86 Years of Lodge History
Greatest of Lodge Cities is Fort Wayne
Eighty-Six Years of Lodge History
First Lodge Meeting Was Held in Old Fort.
Fort Wayne was little more than Mad Anthony’s fort with its little cluster of struggling huts and wigwams about it, and Allen county had yet emerged even so little from the primeval wilderness, the war cry of the Indian and the shrieks of wild animals were still more common than the aspiring resound of the pioneer’s ax, the great transition from the wilderness to civilization had scarcely begun, when Fort Wayne’s lodge history had its inception.
It was in 1823, the year of the organization of Allen County, less than a score of years since the coming of General Anthony Wayne and the establishment of his fort and traders station, but seven years after the organization of the Commonwealth of Indiana, one year after the platting of the village of Fort Wayne and two years before its organization, and six before its organization as a town, that a little band of the faithful soldiers and veterans of the revolution and Indiana wars, met and perfected Fort Wayne’s first secret organization, the great Wayne Lodge No. 25, Free and Accepted Masons, which continues in existence to this day and was the forerunner of the great coterie of lodges, benevolent, fraternal and insurance societies of today.
That was a historical year, eighty-six years ago. Little more did the original charter Lodge members dream of the great development of lodges which were to come than did Mad Anthony think that he was establishing a great city when he picked out the conjunction of the three rivers as a strategic point at which to locate his fort, the key to the middle west and the gateway to the richest portion of the American continent.
Fort Wayne people have read and re-read of the Indiana conquests of the coming civilization, of the city’s greatness in the country’s wars, of the building up of a great mercantile and business community, but little have we heard of the interesting history of Fort Wayne’s secret and benevolent societies.
The historian has been too busy following the beaten paths to digress ever so little into anything like a general story of the growth of this great feature of the modern life. And, thereby, he has missed something vital, something which is really of the moment and a matter meriting at least some little attention.
To understand the early history of Fort Wayne lodges, the reader should be conversant with two facts. First, the original office of the lodge was fraternal and naturally, the early lodges drifted to the taverns, the gathering places of men. Second, the residents – could you call them citizens? – of Fort Wayne, in 1823, were soldiers, largely unsettled and migratory, chaffing under a momentary reign of peace and longing for military action.
Soldiers Bring Lodges.
So, we find that the first inception of Fort Wayne lodge life was in the minds of soldiers or war veterans. Alexander Ewing who had been an officer in the revolution and at the time conducted a tavern at what is now the southeast corner of Barr and Columbia streets was granted a dispensation on March 22, 1823, by John Sheets, Grand Master of the Masonic order in Indiana. John P. Hedges, a civilian employee of the commissary department at the old fort, and Benjamin Cushman, afterward elected one of the associate judges of the circuit court, were also named in the dispensation, Ewing as Worshipful Master and Hedges as Senior Warden.
First Meeting in Old Fort.
The first meeting was held curiously enough, within the palisades of the old fort, in the rooms of General John Tipton, renowned for his connection with early Hoosier history and a hero of the battle of Tippecanoe and other Indiana warfare. General Tipton later became a United States senator and a Grand Master of Indiana masons. On this ground was held the first regularly constituted Masonic Lodge north of Indianapolis.
The Lodge was opened with Ewing as a Worshipful Master; Hedges as Senior Warden and Secretary; Cushman as Junior Warden; Captain James Hackley, an Indian interpreter, as Treasurer; and Benjamin B. Kercheval, a subagent for the Indians, as Steward and Tyler. At the next meeting, held on June 6, Kercheval was appointed Treasurer; Charles W. Ewing, Secretary; James Hackley, Senior Deacon; Robert Hars, Junior Deacon, and William Hedges, Steward and Tyler, and all these named constituted the charter members of Wayne Lodge.
November [October] 10, following, the Grand Lodge granted a charter, and General Tipton, so authorized, duly constituted the Lodge on November 17, 1823, joining the Lodge by demit. The first regular election was held December 25 , when General Tipton was named Worshipful Master, being re-elected later until 1828.
Masters of the Lodge elected thereafter up to the time of the suspension of the Lodge in 1833, were Joseph Holman, Lewis G. Thompson, Anthony L. Davis, Hugh Hanna, Absalom Holcomb, [Allen Hamilton], Samuel Hanna, [James Hudson], Henry Rudisill, and Samuel Edsall.
First Lodge Facts.
