On the level for 150 years: Masons celebrate milestone

PORT TOWNSEND — In March of 1859, a group of men met in a building on Adams Street in downtown Port Townsend to form a Masonic lodge in their adopted home.

Most were transplants from the Midwest or East Coast — Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maine — or were immigrants from the British Isles or mainland Europe.

Placing a compass and level on the Bible, the men promised to live as brothers, befriending each other, defending each other’s characters, pointing out each other’s faults and aiding in each other’s reformation.

They also charged themselves to extend an attitude of charity to every human being by doing good to all and living in peace with their fellow man.

The men — civic leaders and business owners — submitted their petition and on Sept. 6, 1859, became the sixth Masonic lodge chartered in Washington Territory.

On Saturday at 2 p.m., the grand master of the Washington State Masonic Lodge will re-enact the granting of that charter at the Port Townsend Masonic Temple.

The lodge has invited Masons from neighboring communities to the celebration, and members hope local residents will also come for the ceremony, which will take place in the large upstairs meeting room, to help the lodge celebrate 150 years of existence.

“It’s lasted because its members have been civic-minded people,” said Clarence Johnson, lodge secretary and past master.

“They’ve been concerned about the community, its growth and the development of the education system.”

The original 214 men who signed the charter left their mark on the community in more ways than one.

Granville Haller, for whom the Haller Fountain is named, was the first master — or head — of the Port Townsend Lodge.

N.D. Hill, Joe Kuhn and Soloman Katz all built and engraved their names on downtown buildings.

Charles Bartlett, D.M. Littlefield and A.F. Learned built homes that still grace the bluffs of Port Townsend.

D.C.H. Rothschild’s home is now a state park, and Charles Eisenbeis’ mansion is a former Jesuit retreat center, Manresa Castle, turned bed-and-breakfast inn.

In fact, it was Eisenbeis’ widow who donated 13 acres of land for Laurel Grove Cemetery, the town’s main burial ground, Johnson said, which the Masons still operate.

“She wanted her husband buried in a Masonic cemetery,” said Clarence Johnson, lodge secretary and past master.

The lodge also gives scholarships, distributes free books for school children and encourages reading with its Bikes for Books program.

Character-building

Individual character-building is the focus of the Masons, which grew out of stone masons guilds in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The term “Free and Accepted Masons” derived from the fact that stone masons were free agents who could travel across borders and choose projects they wanted to build. Accepted masons were men who became interested in the history and moral lessons included in the craft training program.

“The basic principles are morality, friendship and brotherly love,” Johnson said.

Masons are an international fraternity, Johnson said, with lodges all over the world, including Saudi Arabia.

In Port Townsend, the lodge now has one-fourth the original number of members but has been attracting new ones, usually young men who had a father or grandfather who was a Mason, Johnson said. Often, the prospective members were curious about the group, so go online to find out more.

But the symbolism of the mason’s tools used in meetings and ceremonies — the level, the plumb, the carpenter’s square and the gavel — are no secret.

“The level is to remind us that we all are walking on the same level,” Johnson said. “The plumb is to remind us to walk upright before God and our fellow man.

“The stone mason used the gavel to knock corners off rough stones. We use it to divest our minds of any of our problems.”

Other lodges

At one time, there was a second Masonic lodge in Port Townsend, Johnson said, but it eventually had to give up its charter, with members absorbed into the first.

The Quilcene/Jefferson County Lodge, No. 107, also absorbed members from a closed lodge. The Port Angeles Masonic Lodge is No. 69, Forks No. 198 and Sequim No. 213, Johnson said.

Johnson himself is a 50-year member and a third-generation Mason, joining in White Salmon, where his father and grandfather were members.

On Saturday, the grand master, wearing the traditional top hat, will present Johnson with a 50-year pin. Bill Gruber, Lowell Matthews and Sam Rust are also receiving 50-year pins, and Tom Opsted, the son of long-time member Lou Opsted, will receive a 55-year pin.

Milt Morris, who lives in Jefferson County but belongs to a California lodge, will receive a 50-year certificate, Johnson said.

The Port Townsend Lodge also has an Eastern Star chapter that is more than a century old, Eastern Star being the women’s counterpart to Masons, and sponsor of Rainbow Girls.

“They’ll be helping us serve dinner” at 4 p.m., Johnson said.

Lodge members, dressed in dark suits and white Mason aprons, chains of medallions signifying the offices they have held around their necks, will sit in large wooden chairs around the wall facing the center of the room, where the state officers will stand.

The reconstitution ceremony consists of the grand master pouring oil, wine and corn over a model of a lodge building, symbolizing peace, refreshment and sustenance, respectively.

“This is a once-in-a lifetime celebration,” Johnson said. “It’s nice to stop and remember some of the history of the community and the contributions of the lodge to the community.

“You can’t help but feel the history when you walk through here, see the photographs and think of the early pioneers.”

For more information, phone 360-385-3873 and leave a message.

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