[The History below was written by Brother Willard B. Farnham, Past Master,
for the 100th Anniversary of Webster Lodge No. 61, Winooski, VT]
WEBSTER LODGE NO. 61 F.&A.M.
The records which constitute the history of an organization such as Webster Lodge are found in the secretary's minutes which are kept for all, or nearly all meetings. Unfortunately these records do not make sobering reading even for the most dedicated member. But since these constitute the only record the historian must, as best he can, extract the spirit and the accomplishments of the period by the study of those concise abbreviated, sometimes incomplete accounts of each meeting.
We all know that a history is the sum total of the accomplishments of all the people concerned. But it is obviously impossible to denominate each of the thousand or more men who have belonged to Webster Lodge; so, as is usually done, I have attempted to select the most important people and events of during each period. This is not to minimize the contributions of other members, however, nor do I feel that their contribution is less important than that of the Worshipful Master. I have tried to select the events that were of significance in determining the present condition of the organization, and, as far as possible, the persons who contributed most to the lodge in terms of time and accomplishments. There will inevitably be differences of opinion and I must apologize in advance for neglecting to mention your great-grandfather who was senior steward in 1939.
The first meeting of Webster Lodge was held under dispensation on December 4, 1862 by sixteen Master Masons, members of area lodges, who had petitioned the Grand Lodge to form a lodge in the town of Colchester. The leading spirit of this group was Brother John S. Webster, a local physician of advanced years with a long record of Masonic achievement. Most recently a member of Washington Lodge No. 3. He had served as Grand Junior Warden of the Grand Lodge of Vermont, Grand High Priest of the Grand Chapter of Vermont, R.A.M., and Grand Commander of the Grand Commandery of Vermont, K.T, Dr. Webster was elected first Worshipful Master and it was decided to name the lodge for him. In gratitude Dr. Webster and his wife many contributions to the lodge in it's early years. Including a Master's chair, an alter cushion, a set of officers jewels, and several monetary contributions. The apron which Dr. Webster wore as Master was later given to the lodge by his widow and is presently displayed on the wall of the lodge room.
Of the sixteen petitioners, only one, Charles F. Storrs subsequently served as Worshipful Master, although several of the other charter members served in other capacities including secretary and treasurer.
The original bylaws, drawn up and adapted by the charter members, are still largely unchanged. The elective and appointed officers are specified, the permanent committees are set down and the officers duties detailed. Four sections particularly interested me and as far as I know have never been changed or abrogated.
Section 5, Article 1. All members shall attend each meeting unless excused by the Worshipful Master.
Section 5. Article 3. No member shall speak more than twice on any subject open for debate.
Section 6. Article 1. Maximum charity payment for Masons and their families - $5.00. For all other persons - $2.00.
Section 9. Article 2. Lodge members who indulge in drinking, swearing, and gambling shall be reprimanded or otherwise disciplined by the lodge.
A few sections of the bylaws have, of course, been changed as conditions and desires demanded The original meeting date was Thursday during the week of the full moon. Early in 1863 this was changed to Thursday on or preceding the full moon, and in 1865 was changed to the first Thursday in the month, the date on which we still hold regular meetings. The annual meeting was held in December until 1869 when it was changed to April and no annual meeting was held. Around 1890 the annual meeting was changed to May for two years but was then changed back to April and is still held in this month. Initiation fees were originally set at $10.00 for initiation, $5.00 for passing, and $5.00 for raising. In 1865 this was modified to require half the initiation fee, or $5.00, as an application fee. In 1871 these fees were raised to a $5.00 application fee, $7.00 for initiation, $5.00 for passing, and $8.00 for raising. It was not until the decade following the first World War that these fees were raised to the present cost: $5.00 application fee, and $10.00 for each degree. Dues were originally set at 37 1/2 cents per quarter or $1.50 per year. These were raised gradually at different times, generally without record in the minutes, but it was not until the depression years of the 1930's that the dues were raised to $3.00 per year, and not until 1953 that they were raised to $5.00. Since then they have been raised twice, first to $6.00 and now to $7.00, but part of this increase has been forced by increased Grand Lodge assessments. Even now the dues of this lodge are among the lowest in the area.
