had. When the Lodge celebrated its hundredth anniversary in September 1951, Locke was honored as the oldest living Past Master. He also lived to be honored on the fiftieth anniversary of his term as Master.
When Mulford's term ended in 1910, Junius C. Snow assumed the Chair in the East. This little chap operated a pickle factory in Loves Park along the Rock River. Loves Park Lodge had their first home in part of the old pickle works after Snow had discontinued his business. This occurred in 1926 and a Charter Member of this Lodge, Dan Timmis, was raised in the old Rockford Lodge, at 402 E. State Street. Dan is one of the last of the members living who was raised in the old lodge. He became a Master Mason in March 1918 and was a service man at Camp Grant. S Scotland native, Dan remembers coming to the old lodge and walking up two flights of stairs and being approached by a gruff person who was the Tyler of the Lodge. At that time he wondered if this was the right place and was assured that it was. Dan later became a Grand Lecturer and helped form Loves Park Lodge. At the time Dan was raised, seeds were already sown for Rockford Lodge to make a major move and perhaps one of the most significant events of the Lodge was to occur shortly.
On the night of November 15, 1917, a motion was made and seconded that the Lodge accept the $20,000 offer by the First Congregational Church for their building at Walnut and Kishwaukee. The Lodge had $10,000 set aside and then decided to add another $5,000 on December 20 to aid in the purchase. The balance of $5,000 was to be arranged with the Trustees of the Church. The motion was carried and on December 26th, it was decided that the residual was to be paid over a five-year period with interest at six per cent a year. The idea to purchase the old First Congregational Church had been bandied about for months since the Church was merged into the Second Congregational Church on the West Side and were to use their quarters on North Church Street. This was quite an undertaking to be acquiring a building of this size especially since the Lodge had been renting space for sixty-six years, and as recently as 1914, membership was only 471. But this was a very active and dedicated group with large attendance at lodge meetings. On January 6, 1916, with 101 members in attendance plus six visitors, this is illustrated. As somewhat of a record for such a dedicated group, the establishment of Camp Grant at the foot of Kishwaukee Street really put Rockford Lodge on the map. Men like Dan Timmis that served their tour of duty at Camp Grant received their Masonic work at the Lodge. Many were raised as a favor to Lodges in other Illinois towns or in other states. Whatever the case, Rockford Lodge became a beehive of activity. The man in charge of acquiring the new quarters was John T. Buckbee. He was a seed company owner west of Kishwaukee Street at about where Broadway meets Kishwaukee. He was the last Master of the Lodge to have served consecutive terms. These were the years 1916-1918. Buckbee was unafraid to tackle any problem. He felt strongly about the Lodge owning its own building and was dead set on making it happen. Shortly after the meeting in November 1917, when the purchase was ratified, the cornerstone was laid. This event occurred on December 5, 1917, and a listing of its contents is interesting: The Charter of the Lodge, dated October 6, 1851; By-Laws of the Lodge; Book of Constitutions; Rockford Republic newspaper of December 4, 1917; Masonic Chronicle of November 10, 1917 ; List of officers; Pictures of the new Lodge, the Post Office, the City Hall, the Court House, the Library and cantonment at Camp Grant; and a penny with the year of issue, 1917.
The old Lodge quarters were not abandoned until August 31, 1918. On this evening, Chaplain and Past Master John Barker raised Edward S. Axline as a favor for Wenona Lodge No. 344, of Wenona, Illinois. At this time, venerable John was 84 years young but was still active in Masonry. It was not until November 26, 1918 that Grand Secretary, Isaac Cutter, actually dedicated the Masonic Cathedral, new home of Rockford Lodge No. 102. But now back to John Buckbee, who was so instrumental in securing the new quarters for the Lodge. A s mentioned previously, Buckbee saw light at the end of the tunnel with the emergence of Camp Grant as a U. S. Army installation. The new space was needed even though at the time of dedication in late 1918, the War was over. But many men had come to the Camp for training and stayed on to begin careers here similar to that of Dan Timmis. The new building could easily accommodate the increased workload. But getting the edifice ready for Masonic work was an enormous task Buckbee had a man following him in the line that was a crack design engineer employed by the Barber Colman Company. His name was Ward Shedd and he made a perfect counterpart to John Buckbee. Buckbee directed the financial campaign and Shedd the reconstruction campaign. The year, starting with November 1917 and ending with November 1918, was perhaps the most intensely active year ever for the officers and members of the Lodge. It should be noted that the name "Masonic Cathedral" was suggested by the Grand Master of the State of Illinois, A. H. Scogin, who had issued the dispensation to acquire the building.
