Manchester Lodge History

Edited By Historian Emeritus; John O. Nelson P.M. 1996

In May 1823, by act of the Connecticut General Assembly, Orford Parish was set aside from East Hartford and the town of Manchester came into being. Three years later a group of men belonging to the Masonic Fraternity in other towns but residing in Manchester, petitioned the Grand Lodge of the State of Connecticut for the right to form a lodge in the town. The Grand Lodge did grant a Charter to these men on May 10, 1826. Manchester Lodge #73 Ancient Free and Accepted Masons thus began their work.

This was one of the early signs that the town of Manchester was growing. The Lodge joined with the Methodist and Congregational Churches as places or organizations for the townspeople to meet in common causes.

Manchester Lodge #73 is the first and the oldest Fraternal Organization now meeting in the town.

The original charter is still in the hands of the Lodges Trustees, it is in a safe deposit box in a local bank, a working charter is always in place on the altar when the Lodge is at labor.

Many of the charter members of the Lodge had been members of Orient Lodge #62 of East Hartford, so that Orient Lodge is looked up to as our Mother Lodge. The offspring has proven healthy, an honor to our Mother Lodge.

There are two reports relative to the first day of the Lodges beginning. The first appeared in the Hartford Courant prior to the event and read as follows:

“The installation of Manchester Lodge will be attended at the Methodist Church in Manchester on Tuesday the fifteenth at eleven o’clock A.M., where an oration upon the occasion will be delivered.

Procession will be formed at Mr. Dudley Woodbridge’s Hotel, who will be furnishing the refreshments for the day. The Brethren from neighboring Lodges are particularly invited to attend.

Attest: Jabez L. White Jr. Secretary, Pro Tem, August 10, 1826”

The next report is from the first elected secretary’s minutes of the day, recorded as follows:

“The Masonic Brethren which was to compose the Masonic Lodge #73 assembled at their Hall on the 15th of August, 1826 where they were marshaled by Brother John Hubbard who had previously been appointed for that purpose and escorted by the Orient Lodge and a band of music to the Methodist Meeting House where an oration delivered by Brother Isaac Perkins, after which they were installed by Brother James M. Goodwin in Due and Ancient form.

After which they returned to the Lodge Room where it was voted that Brothers Armin Bolles, John Mather and Wells Woodbridge be a committee to wait on and present to the Grand Lodge the new Lodges thanks and compensate the orator and request a copy of the oration. No other business being before the Lodge, it was closed in Due Form.

 

Attest: Erastus Vorra, Secretary”

The Lodge Room that has been referred to was on the upper floor of a two room school-house at Manchester Green, situated in the East District. This building had been built in 1816 while Manchester was still Orford Parish, a part of East Hartford. A Rev. Osborn established an Academy in the upper room of the brick school-house in 1825. It was this building that the Masons used when organized in 1826. The public Hall of this building became their Lodge Room. The Lodge met on the second floor of this two room schoolhouse, until about three years after the formation of Manchester Lodge #73, a wave of anti-Masonic sentiment broke over the entire nation.

During those trying times the Lodge had given up their meeting place and for the next fifteen years, what few meetings were held, took place at the home of John Mather, who also served as Worshipful Master (1827 thru 1845).

An important note, during this period of anti-Masonic feeling, the Charter of the Lodge was not surrendered to the Grand Lodge as many Lodges had done. For this John Mather and that small group of dedicated brothers had kept Masonry alive in Manchester.

After the anti-Masonic feeling had subsided the Lodge met again at the Green until about 1855, when they began meeting in the “Center Academy” building that had been built in the meantime a few feet west of the Methodist Meeting House, and they met there for twenty years, when they moved in 1875 to the Spencer Block in the North end of town. This building was torn down in 1967 to make way for the redevelopment of the North end.

At the last communication before removal, February 9, 1875, the following resolution was passed:

“Whereas for the future welfare of the Lodge it has been deemed advisable to remove to another place of meeting and as we are about to leave the Old Hall occupied by so many years and where most of the Brethren first saw Masonic Light and where the present prosperity of the Lodge was achieved, therefore, Resolved— that it is with regret that we bid adieu to our present Hall and that we separate from it as an old and trusted friend and that the many interesting meetings held, and scenes passed with those now gathered hope will ever fill a bright page in our memory and be cherished among our fondest recollections.”

