A History of Hiram Lodge
By Wor. Bruce D. Wedlock
December 12, 1997
As we celebrate the two hundredth anniversary of the constitution of Hiram Lodge, it is worthwhile to explore not only the historical facts that have marked Hiram Lodge’s existence, but also to reflect on the human factors that have made Masonry a long-standing institution. In 1977, Alex Haley published “Roots: The Saga of an American Family”, a highly successful story in which he described his search for his ancestors and the pride that surged through him as he traced his family history. This story became a record-setting mini-series on TV, emphasizing everyone’s latent interest in their past. Yet today our citizens and immigrants under the age of 35 seem focused only on the present and their own self-interest. Even our government agencies encourage attitudes that minimize the names and deeds which built our country, and promote cultural diversity which emphasizes the heritage of the lands from whence we immigrated rather than celebrate the heritage of this land our ancestors built. Recently, a public school changed its name from “Washington” because Bro. George had owned slaves. Not politically correct by today’s standards, which are sadly lacking in morality. But “A Lodge is a certain number of Masons,” and our fraternity is focused not on the building of structures, although they are an important part of our past. Rather, this “History of Hiram Lodge” will attempt to illustrate how that certain number of Masons who have comprised the Members of Hiram Lodge have contributed to the advancement of the community and our national heritage.
The beginning of Hiram Lodge was the assembly of ten brothers, who had been raised in King Solomon’s Lodge in Charlestown, on September 7, 1797 in the Munroe Tavern in Lexington. A petition was prepared, signed and submitted to the Most Worshipful (MW) Grand Lodge of Massachusetts with a favorable recommendation from Wor. John Soley, Master of King Solomon’s Lodge. On December 11 of that year, the MW Grand Lodge, at the last Communication presided over by MW Paul Revere, issued a Charter to Hiram Lodge authorizing their assembly in Lexington.
So began Hiram Lodge’s existence. But the roots of Hiram Lodge began many years before the ten petitioners assembled. The Munroe Tavern had already been in existence for over one hundred years, having been established by William Munroe in 1695, who arrived in the colonies as an indentured servant in the mid-1600’s. The tavern was on the stage coach line and was very popular with travelers heading for Boston. William Munroe IV, the innkeeper on April 19, 1775 and the Lexington Militia’s orderly sergeant, was subsequently elected Hiram Lodge’s first Master. Back on that momentous day in our history, his tavern was stormed and occupied by British troops as Lord Percy’s headquarters, and served as a hospital during his retreat. Munroe continued his service during most of the war.
On November 5, 1789 President and Brother George Washington arrived for an afternoon meal at the Tavern. The chair, table and china that he used are still on display in the second floor room where Hiram Lodge’s petitioners met and where Hiram’s meetings were originally held. A punchbowl, decorated with Masonic emblems, from which Bro. Washington quaffed at the Tavern was on display at the 100th Anniversary celebration of Hiram Lodge.
Bro. Jonathan Harrington, Jr., one of the original petitioners and the first Secretary of the Lodge, was born on July 8, 1758. He served as Secretary for the first 21 years of the Lodge, except for two when he served as Treasurer. At the age of 16 he was a fifer in the company of Capt. Parker’s Minutemen, who received the first British fire on April 19, 1775. He was the last survivor of the Battle of Lexington, entering the Celestial Lodge on March 27, 1854 at the age of 95 years, 8 months and 19 days. He was buried in Lexington with full Masonic honors conducted by Hiram Lodge with MW Rev. Dr. Randall, GM of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Massachusetts delivering the address. The Governor, Lt. Governor, Honorable Council, a great part of the legislature, Grand Lodge and other Masonic Bodies, several regiments of military and a large concourse of citizens attended his funeral. The procession from the Unitarian Church near the battleground to the burial ground was thus organized (note the rank of Masonry): Military Escort, Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, Hiram Lodge of West Cambridge, the Body, Relations of the Deceased, Chief Marshal, Chaplains, the Governor, the Executive Council, Committee of the Senate, Committee of the House of Representatives, Judges of Middlesex County, Members of the Legislature, Officers of the Army, Navy and Militia, Citizens generally (1). A volley was fired over his grave by the Concord Artillery and the Davis Guards from Acton. His Masonic apron is on proud display in the apartments of Hiram Lodge.
