History of Great Lights Lodge #181

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The following is R. F. B. Portman's talk given at the 75th Anniversary of Great Lights Lodge No 181.

Diamond Jubilee
On Friday, June 6, 1941, Great Lights Lodge #181 A.F.& A.M., will be 75 years old. Our meeting this evening is to give fitting recognition to this important occasion.

In reviewing the history of Masonry in Decorah, we find that, had it not been for a peculiar quirk of fate this would have been our 85th anniversary, and instead of being Great Lights Lodge #181 A.F.& A.M it would have been Decorah Lodge #98 A.F.& A.M. In reviewing the history of so old and well established organization as ours, we must necessarily imagine we are living at a time when our city was still in it’s infancy and the great struggle of Civil War days was yet to come.

Perusing the records we find that on Nov. 3 1856, a dispensation was granted to the “Decorah Lodge”. The archives of the lodge did not disclose who the charter members were, under this dispensation, but we find that on the 3rd day of June, 1857, a charter was granted to “Decorah Lodge #98” with the following officers and members:

E. Parliman W.M.
M. McCauley S.W.
W. D. Gilmore J.W.
R. Logan Treas.
F.M. Espy Secy
Joseph Lennon S.D.
B.F. Jones J.D.
James McCauley Tyler
C. W. Freeman -- F. Comstock -- L. Standring -- E. E. Cooley
E. G. Maddock -- J. B. Emery -- H. A. Cleghorn -- J. E. B. Morgan
J. H. Clemmer -- John Anmon -- J. H. Varnell -- T. R. Crandell
T. B. Willets -- A. D. Paul -- J. W. Hard -- J. Finn
M. Zeeter -- S. B. Ervin -- L. D. Townsley -- H. H. Packard
H. A. Baker -- James McCauley -- L. R. Tibbitts -- W. Wood
James Temple

This is indeed an imposing list of names and evidently a very flourishing lodge at that time. We must remember that this was prior to “car days”, and other modern conveniences, so that when these brethren attended lodge, a far greater effort was needed than at present.

The uncertainties of human life were just as evident those days, as in our time, and we find, according to records this young lodge suffered a severe mortality . It is noted that “Decorah Lodge #98” lost it’s charter in June 1861.

On June 5, 1861, Brother Hard of Decorah Lodge #98 address the Grand Lodge is regard to the condition of the Decorah Lodge and he asked that arrearages due from that lodge be remitted. This matter was referred to the Committee on Chartered Lodges.

On June 7, 1861, the following action was taken by the Grand Lodge:

“Brother Hartsock, from the Committee on work of Chartered Lodges, submitted the following report, which was on motion agreed to.

"Your Committee on Chartered Lodges would beg leave to make a further report: That we have had under consideration the case of Decorah Lodge, #98, and upon due examination of the unpleasant difficulties of this lodge, your committee unanimously recommend the adoption of the following resolution, viz:

"Resolved, That the charter of Decorah Lodge #98 be revoked and the lodge dissolved, and that if the Grand Master, after examining into the character and standing of the brethren in that jurisdiction, should find them worthy and that the cause of Masonry would be promoted thereby, he grant them a dispensation for the formation of a new lodge free of charge. And be it further

"Resolved, that if a new lodge should be formed, the jewels and furniture of said Decorah Lodge #98 be transferred to the said new lodge when so organized."

The charter was revoked by Grand Lodge on June 7, 1861. On the Grand Lodge record of extinct lodges, the notation is made opposite Decorah Lodge in the column for records and equipment received "none". We do not know what became of the records or jewels, or in fact any of the furniture or paraphernalia.

It appears that Certificates of Good Standing were issued to six brethren. However, apparently none of them became members of Great Lights Lodge when it was formed in 1865. We cannot vouch for the spelling of these names since there is variation in the Returns and the Proceedings, but following is a list and the corresponding dates of those receiving such Certificates:

E. Parlimen, February 14, 1863
W. W. Wilsie, (no record)
John Beemer, July 20, 1868
A. L. Freeman, April 9, 1869
Adam Heckart, April 17, 1871
L. D. Townsley, July 15, 1894

This young lodge evidently made a very favorable impression with the Grand Lodge bodies before its demise for we find that Brother Edwin Parlimen of Decorah Lodge #98 was Senior Grand Steward in 1857.
The meetings of Decorah Lodge #98 were held in the old H. S. Weiser bank bldg., now occupied by Alice’s Beauty Shoppe, three doors west of the old Stiles Hotel now known as the Commercial Hotel.

For the next few years, Masonry lay dormant, evidently due to the Civil War. Records do not indicate what happened to all these good Masons, but we hope many united with Union Band Lodge #66 at Frankville, as that was the only other Masonic lodge in Winneshiek County at that time.