The history of Webster Lodge officially begins with the presentation of the charter which was dated January 15, 1863. there is, however, no record of its presentation in our Webster Lodge records. The first meetings of Webster Lodge were held in rented quarters, and there are frequent references in the minutes to differences of opinion as regarding rental costs. This problem was resolved in 1867 when Webster Lodge occupied new quarters which they constructed on the third floor of a building built by lodge brother H.W. Goodwin. A total of about $2400 was raised by subscriptions, gifts and benefits toward construction costs and in addition many gifts of furnishings were made. This enabled the lodge members to construct their new quarters without the necessity of assuming a large mortgage, since the building cost were relatively low at this time. The new quarters were dedicated at public ceremonies on June 20, 1867 which included dinner at the Congregational Church, ceremonies at the new hall, and dancing at Platt Hall. This is the hall still occupied by Webster Lodge No. 61.
In addition to the new hall the first decade of Webster was an active one. Meetings were frequent and degree work extensive, as many as three degrees a night occasionally being worked. Jurisdictional disputes occasionally erupted and Webster Lodge was fined on one occasion for initiating a candidate with out authority. Attendance was good and visitors were many although few inter lodge meetings were held and refreshments not ordinarily served at meetings. Apparently, at the option of the members or officers, installation ceremonies were either public meetings preceded by a dinner or were not even considered formal meetings and no records were kept of the installation of officers..
Much of the lodge furnishings currently in use were acquired during this time either by gift or purchase, including the officers chairs, the tyler's sword, the pillars and several pictures. Such necessary paraphernalia as aprons, officers regalia, carpets, etc. were also purchased but, of course, have been replaced, some of it many times.
In addition to the two Masters already mentioned only one other member during that period should be recognized. Brother Ormond Cole was one of the first members to be initiated and become Worshipful Master in 1868. He served as Master until 1875 and again from 1887-1890. He also served as Treasurer from 1879-1882 and again from 1890-1892, a total of fifteen years in these two offices besides his other line officer duties. He was also the first member of Webster Lodge to become a Grand Lodge officer, serving as District Deputy Grand Master in 1876.
He was active in the local York Rite bodies, serving as presiding officer of most of them and holding some offices in the Grand York Rite bodies. Since John S. Webster participation in the state-wide Masonic bodies occurred entirely as member of Washington Lodge, Ormond Cole was the first member of Webster Lodge to participate beyond the local level.
There is one last item of interest in this decade which to the uninitiated may seem quite unimportant or routine. However, I can assure your that before the end of this recital your opinion may well have changed. As early as 1868, one year after occupation of the new lodge, we find a committee appointed to oversee roof repairs, and again in 1872 we find a reference to a bill for roof repairs. Keep in mind that as the owners of the third and highest floor, Webster Lodge was responsible for maintaining the integrity of the roof.
The second decade of Webster Lodge opened on a lodge which appeared to have come of age. The members were quite selective and turned down an appreciable number of application. We also find reference to that well-known problem, the delinquent dues payer. At that time it was necessary to prefer charges and to hold a Masonic trial before a member could be suspended, and we find an occasional member as much as ten to twelve years behind in his dues. During this period we also find reference to the first special dinner meeting except for the installation meetings previously mentioned.
This decade was not like the previous one from the growth standpoint. Membership changed little from the approximately sixty members reached during the first decade. The economic slump following the Civil War was at least partly to blame. During this period an I.O.O.F. lodge requested and was granted permission to use the lodge rooms, and a desk was purchased jointly for use by both lodge secretaries. When the I.O.O.F. lodge disbanded some years later Webster Lodge purchased the other share, and this appears to be the desk we are still using.
During this period only two brothers served the lodge as Worshipful Master. When Ormond Cole stepped down in 1875 W. L. Greenleaf was elected to preside and he served continuously until 1887, a total of twelve years. This is both the longest continuous term and the longest single term served by any Master of Webster Lodge. At this time the Worshipful Master presided at the exemplification of all three degrees, in contrast to the current practice of allowing the Junior Warden and the Senior Warden to preside at the Entered Apprentice and the Fellowcraft degrees respectively. Webster Lodge was already earning a reputation for excellent ritual work, a fine recommendation for Brother Cole and Greenleaf. Brother Greenleaf did not, however, serve as a officer after he stepped down as Master and I suspect that poor health forced him to retire. Several men served during this period as Secretary and Treasurer, one of whom, E.E. Greenleaf, was apparently a relative of the long-term Worshipful Master.