On Thursday evening, February 25, the new rooms in Spencer Hall were dedicated by officers of the Grand Lodge. The newspaper account of the event states that representatives were present from East Hartford, East Haddam, New Britain, Meriden, New Haven and other towns and that over three hundred were present including the ladies, in spite of the inclement weather.

On December 22, 1885 it was voted, “That on the expiration of our lease (Spencer Hall), which takes place January 1, 1886, we move to our property at the Center.” The hall was not ready for occupancy as soon as expected and six communications, January 12, 1886 to March 23, 1886 were held at Cheney Hall. The dedication exercise on Wednesday June 2, 1886, was on the sixtieth anniversary of receiving of the Charter for the Lodge.

In 1913 the old Center Academy was partly destroyed by fire and the Lodge removed its quarters to the Odd Fellows Hall. This building has been razed to enlarge the intersection at Main and East Center streets. The old Academy building was sold and it was moved to Birch Street and remodeled into store on the first floor and a Theater on the second floor.

It had become evident long before the loss of the Academy building that a larger quarters must be provided for the Lodge on account of its growth in membership and for other appendant bodies looking for quarters.

The old Center Academy property belonged to a corporation. Many of the Lodge brothers owned stock and the Lodge itself owned some. The stock was sold for $330.00 and the proceeds used to help pay for the furnishing of the Spencer Hall rooms.

Apparently the old love was stronger than the new since agitation soon began to return to Center Academy. On April 26, 1881, it was voted to buy a “controlling interest in the Center Academy”. Through a committee enough stock was purchased to control the property from William Hunniford for $425.00. The records show that most of the purchase price was raised by subscription and that the funds for making needed repairs were secured the same way.

The corner section of the property was sold to the U.S. Government for $12,000.00 in 1911. The proceeds from this sale along with profits from the annual balls averaging about $200.00 a year, together with the savings from fees, dues, rentals and other sources of income, were set aside from time to time toward a building fund. At a communication held April 13, 1926, the building committee was authorized to erect a Temple in accordance with plans presented by the architect.

The corner stone of our present Temple was laid with appropriate ceremonies by Grand Lodge officers on October 2, 1926, this ceremony was combined with the observance of the 100th Anniversary of the beginning of Manchester Lodge #73, AF & AM.

When the Temple was finally completed and the Grand Lodge was again prevailed upon to conduct the Dedication Ceremonies on October 8, 1927.

A room was set aside outside of the Main Lodge room and dedicated to the memory of John Mather the first elected Worshipful Master of Manchester #73. The north wall of this room has two doors and a fireplace mantle, that had been given to the Lodge by the owners of the house that John Mather had owned and were so many meetings had been held during that Morgan period, when Masonry was dormant. The large stone in front of the fireplace in the McKay Social room also came from the Mather house. This room is a fitting tribute to a dedicated Mason.

After the dedication ceremonies a banquet was held for 500 brothers. Following the banquet a special communication was held in the Lodge Room, where the Master Masons Degree was conferred on a candidate, this being the prelude to many more Brothers being raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason.

Since the opening of the new Temple, other rooms have been named after distinguished Masons. R. LaMotte Russell, (PM 1914) was honored by having the room in back of the secretary’s desk dedicated in his name, for his work during the depression years, in preventing the loss of the Temple from foreclosure of the mortgage on the Temple.

Another most deserving brother on the anniversary of his 30th year as organist for Manchester #73, Brother James W. McKay was honored by having the social room named after him.

HONORABLE MENTION

Three of Manchester Past Masters have attained the highest office of the Grand Lodge of Connecticut.

Brother James McCormick was made a Mason in the old Center Academy in the fall of 1853, became Worshipful Master in 1855 and held the office for three years. He moved to Windsor and on May 15, 1866 was given a demit to serve as Worshipful Master of Washington Lodge by appointment of the Grand Lodge. The Lodge in Windsor had lost its Charter in 1838 and was at this time restored. In 1881 Brother McCormick was elected Grand Master of the Grand Lodge and held the office for three years.

Brother Frank W. Havens Master of Lodge #73 in 1883, 1884 and 1886 was elected Grand Master in 1898. Later 1911-1913 he held the office of Grand Secretary.

Brother Fred A. Verplanck, honored and respected by the Manchester Brethren as their most illustrious representative in Masonry, was the Master of Lodge #73 in 1899 and 1900 and elected Grand Master in 1910.