The first candidate initiated was Lambert Cauchois, August
16 , 1824. The first applicant for membership was rejected unanimously, according to the records. General Tipton delivered the oration at the first celebration of St. John’s day, June 24, 1825. The first public installation of officers occurred December 27, 1825, at the home of Colonel Hugh Hanna. The first Masonic banquet was prepared by Alexander Ewing, June 24, 1827 .
One of the first charitable acts was to make a loan to Captain Riley, noted Arabian traveler, author, and surveyor of most of the lands about Fort Wayne, to enable him to seek medical aid.
Alexander Ewing, the first Worshipful Master of the Lodge, was the second to be buried under its ceremonies. The first Masonic burial was of Captain Hackley, May 26,
1827 , who committed suicide. Ewing died January 3 , 1828 .
The first lodge building was completed early in 1831 on a lot purchased for that purpose at the northeast corner of Harrison and Columbia streets. It was of brick. Two years later, it was sold for $1,328. This sale was found judicial because the Lodge, feeling the effects of the countrywide anti-Masonic feeling which went so far as to invade politics, had struggled along for a little time under great difficulties and finally ceased to meet at all. On February 20, 1833, the Lodge suspended meetings indefinitely, but the Grand Lodge took no steps to revoke the charter because the Grand Lodge, too, was struggling along in a most embarrassing condition.
Masons Suspend Meetings.
During these disastrous times for the Masonic order in the United States, Jared Darrow who had been directly accused of complicity in the disappearance of William Morgan came to Allen County from western New York. Several others come out of the east to make their homes in the congenial atmosphere of Allen County and they and their descendants became our leading citizens. The Lodge continued to work under difficulties until 1856, with a few spasmodic attempts to reorganize. Twice was the charter forfeited and once, it is recorded, it was stolen, but once on its feet, after the anti-Masonic wave had died out, Fort Wayne Lodge No. 25 gathered increased strength and has stood for years as the premier Lodge of Fort Wayne.
The other blue lodges were organized during the fifteen years marking the revival of the Masonic organization in this locality. Summit City Lodge No. 170 was granted a dispensation May 31, 1854, and held its first meeting under its charter June 8, 1855. Colonel Charles Case was its first Worshipful Master. Sol D. Bayless Lodge No. 359 was organized May 4, 1866, and was duly opened under its charter the following June 4. A dispensation was granted Home Lodge No. 342 on July 17, 1868, although the issuance of a charter was postponed until May 24, 1870.
Fort Wayne Chapter No. 19, Royal Arch Masons, was issued a charter May 24, 1851. The charter of Fort Wayne Council No. 4, Royal and Select Masons is dated May 20, 1856. Fort Wayne Commandery No. 4, Knights Templar, was granted a dispensation May 13, 1853, and a charter September 19 of the same year.
While the Fort Wayne Lodge, F. and A. M. was struggling along and lay all but dormant under the stifling anti-Masonic wave, there came a new order into existence and no sooner was it started than it gained a foothold in Fort Wayne. The history of the Odd Fellowship in Fort Wayne covers a period of more than sixty-five years. Almost simultaneously, two lodges of the new order found homes in this city.
Beginning of the I. O. O. F.
Fort Wayne Lodge No. 14, the oldest of the I. O. O. F. bodies of the present day, honors October 27, 1843, as its natal day, although the charter was granted on the 14th of that month. On October 27, the Fort Wayne Lodge was duly instituted by Deputy Grand Master John Green. Among the names of those early identified with Odd Fellow history are Benjamin Saunders, James McClelland, James P. Munson, P. Rodabaugh, Joseph Stanford, S. C. Newton, George Johnson, George Wilson, James B. Edwards, Asa Naylor, William Morrison, M. C. Foster, and Orlando Lane. The first election was held in December and resulted in the selection of James P. Munson as Noble Grand. On April 22, 1844, the first sick benefits were paid. Past Grands George Johnson and Benjamin Saunders were the first representatives to the Grand Lodge, being named March 31, 1845.
The first few years were strenuous ones for the new organization, for peculiarly enough, a Lodge now worth $125,000 and owning one of the finest business and office blocks in the city was then often on the shoals of dissolution because of financial shortages. But a better day dawned and in 1896 the Lodge purchased the ground on which it at once commenced the construction of the present Odd Fellows or Commercial club building, at Calhoun and Wayne streets, a location the most valuable of any owned by any Lodge on the city.