Shedd proceeded to have a small lodge room made on the second floor at the south end of the building, while this was being carried out, he was busy preparing plans to cover the general remodeling of the entire structure. These plans were presented at the meeting of March 2, 1918 and approved. The largest single project was to excavate practically the entire basement area to a level of about three and a half feet deeper to provide for a ceiling height of nine and a half feet. This required underpinning all walls except under the two towers at the north end of the building. The excavation was undertaken to allow the basement to be used as a dining hall. The boiler room was located at the south end and a fuel room was built below grade-level outside of the main building large enough to hold a car load of coal. The rearrangement of the main floor consisted of removing the old balcony and constructing a new one somewhat larger across the north end and extended along each side the full length of the auditorium. Under the balcony were provided preparation rooms and a main entrance to the north with passageways along each side. The passageway to the west side is the only one used now. A pipe organ formerly occupied the south end of the auditorium. Due to the construction, the Master sits in the south in the auditorium and the north in the second floor smaller lodge room. Two clubrooms are located to the south end of the building in the main floor area. The inner club room has a portrait of George Washington and also of John Barker. There is also a photo in this room of Harold Carlson, who was a pitcher for the Chicago Cubs before his untimely death in May 1930. He was raised in Rockford Lodge in 1920. The outer club room has a portrait of John Buckbee and Elmer Strand, long-time Secretary of the Lodge, who will appear shortly in this history. So the old church was remodeled almost entirely and Rockford Lodge expanded greatly. One little note , on October 17, 1919 the Lodge was ordered closed by the Health Department due to the flu epidemic. The only other time occurred on May 17, 1879, due to a heavy snowstorm when no officers could come and only two members appeared.
As mentioned earlier, membership was still relatively small and only numbered 471 in 1914. But by December 1920, the number had reached 1495. During the teens, another name was to become well known in the Lodge and was to be for many years to come. Elmer Strand was raised in Rockford Lodge in 1909, and first became Secretary in January 1918. He was to continue in this office for over fifty-one years and served the Lodge faithfully. He was originally a mailman and then he became active in city politics and became City Clerk. He became Secretary as Camp Grant received an influx of residents. This together with the financial program of John Buckbee and the remodeling of the new building by Ward Shedd created considerable activity at the Masonic Cathedral. But there was still work to be done and funds were needed for general maintenance of the building. The officers decided to rent the building to various organizations. In February 1920, a contract was entered into with the Christian Science Society providing rental of the Cathedral to the Christian Scientist Church. The rental was $70 a month. On December 7, 1922 the annual dues were raised from three dollars to five dollars. The membership continued to grow, and by December 1924 the Lodge had 1755 members. Finances were important and austerity was practiced; for example, in November 1923 a committee was appointed to consider the feasibility of buying a radio for the club rooms. The committee decided not to buy a radio, but to install lighting in the Lodge. Another rental agreement was made in September 1926 when the Daughters of the Nile rented the second floor lodge room at a rental of $20 a night.
The Great Depression over which the Lodge had no control caused a devastating impact on the members and on the Lodge. The dues were only $5 a year but this was a large sum when jobs were scarce. The membership of about 1800 in 1930 was reduced to 1605 by the end of 1932; by the end of December 1937 it was down to 1099. In the year 1935 there were 288 members suspended. By December 1940 there were only 876 members. Lack of funds caused neglect of the building; in 1946 it was decided to take down the steeples on the building because they were in an unsafe condition.
As the Centennial Anniversary approached, the officers were busy making preparations for the event by having a dinner in the basement. This occurred on September 15, 1951, and Brother Al Seidelmann was Master at the time. Richard Locke was honored as the oldest living Past Master of the Lodge. A commemorative booklet was published. The number of members was starting to rise; By December 1952 the Lodge had 1790 members. By
December, 1957 the number reached its peak of 1904 members.
In June 1958 Barney Thompson received his Fifty Year pin. He was a newspaper columnist in Rockford and had formerly been a minister of the old First Congregational Church, in the same building occupied by the Lodge. During the years following World War II, members started to drop out for various reasons. The officers started the publication of a circular called the "Trestleboard". This first appeared on April 4, 1963 and was used as a means of communicating with the members.
Major remodeling was needed by 1968 and during this year new carpeting was installed in the main Lodge room. To celebrate the refurbishing, a dinner was held and 275 persons attended. The Lodge was filled to capacity to mourn the death of Elmer Strand on May 13th 1969, and this was probably the largest number of persons ever to appear in the building. At present the Lodge has about 1500 members.
An addition to this history is in preparation.