Least we forget, we will also find no less than three bills for roof repairs, totaling over two hundred dollars.
The third decade of Webster Lodge finds a vastly improved picture. Membership improved, somewhat slowly but steadily, and delinquencies declined. A great deal of maintenance work was done and the wardens columns, winding stairs, and the canvas to receive the candidate were secured. Although delayed for two years by indecision and opposition a toilet and washroom was finally installed in 1890. And once more we find more than one reference to roof trouble and bills for roof repairs.
Financially the lodge took a step forward with the establishment of a charity fund initiated by a $100 bequest from Dr. Webster which was received upon the death of his widow. This fund has continued to grow and today totals nearly $500. We find the first reference to a remission of dues in the case of P.M. Charles F. Storrs who was destitute and in failing health at this time. The thorny question of jurisdiction in Essex Junction was finally comprised by granting equal jurisdiction to Webster Lodge and MacDonough Lodge with each lodge to receive half the fees. And we find the first reference to that well-known Masonic attraction, the oyster stew supper
Only three men served as Worshipful Master during the decade. After W.L. Greenleaf retired in 1887 Ormond Cole was reelected for three years, 1887-1890. At his final retirement in 1890 there were completed twenty-two years during which Webster Lodge had been governed by only two different presiding officers. During this period the lodge grew from about thirty five to around one hundred members. Brother A. H. Beach who served as Master from 1890-1893 was the first new Master in over two decades. Brother John K. Nash who served as Secretary from 1883-1894, was the first man to serve as secretary for more than four years. And during six years of this period only one man served as Treasurer, Brother S.S. Watson. However, in this case another brother, H.W.Barrett,had earlier served, eleven years as Treasurer (1864-1875). There appears to be a trend at this time to stabilize the offices of Secretary and Treasurer in one or two dependable brothers. The lodge also voted during this period to pay the Secretary a salary which was initially set at ten dollars a year. However, the Secretary was not the first lodge officer to receive a salary. Since the occupation of the new lodge rooms it had been customary to pay the Tyler who also acted as caretaker, janitor, steward, and sometimes trustee of the lodge.
The decade from 1893-1903 proved to be an acceleration of increased activity starting during the previous decade. Membership increased to well over one hundred members and the records of lodge meetings remind us of those in the first decade of existence when two or more degrees were frequently worked in one evening. In November 1894 we find a record of five lodge meetings and three or four a month were frequently held. We also find the first references to having one of the Wardens exemplify a degree in place of the Worshipful Master. In this case, however, only the Senior Warden. This period included the Spanish American War in 1893, but this conflict apparently had little effect on lodge activity, only one brother being initiated in a hurray before leaving for service. Unfortunately, this one brother was killed at Santiago and the lodge voted to pay his funeral expenses.
The expanded activity during this period of economic prosperity evidently persuaded the lodge members that improvements to their home were indicated and major renovation was undertaken which included a new carpet, a new alter, and much new lodge regalia.
For the first time during this decade we find officers progressing in regular fashion through the line of officers to the Masters chair. Six different men served the lodge as Worshipful Master during this period, five of whom are worthy of further mention. O.W.Peck (1901-1902) was tried for unmasonic conduct and acquitted when he was Senior Warden. He did not live to serve out his full term as Worshipful Master. Hiram Hanscom (1893-1894) while a past Master appeared at a lodge meeting while intoxicated and was reprimanded by the members. His family later presented his picture to the lodge and he is one of only two past Masters to be so represented, the other being the founding father, Dr. Webster. J.W.Edwards (1898-1900) was the first of three members of the Edwards family to serve the lodge as Worshipful Master. Two members of the Reynolds family served the lodge as Master during this period. . John S. Reynolds (1900-1901) demitted after serving one year and transferred to the newly established Ethan Allen Lodge No.72 at Essex Junction where he became the first Worshipful Master. He later served as their first District Deputy Grand Master. The other member of the family, Homer E. Reynolds, was the last member of Webster Lodge to serve more than two successive years as Worshipful Master. After serving four years as Master (1894-1898) he served as District Deputy Grand Master in 1899 and for many years afterwards acted as installing officer and filled in for absent officers. Like Ormond Cole, Homer Reynolds had a profound effect on Webster Lodge for many years. Although only one brother served as treasurer during most of this period there were apparently a dearth of Secretary material. Of the six men who were associated with that office we find one brother who was elected and would not serve and one brother who served but was never elected.
