By Erik Pekar, Town Historian
Granville Lodge No. 55, F. & A.M., is among the oldest institutions in the area. It is one of the very few entities in the town of Granville that dates from the 18th century. This year is the lodge’s 225th anniversary.
The earliest Granville area residents to enter Freemasonry joined the lodge in Kingsbury, Livingston Lodge No. 28, when it was chartered in 1793. Granville’s prominent figures trekked to attend meetings at Kingsbury. There were already paths and trails up and down and across the county by this time, but the condition of these thoroughfares was far from the standards of even the dirt roads that remain today in the county.
Granville’s Freemasons wanted their own lodge. They petitioned to the Grand Lodge of New York for a charter for a Masonic Lodge to be granted to them. The Granville petitioners requested the name of Liberty Lodge, and for designation of the lodge leaders; the petition was signed on Oct. 5, 1796. The petitioning Granville Masons who signed were Joseph Prindal, Zebulon R. Shipherd, W. Huggins, Aron Kellogg, Alvin Lampson, Daniel Earl, Daniel Major, Thomas Dewey, Daniel Burroughs, Thomas Soper and Levi Thompson.
Livingston Lodge was asked to recommend the Granville lodge; the Kingsbury area-based members believed that having another lodge would benefit Washington County. They sent a recommendation to the Grand Lodge of New York, for both the Liberty Lodge and their designation of lodge leaders.
The Granville Masons’ petition was presented to the Grand Lodge on Dec. 7, 1796. A warrant was granted to the Granville Masons to erect and hold a lodge in Granville, with name and number Liberty Lodge, No. 55. Zebulon Shipherd was the first master, William Huggins was the first senior warden and Abram Bishop the first junior warden.
Meetings were initially held at the house of Elijah White in North Granville. White built a hotel there in 1800 and set aside a room for lodge meetings, known as Masons’ Hall.
Liberty Lodge grew well in its early years. Livingston Lodge members from the Granville area were given dimits to join their new home lodge. There soon were 80 members on the roster.
Money was scarce in Granville in those early days; commerce was usually conducted by barter and trade. Members paid their petition fees and lodge dues with notes, basically signed and supported IOUs. The lodge soon found itself in financial trouble from the use of notes. Liberty Lodge couldn’t send its own dues to the Grand Lodge in proper time.
Members began to worry that the lodge would lose good standing with the Grand Lodge. Committees were formed in 1800 to find a solution, but nothing came of it then. Salem Town looked over the finances in 1806 and found multiple issues, particularly condemning the note system and the lack of proper treasurer’s records.
The lodge decided to send Town to the Grand Lodge to pay a sum, surrender the Liberty Lodge charter, and request a new charter to reorganize the lodge, keeping the old number of 55. Town attended the Grand Lodge on Sept. 3, 1806. The Grand Lodge officers received the lodge’s solution well. Town offered $40 to settle the debts. A petition was also presented by Town to the Grand Lodge, admitting faults and requesting the new lodge to be Granville Lodge No. 55. The request was accepted, and the Granville Lodge was reorganized with the new charter.
In January 1808, the lodge decided to meet for a year at the house of Daniel Roberts in North Granville. They continued meeting at White’s hotel until February 1809, first meeting at the Roberts house the following month. The lodge meetings moved again in October to the house of Justin Kellogg. In 1811, meetings moved to Orla Hall’s house. The lodge returned to Roberts’ house later that year, but moved again in April 1812 to Samuel Hough’s. In April 1813 the lodge met at the house of Elijah White, and later that year at T. Freeman’s. In 1814, the lodge moved to the house of Ira Curtis. In May 1814, the lodge decided to hold meetings at the house of George Marriner, an innkeeper. The lodge moved around the North Granville area for the rest of 1814, holding the July meeting at T. Freeman’s, Marriner’s in August and Ira Curtis’s in September.
By 1815, lodge meetings were held at Stiles’ Hall. The Granville Lodge decided at its meeting of Oct. 17, 1815, to seek permanent quarters for the lodge, with consideration to building a Masonic temple. The building committee comprised Martin Lee, Salem Town, Bishop Cramer, Orla Hall and Titus A. Cook; they would look into building a lodge. Two locations were considered: the land of Ira Hall on the Middle Granville road (now called County Route 24) or a building at “the corners,” the center of the present-day Village of Granville.
In January 1816, it was reported that member Ira Hall had offered to donate land for a building. The committee noted that the cost for a brick building to their needs would be $1,600. The lodge voted in May 1816 to go ahead with plans to build.
Ira Hall died in 1816 and left provisions in his will to give land to the Masons. One acre adjacent to the Isaac Hollister farm was deeded. It was read at the lodge meeting of September 1817. The land could either be used for a Masonic temple or a Masonic burying ground. Dr. Hall’s family would have the right to be buried there as well if used as a cemetery. If the land was used for a Masonic temple, Hall not only required allowance of adjacent farmers to use the Masonic land as turning ground for sheep and cattle, but still asked for burying grounds for Hall and his heirs and those of adjacent land owners. Realizing this left little room for a temple, the Masons decided to make the land a burial ground. It would be well over a century before the Granville Masons would get their own building for a temple.
The Masons met at Stiles’ Hall through January of 1818. From February to November 1818, the lodge met at the house of Jonathan Todd. The lodge moved meetings to Ketchel Reed’s house in December 1818. The lodge moved again to the home of Ephraim Munson, first meeting there in November 1819.