Towards the close of the Civil War, a new interest in Masonry was evidenced and we find that on July 13, 1865 a dispensation was granted by Grand Master E. A. Guilbert for the formation of Great Lights Lodge #181 A.F. & A.M. This interest or revival of Masonry was largely due to the energy and enthusiasm of Chas. S. Rollins, who was a charter member of Great Lights Lodge and its first Worshipful Master. Brother Rollins later became Deputy Grand Master in 1869. The dispensation granted showed C. S. Rollins as W.M.; C. E. Sweep as S.W.; Cyrus McKay as J.W. and 14 others -- namely:

W. F. Burford -- J. E. Powers -- D. Lawrence -- E. B. Plumb
J. C. Richardson -- M. W. Sherman -- D. C. Monty -- A. H. White
J. H. Montgomery -- A. Skoffstad -- W. Franklin -- A. J. B. Abbey
L. D. Townsley -- H. H. Croft

The records do not reveal whether or not the newly organized lodge used the jewels and furniture of the old Decorah Lodge #98 for as previously stated, no records were found as to the disposition of these items: The Grand Lodge recommendation, however, when the charter of Decorah Lodge #98 was recalled, stated that if a new lodge was organized, it was to make use of the jewels and furniture of the old lodge.

On June 6, 1866, the charter was granted. Evidently the seeds of Masonry were planted on very fertile ground for during the short year, while under dispensation, the lodge grew to a membership of 43 with the following as officers and members of the craft:

C. S. Rollins W.M.
C. E. Sweep S.W.
C. McKay J.W.
H: H. Burford Treas.
J. E. Power Secy.
D. Lawrence S.D.
E. B. Plumb J,D.
M.M. Sherman S.S.
D. C. Monty J.S.
J. 0. Richardson Tyler

A. Skoffstad -- J. H. Montgomery -- James Hargraves -- W. Franklin
A. J. B. Abbey -- Rev. R. Swearingen -- J. E. Meuser -- A. Davis
Henry Aaseln -- E. McCaffery -- D. N. Hawley -- Jas. McDonald
D. N. Hoyt -- D. C. Bacon -- N. Woleben -- W. McIntosh
Chas. Allen -- B. C. Baldwin -- W. W. Wheelock -- E. A. Miller
B. B. Green -- John Scott -- C. W. Gurney -- A. W. Tinkham
P. Friedman -- Jas. Kelly -- G. L. Lewis

A "Pretty good record” you'll admit brethren, for one short year and one which should be the envy of every Worshipful Master who followed. As the years passed there have been slight increases and decreases until today the roll contains the names of 138 members in good standing.

When Great Lights Lodge was organized, its first rooms were on the second floor of the old stone building on the corner of Water & Mill St. now occupied by Bernatz Grocery. In 1867, the First National Bank was erected, and the 3rd story was especially fitted for lodge purposes. The newspapers of that date state "that it was pronounced the best in Iowa". In 1882, Mr. Barthell erected the 3rd story on this, our present building for lodge to use and the lodge then made arrangements to occupy both the 2nd and 3rd floors as at present.

This building was purchased by Great Lights Lodge in the year of 1920. During the time we have owned the building various changes and improvements have been made and if C. S. Rollins, our first Worshipful Master could return, we think he would be very well pleased with the fruits of his labors.

At one time there were five Masonic Lodges in Winneshiek County, namely:

Union Band #f66 Frankville
Great Lights #181 Decorah
Areturus #237 Ossian
Copestone #316 Calmar
Cement #567 Burr Oak

The lapse of time however have wrought many changes. We find that Cement Lodge #567 at Burr Oak disbanded, some members joining our lodge but most of them joining with the lodge at Canton, Minn. This probably was due to the fact that Canton Lodge was closer to Burr Oak and a good neighborly feeling existed between them. During 1935, Union Band Lodge #66, upon vote of both lodges was consolidated with Great Lights Lodge #181 at Decorah. In this transaction we gained 15 members, assumed all liabilities of Union Band Lodge and also took over control of all properties of said lodge. The furniture and jewels in our small (adjoining?) lodge room are our heritage from this consolidation.

During the 75 years of our existence the following brethren having been honored, by election have presided in the East as Masters of Great Lights Lodge.

