History

of

Saint Johnsville Lodge No. 611

 

W\Charles Buckingham

April, 1866 - First Master of

Saint Johnsville Lodge No. 611

 

A Century of Masonry in Saint Johnsville

First 50 Years

 

Excerpts from an address delivered by Hon. Martin Walrath at

The laying of the Masonic Temple cornerstone, July 20, 1915 .

In the early part of the year 1866, a number of Masonic Brethren residing in St. Johnsville and vicinity, after obtaining consent of other Masonic Lodges in the jurisdiction, petitioned the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New York for letters of dispensation to .form a new Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons in St. Johnsville under the name of St Johnsville Lodge No. 611, and in this petition nominated: Worthy Brother Charles Buckingham to be Master, Alexander Don to be Senior Warden, and Capt. John P. Kneeskern to be Junior Warden.  

A dispensation for a new lodge was granted by the Most Worshipful Grand Master Robert D. Holmes.  The brethren met as a Lodge and held their first meeting under the dispensation in a room of a building standing at that time on the site of the Van Deusen Block (now the St. Johnsville Hardware) on the north side of West Main Street .  That building burned about the year 1870.  

A Lodge was thus. organized receiving petitions for membership, and on the fifth day of April, 1866, conferred the degree of Entered Apprentice on our late Brothers Adam Vedder and Felix R. Green who were on the 7th day of April, 1866, passed to the degree of Fellowcraft, and the Brothers were raised to the degree of Master Mason on the 3rd day of May following.  The Lodge continued its work under dispensation until the 7th day of July, 1866.  The officers and members having given proof of their skill and ability to conduct a Masonic communication on said 17th day of July, 1866, a warrant or charter was granted by the Grand Lodge, to “St. Johnsville Lodge, No. 611 of Free and Accepted Masons," the name given to the petition, and St. Johnsville Lodge took its place among the Brotherhood of Masonic Lodges of the State of New York and the 19th Masonic District.  

The names of the charter members as they appear on the roll are as follows:  

Charles Buckingham

Peter F. Nellis

Alexander Don

Peter Crouse

John P. Kneeskern

Amos Klock

Gordon Hough

Isaiah Failing

Walter Hough

John R. Carpenter

William Klock

Nathan Nellis

W. Harrison Smith

Orville Powell

Wm. Girvin Vedder

Horace Holden

Absolum Thumb

Jacob D. Fox

Hezekiah Baker

Alfred Nellis

Jacob H. Markell

Nathan Briggs

William Shaver

Morris Klock

Johnathan Mosher

Jacob S. Kellen

Peter P. Kneeskern

Adam K. Devendorf

John H. Kneeskern

Lorenzo Gilbert

Ambrose Klock

Alonzo Nellis

 Of these thirty-four pioneer Masons, a large number were originally members of Fort Plain Lodge except Brother Charles Buckingham and Brother Carpenter who were members of Evergreen Lodge of Richfield Springs.  Brother Marken who was a member of Brockport Lodge, Brother Nathan Briggs who was a member of Fish House Lodge, Brother Marvin Wilsey who was a member of B.B. French Lodge of Washington, D. C. and Brother George Gilbert who was a member of Garoga Lodge.  

At the fiftieth year mark of St. Johnsville Lodge, only three charter members were still living.  They were Brothers Peter F. Nellis, John H. Kneeskern and Isaiah Failing.  

St. Johnsville Lodge, No. 611, during its first fifty years of existence occupied the rooms on West Main Street first mentioned, rooms over the .former Ervin A. Handy store (now Capece Motor Sales), rooms in the Mosher Block, and quarters over the old bank building on East Main Street (American Legion Hall).  Charles Buckingham held the office of Worshipful Master for thirteen consecutive years.

Adam and Alvira Vedder, whose vision of a beautiful Temple growing on the spot where their old Homestead stood was realized December 7, 1916 when the Temple was dedicated.

Sister Alvira Vedder, wife of Brother Adam Vedder (the first to take the degree of Master Mason in the Lodge), died on the 9th day of August, 1914.  Her home, then standing on the site of the present temple, was bequeathed by Mrs. Vedder to St. Johnsville Lodge No. 611, for the purpose of erecting thereon a Masonic Temple as a memorial to her deceased husband with the provision that such building be erected within a period of two years; otherwise the property to pass to the Masonic Home in the City of Utica.  The highly appreciated gift was accepted for the purpose intended and, with the assistance of Brother George C. Butler procured plans and specifications for a Temple and entered into contract for its construction with a master builder, Edward Everett.  

THE HISTORY AND BUILDING OF OUR TEMPLE  

At a regular communication held October 15th, 1914, a committee was appointed composed of Brothers Edward Everett, chairman; P. M. Ezra L. Dillenback, P. M. Fayette B.Smith, Chauncey Robinson and Worshipful Brother Frank Ottman to secure plans and sketches for a suitable temple on the site of the home bequeathed to the lodge by the late Mr. and Mrs. Adam Vedder.  Several architects presented plans.  Carl Haug, architect of Little Falls, N.Y., submitted the plans which were accepted.  

Bids were sought, and at a meeting May 26, 1915 , the contract was awarded to Brother Edward Everett, his bid being the lowest.  