The events which took place near the end of this decade had an important effect on Webster Lodge. The establishment of Ethan Allen Lodge in Essex Junction in 1901followed by two years the "generous" concession of MacDonough Lodge to give Webster Lodge sole jurisdiction in Essex Junction. Many members of Webster Lodge transferred to the new lodge at this time. The other event was the establishment of Francis E. Stevens Chapter No.54, O.E.S. This Chapter which is associated with Webster Lodge has since occupied the same room.
It was of considerable personal interest to note the same of two brothers, now dead, who were personally known to the author, S.C. Hill and Theodore F. Hopkins. We also find mention of another brother who was later to have a profound effect on the lodge. Brother John Brown during this period served as Marshall at several Masonic funerals, although he was never a lodge officer.
The last decade of the first half-century of its existence found Webster Lodge established as a relatively large lodge, the economic depression of this period, however, slowed down the rapid growth of the previous decade and membership remained almost static. In spite of the major expenditures of the previous decade another major redecorating job was done. This was aided financially, and I expect otherwise, by the O.E.S. Chapter and included the ventilating fan in the attic, a new coal stove, and a piano purchased by the O.E.S. I think I neglected to mention that electricity had been installed about fifteen years before. With the purchase the ladies voted to sell the old organ. Although I found several discussions concerning the purchase of an organ I could not determine exactly when it was purchased but it was apparently about 1880.
During this period I found the first reference to a Past Master's award, in this case an apron to P.M. Chambers and a jewel to P.M. Reynolds. Webster Lodge also made a donation for earthquake relief in San Francisco in May 1906. But I did not find any mention of the fact that Webster Lodge reached its fiftieth birthday in January 1913.
During this period Theodore Hopkins, the oldest Past Master most of us knew personally, served as Master (1909-1911). We also find the initiation dates of the oldest living active members, Brother Boehmer and J.H. Jacobs. I also noted the name of still another active member, Brother Myron Orvis of Ethan Allen Lodge, as a visitor early as 1905. Another Reynolds, Brother George H., served as Secretary for most of the period (1904-1912) and C.H. Shipman was the only Treasurer (1900-1916). Probably the most important man to serve during this period was the second member of the Edwards Family. Oscar W. Edwards served as Worshipful Master in 1911-1913 and again in 1928-1929, the last man ever to serve more than a total of two years as Master. He also served as District Deputy Grand Master in 1914 and as Treasurer of Webster Lodge from 1916-1928, another outstanding record of achievement.
The second half-century of Webster Lodge history opened on a world on the verge of a major war. Although this country did not become involved until the middle of the decade, this war was the major factor affecting the lodge during this period. For the third time in its history lodge activity reached a peak which can only be described as "feverish". during the war years meetings were again held three or more times a month and candidates were initiated, passed and raised within a span of days rather than months, occasionally on the same nights their petitions were received. Except for the war much of this activity would have been strictly illegal. Of course lodge membership increased rapidly and by the end of the decade had reached about one hundred and fifty members.
Many of the lodge practices were the same as today. the serving of refreshments at all regular communications was customary. Past Master's nights were held annually, and installations were carried out at a special meeting between the Annual Meeting and the regular meting in May.
