HISTORY OF THE MARYLAND MASONIC HOMES
“BONNIE BLINK “
A Masonic home for Maryland had been talked about for seventy-five years before a definite move was made in May, 1923, when the Grand Lodge adopted Article Thirty to its Constitution establishing a Masonic Home Fund. From then until May, 1927, about one-hundred and sixty-eight thousand dollars was accumulated. During this period of time the search was on for suitable property. Several parcels were under consideration, among them being five-hundred acres of the Catoctin Furnace Tract, about one mile from Thurmont. At the Semi-Annual Communication in May, 1927, the Board of Managers were authorized, empowered and directed to proceed toward the purchase of land, construction, furnishing and maintenance of the Masonic Homes.
The actual agreement for the purchase of Bonnie Blink was consummated on May 17,1927. The owners were John B. Wailes and his wife, Anna (or Annie). They contracted to sell the farm consisting of two-hundred and sixty-six point two acres for the sum of forty-five thousand dollars in fee. The deed was dated June 30, 1927. An additional twenty-seven acres were acquired almost simultaneously from Wilbur C. Swam and his wife, Clara for one-hundred and ninety dollars per acre. The total cost of the entire tract was fifty-five thousand forty-nine dollars and forty-three cents. The property was improved by a large frame building which could serve as a temporary home and had much development potential.
Following the purchase of Bonnie Blink farm, the mansion house was renovated, furnished and opened for inspection on Saturday, July 2, and an invitation extended to Masons throughout Maryland to visit as they had an opportunity. Bonnie Blink was left open for visitors until the early part of September and then closed for fall and winter. Dinners were served at a modest price and at a loss, but it was felt the program was worth bringing the many visitors to the site. Approximately fifteen-thousand people visited Bonnie Blink within a two month period. When the Grand Lodge met for its Annual communication in 1927, the Trustees announced Bonnie Blink would be open for visitors from April to October and by the end of 1927, the Endowment Fund had reached about two-hundred thousand dollars.
The purchase price and cost of maintenance for the first year had been taken entirely from general funds of the Grand Lodge in order to leave the Home fund in tact. It was estimated an Endowment Fund of at least one and a half million dollars would be needed for the proposed Home. This would mean an average contribution of about fifty-dollars for each of the more than thirty thousand Masons in Maryland.
Grand Master Seipp in his Annual Communication Address of 1928, described the first "Cornhusking". Following are excerpts of that Address:
"On November 12, 1928, we had a husking party. We had seventy acres of corn that needed husking and we thought it would be a wonderful thing if we could get at least one-hundred men to go into the fields and give a days work for the cause."
He went on to report that twelve-hundred and fifty men showed up for that first "Cornhusking" and that in three hours the husking was finished. The Lodge that won the prize for being first on the grounds had twenty-one men in the fields at 1:30 a.m. They husked by lantern and flashlight. It was snowing. One lodge sent men over two-hundred miles to join in the work. So much was accomplished that extra cribs had to be built to hold the crop of six-hundred barrels. The first souvenir penny was furnished by Jacob F. Obrecht of Oriental Lodge #158 and was paid to each Brother who took part. It was evidence needed to participate in the Barbecue that followed.
The second "Cornhusking" party was held on Armistice Day, 1929. Already it was realized what a splendid opportunity to bring the Masons together. During this year, approximately forty-five and one half additional acres were acquired for Bonnie Blink.
The year 1930 was fruitful for Bonnie Blink, marred only by the death of Grand Master Warren Seipp. His dying words to E. Lee Hickman were, "Lee, I do not believe I will ever live to see Bonnie Blink together with you again, but if we do not, tell the boys to carry on." And carry on they did for the records show that three thousand Masons gathered on the Third Annual Husking Party. Three additions had been made to the acreage and by 1930, Bonnie Blink consisted of three-hundred and thirty-eight point seven acres.
Mr. G. A. Burdick, a graduate of Cornell University Agricultural Department, was engaged as the first farm manager and farming became a very serious business. A particular effort was made to have outstanding purebred livestock. Nine Guernseys were taken to Timonium State Fair where they won a total of eight prizes.
The year 1931 marked another milestone in the history of Bonnie Blink. On the afternoon of the day for the Semi-Annual Communication, May 19, ground was broken for the first unit on Bonnie Blink, sixty-five hundred Masons, their families and friends gathered for the ceremonies. The architect for the building was Bro. William E. Emmart of M. A. Long Construction Company. The contract was for an estimated sum of three-hundred and ninety-two thousand dollars. Boilers, heating, plumbing, elevator, etc. brought the total to five-hundred and nineteen thousand, six hundred and five dollars.
