Clayton E. Rawn, Lodge Historian

Hickory Lodge No. 343, Hickory, N.C.

Hickory York Rite Bodies

January 02, 2005


From Darkness to Light

Our Missing Past Master 1879

Brother John Summers Tomlinson


For more years then anyone can remember, it has been the practice of Masonic Lodges in North Carolina to hang pictures of it’s Past Masters in the lodge.  Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, many lodges do not have a complete set of pictures.  Such is the case of Hickory Lodge No. 343, which has a picture of every Past Master except for one.


His name is Brother John Summers Tomlinson and he was Master of Hickory Lodge in 1879.  Throughout the years brothers have searched for a picture of him but none could be found and any brother that knew anything about him is long gone.  In 1997, at the urging of PM Brother Larry D. Huffman and PM Brother P.C. Wray, I started to search for Tomlinson’s picture.  Every contact revealed something more about him but there wasn’t a picture to be had.  I decided to document my findings for everyone to read. If we don’t find a picture, we will at least know something about him.


John Summers Tomlinson was born on December 24, 1849 at the family homestead located near the Yadkinville River in Turnersburg Township, Iredell County, North Carolina. He was the eldest of six children born to Wilson S. Tomlinson and Lamira Clementine Summers. John had three brothers; Bazel Sylvester, who died at 6 years of age, Robert Humphrey and William F.  He also had two sisters: Susie Sally and Ora Elizabeth.


Tomlinson was an educated man. He attended Olin High School and Rutherford College in Burke County. He taught school in Iredell and Davies County.


On February 10, 1863 he enlisted in “War Service” at Wake County. He served until 1865 in Company G, 10th Regiment, NC State Troops which was the first NC Artillery Regiment.  We can only wonder if he remained in the military reserves after the war. That information has not been found. We do know that in 1886 Tomlinson left North Carolina for Washington, DC and that he was very active in the National Guard while living there. While in Washington he held the following military ranks; Captain of the Treasury Guard, Captain of the Engineers Company, Sharpshooters Regimental Rifle Inspector, Colonel of the Second regiment and after 20 years retired from the military with the rank of Major.


Tomlinson had political connections too. In 1881 he served as Engrossing Clerk for the State Senate at Raleigh, North Carolina. While there he edited and published a book of biographical sketches of the members of the Legislature.


Brother John Summers Tomlinson was a Freemason.  In January of 1871 the County Line Lodge No. 224, of Davie County, North Carolina (forfeited 1878), raised him to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason.  According to our historical lodge minutes he occasionally attended as a visitor and in 1875 demitted from County Line Lodge and affiliated with Hickory Lodge No.343.  In 1877 and 1878 he sat as Junior Warden and in 1879 was elected Worshipful Master.  On July 02, 1888 he demitted to the Benjamin French Lodge No.15 in Washington, DC.  He remained a member there until his death in 1927.  Their records are in cold storage and they were unable to provide any additional

information about him.


According to records dated 1875, found at the Hickory Library in the History Room, Tomlinson came to Hickory as an itinerant photographer.  The 1880 U.S. Census listed him as “An editor and rooming house boarder”.  In 1875 he bought an interest in a local newspaper being published in Hickory, called the Carolina Eagle. The paper, established in 1870, had already been sold three times. Tomlinson joined J.F. Murrill, third owner and attorney and they became partners. The name of the paper was changed to the Piedmont Press. The partners soon realized that they had opposite views on Prohibition. Murrill was an ardent prohibitionist and may have been a member of the highly political Prohibition Party.  Tomlinson bought the paper from Murrill and became Editor and Publisher. He brought in his brother, William F. Tomlinson, to help publish the paper. 


 The Piedmont Press was published in a building South of the railroad tracks on property now owned by the Federal Government, near the present U.S. Post Office.  Tomlinson moved the paper to a two-story building south of the railroad tracks and about a block west of Third Street. The newspaper was printed on the second floor and Sweet Sixteen chewing tobaccos were manufactured and sold by Tomlinson on the first floor.   The tobacco business was very successful and supported Tomlinson’s efforts to keep the paper going but in 1885 the newspaper and tobacco businesses were sold.  An interesting editorial attributed to Tomlinson written in 1885 said in part “Cigarette smoking has become such a nuisance that small signs have been printed and are kept for sale: ‘No Cigarette smoking allowed in this office’”. 


While living in Hickory, Tomlinson also served as the local agent for the Richmond and Danville Railroad (later the Southern Railroad).


In 1879 a newspaper called the Western Carolinian relocated to Hickory from Franklin, North Carolina.  In 1880 his old partner, J.F.  Murrill bought the Western Carolinian and continued to publish it until his death in1881, competing too the end with Tomlinson for readers.


In late 1885, after selling the newspaper and tobacco businesses, the Tomlinson brothers moved to Asheville, North Carolina where they worked for a local newspaper, The Asheville Daily Citizen.  In 1886 John Tomlinson relocated to Washington, DC where he was hired as a Civil Service Clerk in the U.S. Treasury Department.  He retired in 1906 at 57 years of age.


William F. eventually followed his brother John to Washington, DC where he worked as a clerk for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and retired after twenty years of service.  In 1919 he organized the North Carolina Association in Washington, DC.