Harmony Lodge No. 19, also now strong and wealthy, was instituted January 21, 1845, the charter bearing the following names: Horace Durrie, George Wilson, Theodore K. Brackenridge, S. Carey Evans, and Henry P. Ayers. This Lodge, after passing through the usual vicissitudes of the early Fort Wayne lodges, now owns property in the form of Harmony Hall, on West Berry Street, valued at $50,000.
On July 10, 1845, Summit Encampment No. 16 was issued a charter. Concordia Lodge No. 228, as its name implies, has chiefly a German membership and was organized May 31, 1862.
Other Early Orders.
Modern Lodge History.
And they have come into their own. Fort Wayne’s modern lodge history dates from the eighties. The present Masonic Temple was built at this turning of the tide and was first occupied by the different Masonic orders of the city in 1886. Of even greater moment, in lodge history, was the organization of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite here.
Early in the eighties, there was a Lodge claiming to be of the Scottish Rite organization here, but which was declared illegally formed and, to counteract this false movement, a meeting was held in the Masonic Temple December 22, 1886, which made application for a dispensation to organize a Lodge of Perfection. The dispensation was granted March 12, 1887, authorizing the conferring of the degrees from the fourth to the fourteenth. Forty-three candidates received the work at the first convocation held October 26, 1887.
This higher order was granted a charter September 13, 1888, with William Geake as Thrice Potent Grand Master. The charter members were William W. Rockhill,
N. S. [Ulysses L.] Lenheim, Samuel B. Sweet, Christian B. Stemen, James Rogers, Joseph W. Bell, Joseph L. Grusher, James S. Gregg, John F. Wing, Ferd F. Boltz, Joseph C. Willard, Charles A. Munson, William Geake, Quincey A. Hossler, Ronald T. McDonald, Chauncey B. Oakley, Jr., James R. Bobo, Robert B. Allison, Elmore Y. Sturgis, Jacob J. Todd, Louis C. Davenport, and Robert C. Bell.
From this organization, little more than a score of years ago the Lodge of Perfection has grown until in 1905 it had a membership of 695 and now (in 1909) has 1,025 with a hundred or more applicants for initiation and owns property now building which is estimated to be worth $225,000. It is the richest Lodge in Fort Wayne today and one of the very wealthiest in the state of Indiana.
A dispensation was granted to Darius Council, Princes of Jerusalem of the Scottish Rite, on April 9, 1889. A charter was issued September 27. The historical degrees, the fifteenth and sixteenth were conferred on forty-four candidates the following November.
George Godfrey, a lineal descendant of the old Miami Indian chiefs, was one of the charter members.
An effort to establish a chapter is of more recent organization.
A half-dozen years ago, a useless effort was made to organize the Mystic Shriners here, an effort that has recently borne abundant fruit.
The first chapter, Summit City Chapter No. 45, Order of the Eastern Star, was organized in 1880 but surrendered its charter again in 1885. It was not until July 7, 1893, that another attempt to organize the Masonic auxiliary was made and this chapter, Shiloh Chapter No. 141, continues an important organization of the present day.
Knights of Pythias.
B. P. O. E.
K. O. T. M.
Numerous Catholic Orders.
Three Red Letter Events.
This brings us down to the present year, 1909, which has been characterized by three red-letter lodge events – all Masonic, – which are:
- The approaching dedication of the new Scottish Rite Cathedral, the finest in the world.
- The building of the first ceremonial session for the conferring of the degree of the Mystic Shrine under a dispensation from the Imperial Potentate, George L. Street.
- The unusual impetus was given the Masonic organizations by these events already mentioned and the remarkable growth in membership in the last six to ten months.
The new Scottish Rite Cathedral is, of all the Lodge property in Fort Wayne, the most superb. Interior and exterior speak of the great things of Masonry. Scores of workmen are commencing the final decorations of the structure, which will be ready for dedication in November. The ceremonies at that time will be participated in by the greatest Masonic men in the country and thousands will make pilgrimages to the several days of the special and ceremonial program.
Saturday, June 26, was fixed as the time for holding the first ceremonial session of Mizpah Shrine. A hundred candidates knelt upon the sacred mat and offered sacrifices at the holy shrine.
All these things have brought about a record-breaking interest in Masonry and growth of the order, from the blue lodges up to the consistory, in this city.
AND WHO SHALL NOT SAY THAT GREATER THINGS ARE TO COME?