The remaining petitioners were also substantial men of Lexington. Six served in the army of the revolution, six were selectmen of Lexington, four were assessors, three representatives to the General Court and two were justices of the peace. Thus, we see that the roots of Hiram Lodge extend far deeper into the soil of our country than that memorable meeting in 1797.
In the summer of 1798 an addition was built on the rear of the Munroe Tavern, the second story of which was for a Masonic Hall for the use of Hiram Lodge. This facility was consecrated by MW Josiah Bartlett and the officers of Grand Lodge on October 17, 1798.
The last meeting of Hiram Lodge in the Munroe Tavern was held on January 27, 1831. The anti-Masonic storm had reached Lexington. On December 13, 1831 a group of Brethren met and signed the Declaration of Freemasons of Boston and Vicinity, affirming that they would neither renounce nor abandon Masonry, an act that required courage of the highest degree in those hostile times. Signatories from Hiram Lodge were Abram French, Elias Dupee, Loammi Knight, Samuel Chandler, Amos Locke, James Russell and William Whittemore.
Rather than surrender the Charter to the safekeeping of Grand Lodge, Right Worshipful (RW) James Russell (DDGM 1821-22) carefully preserved this document along with the jewels of Hiram Lodge for twelve years until the anti-Masonic violence had subsided. During this dark period, members were forced to meet cautiously. One favorite location was a ledge behind the tavern from whose summit clear views north, south, east and west permitted the observation approaching of cowans and eavesdroppers. In 1840, Bro. Russell served as a state senator.
With the passing of the anti-Masonic cyclone and the failure of the political goals of those who propagated it, Brethren began to reopen their Lodges. The members of Hiram Lodge met in Cutler’s Tavern in East Lexington, and determined to resume their meetings. RW James Russell then convened Hiram Lodge in Monument Hall in the East Village in Lexington on December 4, 1843 and a petition was submitted to Grand Lodge to move to West Cambridge. This petition was granted on December 27, 1843 and the first meeting in the new apartments was held on January 4, 1844. Thus began the second period in Hiram’s history.
Hiram Lodge resumed meeting on the second floor of Bethel Hall, a two-story brick building situated between the present sites of the Arlington Town Hall and Robbins Library. Bethel Hall was owned by Bethel Lodge No. 12 of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
During the twenty years Hiram Lodge met at this location, they raised Samuel Crocker Lawrence to the sublime degree of Master Mason on October 26, 1854. Later to be elected Grand Master (1881 83), Bro. Lawrence became the wealthiest citizen of Medford as a result of prudent investments in the Boston & Maine railroad, in which he was the largest stockholder. He was a general in the Civil War and in 1901 subsequently built at his own expense the Lawrence Light Guards Armory on High Street in Medford, endowing it for the use of the local militia. He served as Medford’s first mayor from 1893 to 1894, and is certainly another root in Hiram’s tree of history.
Another notable raised in Bethel Hall was Albert W. Bryant, who lived to be the oldest resident of Lexington and the oldest member of Hiram Lodge. He was raised on September 23, 1847, and was presented with an easy chair with a silver plate commemorating his 50 years of membership. He was the fifth generation to work in the family blacksmith shop, but a severe accident forced his retirement after 25 years. He then worked a farm until his boys were grown, switching to a successful poultry business “just to keep from getting lazy”. Recalling the early days before the railroads, Bryant says it was not uncommon to see 100 horses outside the Munroe Tavern which their owners enjoyed the hospitality inside. Of the anti Masonic movement, Bryant said he had been through 17 presidential campaigns, but never saw the vindictiveness that was shown by the opponents of Masonry at that time. He served Lexington as town clerk for 23 years, selectman for 29 years, as well as terms as assessor, tax collector and treasurer.