John Tomlinson married Mary Wilder of Louisburg, NC. (date unknown).  Her family and friends called her “Molly”. She was born in 1862.  We know that John S. Tomlinson moved to Washington, DC in 1886.  We do not know if he and Mary were married at the time or if she went to Washington at a later time.


John and Mary had one child. They named him John Wilder Tomlinson.  Wilder was born June 18, 1895 at Washington, DC and spent his young life growing up and attending schools in the DC area. He developed an early interest in theatrical work and at age 21 was named Pageant Director for the American Bible Society. A year later he was working in theatrical productions in New York City.


On January 04, 1918 he enlisted as a Private First Class in the U.S. Signal Corp, Aviation Group.  He was sent to ground school at Princeton University as a Cadet and during his last week of training was promoted to Commander of Squadron. At Camp Dick in Dallas, Texas and later at Park Field in Memphis, Tennessee he learned to fly and must have been very good at it.  He was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant, U.S.A. Air Service and recommended by his Commanding Officer as a Bombing Pilot and Instructor and ordered to Brooks Field at San Antonio, Texas.   On September 11, 1918, while attempting a forced landing, his airship hit an air pocket causing it to sideslip. He was to close to the ground to save the ship and was killed in the crash.


John purchased or fell heir to 500 acres of land in Montgomery County, Maryland.  In 1912 he formed the American Land Company and named the property “Cabin John Park”. We have been unable to determine the significance of that name.  Hickory Lodge has a letter from him, dated January 21, 1925, requesting information about the year he served as Master of our Lodge. The letter is on Cabin John letterhead and indicates that John S. Tomlinson is president and his wife M.W. Tomlinson is secretary. The letterhead also states, “Homes and Investments near the Capitol” and “ Low Prices and Easy Terms”.


Brother John Tomlinson’s Masonic records, received from the Benjamin French Lodge No.15, Washington, DC indicate that he died July 11, 1927. According to a newspaper article in the Hickory paper, he died at age 78 from a lingering illness. The article refers to him as Major John Tomlinson and adds “He had many old friends in Hickory whom were grieved to learn of his death”.


After learning about the death of Wilder and realizing that there are no descendants I was ready to give up ever finding a picture of our lost Past Master. I gathered up my notes and information and filed them away. 


This past June I pulled out the file and reviewed the material one more time. I realized that in all of my searching that I had neglected to investigate the possibility that his wife’s family could have a picture of John and Mary.


 The Genealogical Society of Iredell County had provided information that “Molly Wilder of Louisburg, NC” was married to John S. Tomlinson. I got the telephone number of the Town of Louisburg from telephone information and called.  I asked the lady that answered if there were any families named Wilder living in Louisburg.  She said “No” but their State Representative was Mrs. Lucy T. (Wilder) Allen and she gave me her telephone number.  I called Mrs. Allen and told her that our lodge was looking for family information and a picture of John Tomlinson. I asked her if she was related to Mary Wilder, John Tomlinson’s wife  .Her answer was “Yes and wasn’t it sad about the death of their son Wilder Tomlinson”.  Wow! That blew me away!  I couldn’t believe that I had finally made a connection to our lost Past Master and his family. I was very excited!  We talked for a while and she said she had some family pictures. But the pressing issue of her re-election would take priority at this time and that we would have to be patient.


In early November, just after her successful re-election to The N.C. House of Representatives, we talked again. I offered to come to Louisburg to see the pictures.  She said that was not necessary and that she would mail them to me. In a couple of days I received a very old photo album with pictures of John, Mary and Wilder. She also sent obituary notices from the U.S. Army Air Services and Washington, DC newspapers detailing Wilders life and untimely death.  Also included is a heartbreaking letter that John and Mary sent to their friends after the death of Wilder. The letter thanked his friends and their friends for the “Many courtesies and personal expressions and several hundred telegrams and letters all bearing loving words about our dear son and all full of sympathy for us”. It goes on to talk about Wilders prospects and bright hopes that turned into grief.  A picture of Wilder was included and the letter closed saying in part that they hoped “A sorrow of this kind will never fall across your pathway”.


I want to thank Mrs. Lucy T. Allen for bring such a gracious and trusting lady and for sending the album of family pictures to me.  Brother John Summers Tomlinson is no longer missing.  We now know something about him and we have his picture to hang in the lodge with every one of our other Past Masters


Sources:  The History of Catawba County (Book), The Hickory Library, History Department, The 1880 United States Census,  The Hickory Daily Record,  The Catawba County Historical  Society,  The Genealogical Society of  Iredell County,  The NC State Library Archives and Records Section, The Washington DC National Guard,  The Library of Congress,  The Grand Lodges of North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and  Benjamin B. French Lodge No.15, Washington, DC,  Mr. Alexander Tomlinson-Washington, DC,   Mrs. James F. Tomlinson, Historian, New York, N.Y.. Thanks to those Tomlinson families living in North Carolina and the Washington, DC area that responded to my many telephone calls and letters of inquiry.


Most of all, my heartfelt thanks to Mrs. Lucy T. (Wilder) Allen, Grand Niece of Mary and John Tomlinson, for talking with me about the family and for sending us the photo album of family pictures and information about Wilder Tomlinson.