Several of the officers during this period merit special mention. Our oldest living Past Master, J.H. Jacobs, served from 1915-1916. George L. Edwards was the third member of this family to serve as Worshipful Master. Buell Thrall, whom many of you know, served as Master from 1918-1920 and in 1944-1945 as District Deputy Grand Master. Walter H. Weston, who served as Worshipful from 1922-1924, was elected Treasurer in 1928 and served until his death in 1940. David Walker served as Secretary from 1912-1920, but upon his death in 1920, Brother Harry R. Wishart accepted an appointment as Secretary pro-tem and served continuously until his death in 1957. Upon the death of Brother Weston in 1940 Brother Wishart also accepted the position of Treasurer and filled both positions until his death, the longest service in a single office and also saw the passing of George D. Nash, our last surviving charter member, and of Ormond W. Cole.
But the most important event of this decade for Webster Lodge was the passing of Ellen Brown, the widow of Brother John Brown. It was then learned that Webster Lodge was the beneficiary of the entire residual estate of Brother Brown, an estate that finally totaled over ten thousand dollars. By judicious management this estate has been increased to more than fifteen thousand dollars and has enabled Webster Lodge to remain financially stable. With the advent of adequate funds there was some discussion relative to the acquisition of more commodious quarters, but nothing was finally done.
The seventh decade of this lodge found us in another period of economic good times. The lodge activities continued at a high rate, although not quite the pace attained during the war. Membership increased to nearly two hundred members and Webster Lodge became one of the larger lodges in the state of Vermont. Further redecoration of the lodge rooms was undertaken and the fire escape was installed. The roof, on which only nominal amounts had been spent for two decades, again required extensive repairs. The gas stove, presently in use in the kitchen, was purchased during this period. And, as an investment for the John Brown fund, the vacant lot in the rear of the building at the southwest corner of Follette and Center streets was purchased. This lot was later sold at four hundred dollar profit in addition to the rent collected during the period of ownership.
The initiation fees were raised for the first time in over a half-century to the present scale of $5.00 for application fee, and $10.00 for each degree. During the period Past Master Hopkins presented the lodge with a set of books on Masonic history. With other books received before and since Webster Lodge has acquired a rather extensive library and it is hoped that proper storage and display may eventually be provided. A new bible was also presented by Brother and Mrs. Bernard.
The custom of group church attendance, which has been observed occasionally in previous years, became a custom during this period with as many as two or three Masonic Sundays being observed. This custom is still followed but generally only one Sunday per year is observed. Of the officers who served during this period three deserve special mention. Dana G. McBride (1926-1928) is our oldest living Past Master, nest to Brother Jacobs and the only Past Master of that period still living. Hennesy C. Pike (1929-1931) died quite recently and was known to most of us. The case of H.E.Bartram (1924-1925) was of interest to the author since he officiated at only the first meeting after his installation and was not thereafter present. Whether illness or absence was to blame for this I could not determine.
One other item of interest concerns the contruction of the Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia. The lodge voted to pay its sizable assessment in two installments and later made a contribution of $25.00 for a memorial window. The lodge is presently under a similar assessment for an endowment fund for this memorial and has voted to pay its assessments in four installments.
The next decade found Webster Lodge in the years of the "Great Depression". In contrast to the two previous decades activity declined markeably and membership suffered. The lack of activity influenced the lodge members to suspend meetings entirely during the summer months of July and August when attendance is poor and the lodge rooms extremely uncomfortable. However, the members carried on energetically with special meeting on many occasions, generally with a dinner preceding the meeting. Since this involved setting up and taking down tables in the lodge room it indicates the energy and initiative of the members of that period.
The custom of having the Junior and Senior Wardens work the Entered Apprentice and Fellowcraft degrees respectively had become quite common although not the usual practice it is today. And, perhaps because of the comforting presence of the John Brown Fund, the members spent considerable money on the lodge quarters, including the usual bills for roof repair. The American flag is a product of this period and the old vacuum cleaner, just replaced in 1962, was purchased in 1933. During this period most of the dinners were served in the nearby Methodist Church. Unfortunately this convenient practice was terminated by the church members in the next decade.
Of the six members who served as Worshipful Master during this period three, Neal Carpenter, Charles A. Baker, and Walter C. Munson, are still living, and two others Harley C. Monta, and Howard F. Stanley, have only recently died. Brother Baker also served as District Deputy Grand Master in 1954-1956 and is the last member of Webster Lodge to serve the Grand Lodge. And in1941 several members of the lodge presented past Master Buell Thrall with an inscribed silver tray as evidence of their respect and affection.