Thirty-three Masons who were raised in Hiram Lodge served in the civil war. A company of 82 men was formed, commanded by Capt. Albert S. Ingalls. Since the Massachusetts quota had been filled, they served as the 40th Regiment of New York Volunteers. Ingalls was promoted to Major after the battle of Williamsburg in Virginia. Maj. Ingalls was wounded, lost a leg and eventually his life in the fighting before the Battle of Richmond. His body was returned to West Cambridge where it was received with every demonstration of respect by officials and citizens.
With increasing membership the Lodge needed larger quarters. The Lodge records of 1863 mention “a new hall being erected” which would seem to indicate this is when the Masonic Building was erected in Arlington., situated on Main Street (now Massachusetts Avenue), at the northeast corner of Medford Street. The lease included part of the second floor and the entire third floor. This location was known as Russell Hall, no doubt in memory of RW James Russell, who had just died on December 8, 1863. The dedication on June 16, 1864 was led by MW William Parkman, for whom our sister lodge in Winchester is named.
George Yates Wellington was born in the Wellington House on Pleasant Street in 1826. After his local schooling, he learned civil engineering under the manager of the Fitchburg Railroad. He then moved west and worked with the Illinois Central Railroad. He returned to Arlington in 1864 to establish an insurance business and rose to be the acknowledged “dean” of that industry in Massachusetts. He was raised in Hiram Lodge on March 29, 1866. Yates founded the Arlington Historical Society, was the first president of the Symmes Arlington Hospital Corporation, and was a vice-president of the Arlington Five Cents Saving Bank.
The charter members of Simon W. Robinson Lodge in Lexington were all members of Hiram Lodge.
The centennial of Hiram Lodge was marked by a medallion struck at the United States Mint in Philadelphia. The obverse bore a facsimile of the Munroe Tavern, and the words “Centenary Medal 1797-1897” and “Munroe Tavern, the Birthplace of Hiram Lodge”. The reverse bore the all-seeing eye, rays of light, the letter G and sprigs of acacia surrounded by the words “Hiram Lodge AF & AM, Arlington. Instituted December 12, 1797”. All the members proudly wore this medal suspended by a blue ribbon from a bar pin carrying the words “Hiram Lodge”.
Brother Warren W. Rawson was raised in Hiram Lodge on June 29, 1893. Distinctions came to Bro. Rawson in many ways, but it was through his achievements in market gardening that he rose to fame. Under his leadership, Arlington saw many greenhouses built and vegetables grown. Rawson was the first to raise fruit and vegetables under glass, took the lead in 1883 by supplying greenhouses with steam heat, and was the pioneer in forcing cucumbers to fruition by means of electric light. His Rawson Seeds were known the country over. Despite his numerous farms and hothouses, he found time to serve his community as a Director of the Arlington Cooperative Bank, twelve years on the school committee, eight years as moderator of the town meeting, served numerous civic and professional organizations, and was on the Governor’s Council for two years.
A gift of $100 from Bro. Rawson in 1903 was the start of the Permanent Fund and began the fundraising for our present building, the Arlington Masonic Temple. The initial impetus for larger quarters was the fact that the Lodge’s membership had grown to over 700. This was due in no small measure to the efforts of Wor. Edward T. Erickson, Master in 1921 and 1922. During these two years, 269 new members were admitted to Hiram Lodge under his leadership. With this increase in membership, it was decided that another lodge was needed in Arlington, and Hiram Lodge sponsored the petition of Russell Lodge, named in honor of RW James Russell.