The William Morgan episode, caused by a man who wished to discredit Freemasonry, electrified anti-Masonic elements in 1826. Lodge numbers severely declined during that time. Many lodges stopped holding meetings, and some turned in their charters. Granville Lodge No. 55 suspended meetings, but did not surrender its charter.
Granville Masons began efforts to revive the lodge in March 1851. The Grand Master authorized the revival of the lodge in July, keeping the Granville Lodge name but with the new number of 220. In December, members started a movement to get the old lodge number back; In June 1852, the Grand Lodge passed a resolution changing the number of Granville Lodge No. 220 to No. 55.
The lodge resumed meeting in North Granville after its revival. In January of 1860, the lodge began to look into moving to Middle Granville, passing a resolution requesting permission to move there. Middle Granville was becoming a “boom town” then, with the railroad and the slate industry. In January o1861, the lodge decided its Middle Granville location would be Cramer’s Hall, at the southeast corner of the Middle Granville bridge.
In February 1861, the lodge began to alternate holding meetings in North Granville and Middle Granville for the convenience of its members. There were two competing factions of members regarding lodge location: those who wanted it to remain in North Granville and those who wanted it permanently moved to Middle Granville. The division was heated, and the topic regularly discussed. In May 1863, the lodge decided to make the move to Middle Granville permanent. In late 1863, the lodge decided upon moving to the upper floor of the C.H. Bull store, at the northwest corner of the Middle Granville road and what is now known as Cove Road. The new lodge rooms in the Bull building were dedicated Dec. 28, 1863.
The members of the Granville Lodge from the North Granville area wanted the lodge returned there, or at least return to alternating meeting locations. The Grand Lodge decreed in July 1864 that Granville Lodge No. 55 must meet in Middle Granville until the next annual grand lodge communication; the request was not granted.
The meeting schedule was changed in January 1866 to the first and third Wednesdays of each month; this schedule remained for over a century.
In January 1869, the lodge decided to find larger rooms. Several locations were considered. The Masons wanted to rent a building for a term of at least 10 years. The lodge rooms would be on the third floor, with dimensions of at least 37 by 35 feet, a ceiling of at least 11 feet high and rent of $150 a year or less.
Some members felt that if the Masons were to move, it would be best to move to Granville Corners, today known as the Village of Granville; others wanted to stay in Middle Granville. Deliverance Rogers offered a room to the Masons at Granville. C.H. Bull offered to make improvements to their rooms in his building. The final vote was made in January 1871; the Masons would continue to meet in the C.H. Bull building for five years, providing he make improvements and add two more rooms.
The first Granville chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star was formed in 1870, named the Lily of the Valley, No. 17. It initially met in the E. Guilder block (a building since demolished, known years later as the Rowan building) before the Granville Lodge voted later in the year to let the O.E.S. chapter meet in their rooms. The first Worthy Matron was Mrs. David Morgan and the first Worthy Patron was Dr. Safford Reynolds. There were about 25 charter members; interest waned, and the charter was given up a few years later.
Deliverance Rogers was persistent with his offer of a room for the lodge at Granville Corners. The May 1873 meeting concluded with a resolution to stay in Middle Granville for the time being. The lodge decided in favor of moving to Granville in August. The mindset was that since the population growth had shifted from Middle Granville to Granville, the latter location would be better suited. The room of Deliverance Rogers was rejected due to its small size. The new rooms would be in the third story of the new building erected by Theodore Getty and Bernhardt Gross at the corner of Main and Church Streets.
Two committees were formed to look into the issue of whether it would be best to move to Granville or find other rooms in Middle Granville. Consideration was given to repairing the Bull building or moving to the Guilder building, but both were rejected. At the Nov. 19, 1873 meeting, members voted 49 to 10 in favor of moving to Granville over moving to the Guilder building. The Grand Lodge issued dispensation to allow the move; the lodge received it Dec. 3.
The first meeting in Granville village was held March 4, 1874. The Gross and Getty building was bought by J.S. Warren in 1876; by the early 1890s, it was owned by Joseph Green.
The lodge approved in April 1885, making a request for the return of the original Liberty Lodge charter. The Grand Lodge accepted and sent the original 1796 parchment charter in June.
The Granville Lodge reached its centenary in 1896. A celebration was held on Oct. 21, 1896, commemorating 100 years of the lodge being in Granville. There was a rain storm that day, but the spirits of the attending Masons weren’t dampened by the storm. Master Masons from the surrounding area, and members of the Washington and Killington Commanderies of the Knights Templar, were brought to Granville by train. A large parade was planned but had to be canceled due to the inclement weather. Granville’s two hotels were booked for the Masons; the Master Masons stayed at the Munson House, and the Knights Templar at the Central House.
Events were held at Norton Hall (the Swanson building); so many attended that the hall was crowded, and still more had to be refused admission. Speeches were made by several Masons, including Granville’s James M. Potter, then Lodge Master. A Welsh quartet rendered vocal selections, and the Granville Band played. A grand ball was held that evening; 150 couples attended. A dinner was held afterward for the guests, split between the Central House and the Munson House.
The trains returning the guests to their towns left Granville about midnight. The grand gala celebration of 100 years of Freemasonry in Granville was the talk of the Granville Masons for many years.
To be continued . . .