Bro. Emmart completed plans for the Infirmary just prior to his death, December 31,1949. According to the Baltimore Sun, Bonnie Blink was perhaps his most famous building.
The old mansion house was razed in 1931 to make room for the new Homes. A temporary tea house was erected to help in entertainment of visitors during the building operations. More than two-hundred acres of land were put into cultivation during this year.
On October 10,1931, the Grand Lodge met in Special Communication at Bonnie Blink to lay the cornerstone of the new Masonic Home. It was estimated that five-thousand people witnessed the ceremonies. The trowel and gavel used on this occasion were the same as used by George Washington to lay the cornerstone of the Nation's Capitol in Washington, D. C. on September 18, 1793. Many Masonic tokens and printed materials were placed in a copper box and sealed within the cornerstone as well as copies of the Grand Lodge proceedings as early as 1842.
Bonnie Blink was entirely paid for when it was dedicated - October 22,1932. The decision was made to open the Home on May 1, 1933, but that was the year of the big depression so the actual opening was postponed until May 1,1934. Opening on this date was made possible, in part, by a bequest of Bro. Arthur Wallenhorst of Joppa Lodge #132, in the amount of approximately one-hundred and sixty-five thousand dollars. Most of the gift was used as the nucleus of a permanent Endowment Fund which was established when the Homes opened.
Eleven guests were among the first group to enter. There were four married couples. By the November Communication in 1934, applications had risen to sixty-seven.
The first religious services were conducted on May 6, 1934 by Grand Chaplain John I. Yellott, Rector of Emmanual Episcopal Church of Bel Air. Plans were made to hold services every Sunday afternoon at 3:00, which still holds today.
A Medical Clinic was dedicated on October 30,1934. It was donated by Baltimore Forest #45, Tall Cedars of Lebanon.
Bro. E. Lee Hickman, the Homes first Superintendent reported to the November Communication in 1934 that the kitchen department with assistance of residents had prepared four-hundred and twenty-three quarts of canned vegetables, four-hundred and fifty-one quarts of canned and preserved fruit, and three-hundred and forty-two glasses of jelly.
In the library were nearly sixteen-hundred volumes. All donated by friends. Many gifts were received during this period. Among them, our barber chair and pool table which is in use today.
The tower clock and its bell were dedicated on October 26,1935. This was made possible by a gift of forty-two hundred and fifty-dollars from Thomas D. Epron of Pythagoras Lodge #123.
In the fall of 1935, Bonnie Blink was presented a portrait of the late G. M. Seipp. This hangs in our Board Room today. Plans were announced for the addition. Included in these plans were the Chapel at an estimated cost of fifty-thousand dollars. The dental clinic was equipped with funds earned from a series of suppers served the Temple by Miss Helen Schaefer and Miss Marie Sack. By November, there were forty-four persons in the Home.
The first Easter Sunrise Services were held at Bonnie Blink in 1936 with about one-hundred persons present. Also, this marked the year that the Trustees began holding their meeting as the Home with dinner in the dining room with the residents. Another first this year was a special dispensation granted by the Grand Master to hold a Lodge of Instruction. About sixty-five bretheran attended, representing, twenty-two lodges.
Cornhusking was discontinued during years 1932 through 1936 and voted by Grand Lodge to resume in 1937. Also, there were no husking parties during the war years of 1942, 1943, and 1944.
During 1937, the Endowment Fund realized more than one-hundred thousand dollars from the Estate of Arthur D. Rivers and the Grand Chapter Order of Eastern Star undertook the project to erect the Chapel. The new Chapel was dedicated on June 4, 1938. It was presented by Grand Chapter Order of Eastern Star and Grand Master Harry B. Wright accepted the presentation.
By the Spring of 1947, there were one-hundred and eleven residents at Bonnie Blink and the Infirmary fund had reached two hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars. The Annual Cornhusking Day was a wet one, for it rained all day. Despite this, however, attendance was the second largest in its history. Cornhusking Party of 1948 was held on the first Saturday in November and more than four thousand Masons attended, partaking of a barbeque luncheon.
The contract for the Infirmary was authorized on September 14,1949 to John K. Ruff, Inc. at a price of approximately two-hundred eighty-three thousand, one hundred and fifty-five dollars, exclusive of the elevator. The cornerstone was laid on November 12,1949.
Over the years, Cornhusking has remained one of the most memorable days of the year, even though there is no longer corn to husk. The day is now one of fellowship, good times, and rededication of memories for all of those who, over the years, have done so much for the brotherhood of mankind.
(Information for this article was gleaned from "History of the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of Maryland, 1888 -1950") Carl N. Everstein, Fort Cumberland Lodge #211.