When Russell Hall was completely destroyed be fire on March 20, 1924, the efforts to build the present building began in earnest. By October 1924 the land previously occupied by the Cotting Academy, private college preparatory school. In 1864, RW William E. Parmenter, Master of Hiram Lodge in 1858 to 1861, urged the town to purchase Cotting Academy for use as a public high school, and it served in that role until it was abandoned in 1894. On a July 4 night, it was discovered on fire, but saved. Two additional arson attempts failed to destroy the building, and it was eventually torn down. With the planning for a larger facility underway, this land was chosen as the best location for the Lodge, and was purchased in May 1920. Incidentally, Bro. Parmenter had an illustrious career in the judiciary, serving as Chief Justice of the Boston Municipal Court when he retired after thirty years on the bench.
The cornerstone of the new building was laid by MW Dudley H. Ferrell on November 22, 1924 and Hiram Lodge held its first meeting there on September 3, 1925. In the interim, the Lodge met in the Cambridge Masonic Temple and in West Medford. While there were many who contributed to this building, Wor. Ernest Hesseltine, who was responsible for the purchase of the land, and Wor. Frederick W. Damon deserve special mention for guiding this project to a successful conclusion. For seventy-two years, Hiram Lodge has met in these apartments, its longest period in one location.
In the beginning, I mentioned that Paul Revere presided over the constitution of Hiram Lodge. But alas, his signature did not appear on our Charter. Rather, Hiram’s Charter was signed by MW Josiah Bartlett, who had been elected Grand Master at same meeting of Grand Lodge that Hiram Lodge’s charter was issued. This question has produced considerable speculation over the years, especially since the sub-set of lodges with Revere’s signature are regarded as a special group. The best explanation was advanced by Wor. George Wheatly in his address at the 175th Anniversary Celebration.
One speculation, that the Charter preparation may not have been completed until after Bro. Bartlett had been installed and thus bore his signature, is doubtful. On that same date Meridian Lodge was also constituted, and their Charter bear’s Revere’s signature. Now Bro. Bartlett was a charter member and the first Master of King Solomon’s Lodge which sponsored the formation of Hiram Lodge. And given that the petitioners for Hiram Lodge were all members of King Solomon’s Lodge, it seems most likely that either Bro. Bartlett requested or Bro. Revere offered him the honor of signing the Hiram’s Charter in recognition of the intimate connection between Hiram and King Solomon’s Lodges.
There is one more interesting story connecting these Lodges. In 1794 King Solomon’s Lodge erected a monument on Bunker Hill to the memory of Grand Master Joseph Warren, the commanding general of the revolutionary forces who gave his life in that famous battle. In 1825, either during the building of the present monument but probably at some time much earlier, the slate tablet on the original monument disappeared. It appears that the father of RW James Russell built a tomb in the Old Burying Ground, adjacent to the property of the Unitarian church at the present corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Pleasant Street. At some point this slate tablet was inserted in the brick wall of the tomb with this inscription on the reverse side of the tablet: “No. 4. James Russell’s Tomb, Built 1811.” There the tablet remained until about 1860, when the wall having crumbled, the tablet fell out. A new stone bearing the names of Mr. Russell and his family was placed over the tomb and the old tablet discarded as unfit for further use.
In the summer of 1885, while repairs were being made on the old horse sheds in the rear of the Unitarian church, a portion of the tomb was torn down, and in the space between the sheds and the wall of the tomb was found the tablet. A brother Mason seeing the stone turned it over and read the ancient inscription on the other side. With the permission of the heirs of Russell, it was returned to King Solomon’s Lodge by Hiram Lodge, and now is on display in the apartments King Solomon’s Lodge.
In summary, we see that Hiram Lodge has had many distinguished members in its history. Men who have made substantial contributions to their communities and country. This story only lists a few of the men who industriously occupied their minds in the attainment of useful knowledge, and applied that knowledge to the discharge of their respective duties to God, their neighbors and themselves. Their lives are an example to us all. When we look at their pictures and aprons, and when we see the Charter passed hand to hand from Master to Master, recall those connections to the founding and growth of our country and community, which is mirrored in the history of Hiram Lodge.
(1) C. Moore, The Masonic Review, Cincinnati, Ohio, Vol. 11, pp 109-112, 1854