Melrose Masonic Building 150th Rededication Part 2
On April 22nd, the Melrose Masonic Building was rededicated as a commemoration of its 150th year of existences.
In attendance, was a contingent of Grand Lodge officers led by the Grand Master of Massachusetts, Most Worshipful Paul F. Gleason. The following is the second speech given on that occasion.
Distinguished Guests, Citizens of Melrose, Brethren, All!
Good afternoon, my name is Richard McElhinney, I am the most recent Past Master of Wyoming Lodge. It is my considerable honor to have been asked to give my account on the history of our building, masonry in Melrose, and our many connections to this great city. For those of you have not met a mason, I am sure the first thing going through your mind is, “man does this guy have red hair!” The second thought, I am sure, is what do Freemasons believe and what is the purpose of their organization. While there are many theories and conspiracies on the internet, in movies, and in literature, allow me to explain who we are.
Freemasonry is a social organization that promotes the gathering of like-minded men in the pursuit and perfection of altruism and personal responsibility. The only secrets that our organization holds are those of the methods with which we recognize each other and the symbolic meaning of our teachings. We are charitable in that we are not organized for profit, and that our income is spent on the welfare of mankind. The religious aspect of our society is that a Volume of Sacred Law, any Sacred Law, is opened whenever a Lodge is in session, and a reverence for the Creator is ever present in the work we do; to this end, we are not sectarian and we do not subscribe to one theological ideology. Through the improvement of the individual, we believe that we can improve the community, and have set this as one of our highest goals. We demand that all of our members hold steadfast to the government and that they acquiesce to the laws of the state. We believe that by having a broad foundation of principals upon which people of every race, country, sect, and opinion may agree upon, we might unite all of us into one single society of benevolent beings.
It was with these aspirations in mind, that the founding members of Wyoming Lodge met. As you will soon hear, the history of our organization is intricately woven with the history of the City of Melrose.
On May 3, 1850, the Incorporated Town of Melrose split from Malden. Six years later, on July 28, 1856, a meeting was held at the residence of Reverend Joseph Dennis to discuss the formation of a Masonic Lodge in Melrose. On August 28, 1856, the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, granted a dispensation to the founding members of Wyoming Lodge. The reason for the name Wyoming Lodge has gone like the snows of last winter. While there are many suggestions, the most logical being to honor Patriots killed in the 1778 Wyoming Pennsylvania Massacre during the American Revolution, we are left with only speculation- even our first Masonic historian, Levi Gould, writing just 50 years later could not give us an answer.
The first meetings were held in Lyceum Hall, with the top officers sitting on nail kegs and the brethren on the floor. On October 12, 1857, Wyoming Lodge was duly constituted, receiving her charter from Most Worshipful John T. Heard. After five years, Lyceum Hall could no longer contain Masonry, and so Masonry moved to Waverly Hall. A fine building that stood across from the central station on Essex Street. The Lodge room was reported to be the finest hall in the State by Moore’s Freemason’s Monthly- I am sure Grand Master, that the Grand Lodge was not included in that assessment.
In 1865, Waverly Royal Arch Chapter was granted a dispensation and brought the York Rite bodies of Freemasonry to Melrose. Sadly, on Thursday, January 11, 1866, bells tolled for ourselves, and the Melrose Fire Department was called to Waverly Hall which was engulfed in flames. Largely agreed to be the work of an arsonist, the building was completely destroyed. This destruction also claimed the properties of three companies housed in the building, a boot company, a grocer, and a painter who lost everything. Thankfully with the bravery of some of our members, the fire department, and regular citizens of Melrose, Wyoming Lodge was able to save some of our prized possessions from the flames. Mont Vernon Lodge in Malden graciously offered them sanctuary, and from February 12, 1866, to April 18, 1867, Melrose Masonry met in Malden.
While some Members wished to rebuild, a larger majority voted to accept the offering of the lot of land on which we now stand. Construction started in May, and on June 25, 1866, under the direction of Most Worshipful Charles C. Dame, the cornerstone was laid in the northeast corner. A part of the build description was given as follows: The building was constructed out of concrete in the Italian style, and the roof was made of slate. The first floor accommodated three first-class stores, as well as a tenement for the janitor. The second story was reached by a short flight of stairs, then through an extensive corridor, and is entirely setup for masonic purposes with a hall to contain 200 persons. The upper story contained two halls, one for Waverly York Rite and the other for Wyoming Lodge. Wyoming Lodge has black walnut finishing’s, a canopy manufactured by Brother W. Toussaint of Melrose, and gilded figures. On the walls are large frescos, with one side of the hall given to a first class organ, with an immense forty burner chandelier providing light.
Tenants have included a catering company, N.D. Blake Hose Company #2, a horse-drawn steam fire company that occupied space in the basement until 1902, and Russel’s luncheon who occupied the same space as the catering company after they left. Since construction, the building has been remodeled twice in the 1920’s and 1950’s.
On January 1, 1900, Melrose became a City with our own Brother Levi Gould as the first mayor, but not the only member of our Lodge to serve as mayor. Masonic Members have been Members of the Massachusetts House of Representatives; Members/Chairmen of The Middlesex County Commissioners; Melrose School Committee Members/Chairmen; Town Clerks; Commanding Officers during the Civil War; Ministers, Reverends, and Pastors of Melrose and local religious institutions; Presidents of local Banks as well as Hospitals. Even the man who named the City herself, Brother William Bogle, was a Freemason. The Building has also seen two Grand Master of Mason in Massachusetts, M.W. Claude LeRoy Allen and M.W. Harvey John Waugh (below)!
On September 21, 1904, this building bore witness to the Great Dynamite Explosion in Melrose. The Masonic Temple, Ionic Apartments, and the Colonial Apartments were the most damaged. The apartments were then the residences of Brothers Charles Parker and George Dearborn, whose home was used as a makeshift hospital. The first floor of the Masonic Temple facing Main Street, then occupied by Russel’s lunchroom and was completely wrecked.
At the end of 1918, Wyoming Lodge had over 600 members, and the line to become the Worshipful Master took twice the normal amount of time to complete! On September 17, 1919, 55 Brothers, submitted a petition to the Grand Lodge for the formation of Fidelity Lodge, led by Worshipful Merton Williams; and on September 10, 1919, Fidelity Lodge was chartered, they still meet in this building to this day.
At this present moment of my soliloquy The Order of the Eastern Star– open to both men and women, but run by women, and which is an appendant body to Masonry- holds their meetings in this building, along with lodges that use to meet in Malden: Converse Lodge, The Independence Lodge, and Mt. Vernon-Galilean Lodge. Needless to say, this building does not have a lack of use- we also rent out the hall, if anyone is interested.
As Brother George R. Jones said at the end of his address at the One Thousandth Communication in 1920, “I have taken in this recital all the time that can be spared from the exercises of a busy evening.” Ladies and Gentlemen, with this rededication, I say to the citizens of Melrose, that we also rededicate ourselves to you! Masonry has grown up with Melrose herself, and as good friends, let us enjoy the privileges that this friendship provides. Thank you most humbly and heartedly for this opportunity to speak. I wish all assembled here today good health and prosperity. Be well, thank you.