The next to last decade of Webster Lodge opened on a world war once more. As in the previous war period the increased activity at nearby Fort Ethan Allen resulted in a marked increase in lodge activity and membership soared to well over two hundred members. Webster Lodge was now one of the twenty largest lodges in Vermont. During the decade another major redecoration was done including the carpet presently in use. The outdoor Masonic sign which had been authorized by lodge vote in 1942 was finally installed in 1951 and, once more, the roof required repair. new tables were also purchased by the lodge and Stevens Chapter O.E.S.
We note in records that in February 1943, Ethan Allen Lodge in Essex Junction was granted permission to use Webster Lodge rooms for a meeting. It is interesting to note that nineteen years later in April 1962, a fire in Webster Lodge forced the members to hold their meetings elsewhere and Ethan Allen Lodge was able to return the favor. The record of a Masonic Trial during this period reminded me that the conduct of a masonic trial, which once was an important section of the Masonic Monitor, is no longer even mentioned. And, in fact, few of the current members have ever seen or taken part in a Masonic trial. In former years when it was necessary to prefer charges and hold a trial in order to suspend a member for non-payment of dues. Masonic trials were held frequently. Other than trial for non-payment of dues only three members of Webster Lodge have ever been tried for unmasonic conduct. Of these, one Brother Peck, mentioned above, was acquitted. The other two offered no defense and were suspended.
We have, at long last, arrived at the last decade of this long and distinguished history. Like the preceding decade this last one has been a period of growth. Webster Lodge reached a peak of two hundred and seventy members in 1959 and is at present the seventh largest lodge in the state. It is only recently surrendered sixteenth place to the neighboring lodge in Essex Junction. Since the first Worshipful Master and many of the members of that lodge were from Webster Lodge this appears to be another case of the child outgrowing the parent.
The fire which damaged the lodge in 1962 resulted in another major redecoration of the lodge rooms. The lodge took advantage of the construction and repair work required after the fire to install new shelves and cabinets in the kitchen in order to improve the the storage and work space.
The increasing size of the lodge and the increasing dependence on the automobile for transportation have once more started discussion on the advisability of securing new, larger and better located quarters. However, after ninety-five years in the same rooms a discussion to move will not be taken lightly.
The death of Mrs. Cora Bernard in 1958 brought an end to a period of fourteen years during which Webster Lodge had contributed to her support. Although only one of many charity cases participated in over the years by Webster Lodge, this case was rather more interesting than most since Brother Bernard had left his property to the lodge at his death with the provision that the lodge contribute to the widow's support as long as needed. With the increasing costs caused by inflation the support cost, of course, exceeded the value of the property, but Webster Lodge faithfully fulfilled its obligation even though part of the time it was also supporting the widow of another deceased member.
All of the Masters who served the lodge during this period are still active in the lodge. But in 1959 Webster Lodge sustained its greatest recent loss in the sudden death of our beloved Secretary-Treasurer, Harry Wishart,who had served the lodge continuously for nearly thirty nine years. His place has now been filled, also in the dual capacity of Secretary-Treasurer, by our capable Past Master Llewellyn A. Button. And with the ascension of Malcolm Severence to the seat of the preceding officer we find the lodge at the end of its first century in very capable hands.
In the course of this history I have attempted to sketch the development of this lodge from a struggling group of sixteen charter members to the sizeable active lodge we have today. I am sorry that time and space do not permit a more detailed discussion of persons who contributed to this history. For years the lodge rooms were cared for by a permanent Tyler who was frequently also a trustee. It is unfortunate that it not been possible to continue this policy in recent years. And there are many other dedicated men advancing by some accident of time and relocation. unhappily I was unable to include a discussion of these people.
With the advent of a second century we are confident that Webster Lodge will continue to live up to the Masonic tenets of Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth as it has in the past. But we are also confident that some things will not change. I refer you to one of the last entries in my excerpts from the Secretary's minutes: "October 6, 1960 - Regular Communication - Bill for roof repairs - $585.00.