C. S. Rollins 1865-66-67
Dan Lawrence 1868-69-70
T. A. Watson 1871
John F. Meuser 1872-73
Dan Lawrence 1874-75
R. W. Jamison 1876
Geo. L. Wendling 1877
S. B. Owen 1878-79
Joshua Lantry 1880
Dan Lawrence 1881
S. P. Barr 1882-83-84-85
F. S. Landers 1886-87
Cyris McKay 1888
E. Mather 1889
C. M. Boutelle 1890-91
R. F. B. Portman 1892
A. N. Vance 1893
F. S. Landers 1894
C. O. Moore 1895
A. F. Barfoot 1896
B. Blakeman 1897
G. B. Lennon 1888
C. O. Moore 1899
F. W. Daubney 1900-01-02-03
W. A. Zeiglemeier 1904
H. J. Green 1905-06-07-08-09
R. H. Miller 1910
J. F. B. Portman 1911
F. W. Conover 1912
W. Headington 1913
J. G. McCallum 1914-15
Frank Jewell 1916-17
E. J. Parman 1918
H.. L. Urban 1919-20
Geo. H. Baker 1921
Allen Wise 1922
Grant D. Bollman 1923
H. B. Winters 1924
S. R. Whitney 1925
Frank Christen 1926
A. N. Hanson 1927
Chester K. Peck 1928
J. N. Lee 1929
Earl Marsh 1930
Horace B. Brickner 1931
Oliver Faldet 1932
Gordon H. Luce 1233
Einar Lund 1934
Carleton Peck 1933
I. R. Hughes 1936
J. H. Rickels 1936
T, A. Roberts 1937
C. J. Glaser 1938
J. N. Lee 1939
Ray Birdesll 1940

In all fifty past masters, of whom twenty-four have answered the summons of the Grand Master of the Universe, one stricken from the roll, and twenty-five are still active in various lodge duties. We offer our humble apology at this time for omitting the name of J. F. B. Portman from our anniversary program, as one of our past masters. He served during the year of 1911. Due to the similarity of initials with R. F. B. Portman, our author mistook it to to the same name.

During these many years there has been nothing extraordinary in the Lodge’s life. Much good has been done in the way of relief to our brethren, in the usual quiet manner. No serious disturbances have entered into the workings of our lodge and all have worked in peace and harmony. Really a record to be proud of.

There was one amusing incident that occurred. The records do not mention a great deal about it, but the secretary did not let it pass entirely for he wrote "he thereupon refused to submit to the requirements of the order and left -- unceremoniously and without reason. Some years later there was published in “The Voice of Masonry" a short poem. The author was one of our past masters and with your permission I shall read it.

The hall was dark as night; the gang were at their Prayers;
'Mid rattling bones, and sobbing groans, The goat dashed up the stairs:
The waiting victim quaked, though bravest in the town,
And, as the beast rushed toward the east, The candidate rushed down!
He got one glimpse within; The room was vague and dim
By all the shapes of sin, It was enough for him!
Imagination's might- Filled out the picture black—
A corpse upon the right; Beyond-- the scourge and rack!
Upon its fiery bed, That smote his aching sight,
The branding iron, red, Grew redder, redder-- white!
He go with such a crowd? He to their alter come?
If it might be allowed, He'd rather gallop home!
Picture his wild despair, Imagine how he felt,
Who saw a dozen there Who'd slug him as he knelt!
He saw a wicked glance! And trembled for his pelf;
He give the rogues a chance? Not if he knew himself!
He caught somewhere a whispered word; His fears to frenzy rose.
It could but be inferred, They meant to steal his clothes!
He could not-- dared not-- speak, The perspiration cold
Down limbs all trembling weak-- In icy courses rolled!
And-- ah! a chance t o take! An answer to his prayers!
He made a sudden break, He tumbled down the stairs;
No breath in wild appeals He wasted in his run
Who feared that at his heels, There raced the evil one.
The hall was dark as night; the gang went slowly home;
Yet Masons say that to this day, A laugh lives in the room!
And that, when all the boys are gone, and nights are dark and chill,
The goat they own sits all alone , And smiles about it still!

In the seventy-five years of our existence, Great Lights Lodge has been represented on the Grand Lodge staff as follows:

Chas. S. Rollin Deputy Grand Master, 1868 N. Woleben Senior Grand Steward, 1874 C. H. Hitchcock Grand Marshal, 1883 Rev. H. H. Greene Grand Chaplain, 1909

This record suggests that Great Lights Lodge should put forth efforts to have representation in our Grand Lodge in the near future, as it does not appear that we have had our just share of representation in this dignified body.

In commemorating our Diamond Jubilee tonight, we hope that many of us may be here to help celebrate our Centennial. May Great Lights Lodge #181 continue to prosper with pleasure to its members and honor to the Fraternity.

Revised: 04/14/2019 © 1999-2019 - Great Lights Lodge No 181 -  All rights reserved.