Brother George C. Butler was appointed legal advisor during the erection of the Temple .  

The work of removing the former home of Brother Vedder and his wife was begun about the middle of May, 1915, and on the afternoon of May 30th about one hundred Brethren and many members of Maquaes Chapter, O.E.S. assembled on the northeast corner of the property and after a prayer was offered by Rev. Frederick L. Perkins, of St. John's Reformed Church, Brothers Peter F. Nellis and John H. Kneeskern, two charter members of the Lodge proceeded to "break ground" and removed the first earth.  On June 15th the contract for heating and plumbing was awarded to William H. Lenz of St. Johnsville, while the contract for electric wiring was awarded to the Electrical Supply Co. of Little Falls.  

A building committee was appointed composed of Brothers E. L. Dillenbeck, chairman; James H. Healy, DeWitt C. Schiffer, Fayette B. Smith, C. Robinson and W. M. Ottman to work with the trustees during the erection of the building.  At the completion of the Temple this committee was made a house committee.  On June 25th the foundation was completed.  

On July 20th, 1915 , occurred the laying of the cornerstone, the ceremony pertaining thereto being performed by the following Grand. Lodge Officers:  

Grand Master, M. W. George Friefeld

Senior G.M. R. W. George M. Albot

Grand Treasurer, R. W. William. H. Miller

Grand Secretary, M. W. John W. Vrooman

Deputy G.M., Acting R. W. Frank A. Schmidt

Junior G.M. Alvin C. Bullock

Deputy G.M., Acting R. W. Frank A. Schmidt

Senior G.W., R. W. George M. Albot

Junior G.W., R. W. Alvin C. Bullock

Grand Chaplain, R. W. William F. Kettle

Grand Marshall, R. W. Edward M. Fethers

The day being a beautiful midsummer day, a large number of Masons were present representing all the Masonic Lodges in this jurisdiction as well as many other Lodges.  

The structural steel was then placed and the laying of brick began August 2. Work on the roof was started about October 15 and by November 1, the building was proof against the inclemencies of the weather.  From November 6th to the 20th a fair was held in the building, the proceeds from which netted the Lodge about $3,200.  Work was then resumed by the workmen and the building completed about Sept. 15, 1916 .  The decorating of the Lodge rooms was performed by the Haskins Glass Co., of Rochester which also furnished the memorial windows which were subscribed for by the following: Brother Joseph H. Reaney and Mrs. Joseph H. Reaney, each two pairs: Brother Albert Moyer, Henry G. Vedder, Myron and Franklin J. Snell, Jonathan, Vedder, Mrs. W. N. Richards and the present officers of the Lodge, each one pair.  

The memorial window which we unveil today to the donors of this property, Brother Adam and his wife Alvira Vedder, was paid for by donations from the Brethren who take this means of providing a constant and perpetual reminder of those who have made this home of ours possible.  The committee appointed to furnish the lodge rooms and the club rooms on the first floor was composed of Brothers C. L. Ashley, P. C. Furbeck, James H. Healy, James Roach and John Roof.  The Lodge held its first meeting in these rooms on October 7, 1916 , and today we are dedicating this building for the use of Masons for all time.  We have a home of which every member of our Lodge can be proud, a building in which every member should feel that he has an equal interest and which he should help to sustain to the best of his ability, a place where he may feel that he is ever welcome; a temple to which every Brother Mason in this jurisdiction can point with pride, and this Lodge hopes that our efforts may be an incentive to other Lodges who have not as yet a home of their own, to work the harder to accomplish that result.  St. Johnsville Lodge, like all other Lodges, has at several periods talked of a home, but it remained for Mrs. Alvira Vedder, wife of our deceased Brother, Adam Vedder to put the final energy into our members, which has resulted in the erection of this beautiful building.  Our home for all time, this Masonic Temple erected by St. Johnsville Lodge, No. 611, F.&A.M. A.D. 1916.  

THE SECOND HALF CENTURY OF MASONRY IN ST. JOHNSVILLE

Much of the first 50 years of Masonry in St. Johnsville was devoted to the formation of the Lodge and the innumerable problems connected with growth, relocation, and the always-present desire to own its own temple.  The second half century has witnessed .the achievement of' that goal, repayment of the debt incurred in the process and establishment of St. Johnsville Lodge as an important institution of service to the community in which it functions.  The temple itself has been utilized not only for the fraternity, but has been made available to many other groups; it has served youth, in cooperation with village recreational projects; it has served the ill as an emergency hospital; it has been the scene of dinners by local industries and of testimonials honoring men and women for their outstanding service to their fellow citizens.  

The temple was dedicated in 1916 as a part of the 50th anniversary program when an attendance of 320 Brethren was recorded.  

Only two years later, in 1918, the influenza epidemic created an emergency during which the facilities of the temple were placed at public disposal for use as a hospital.  The Grand Master, John W Vrooman of Herkimer, was a guest and speaker here the following year.  His interest in St. Johnsville Lodge was again demonstrated in 1926 when he came here to present the charge, warrant, and jewel to Philip C. Furbeck, newly appointed from St. Johnsville Lodge to serve as District Deputy of the Fulton-Herkimer-Montgomery District.  

In 1929, final payment of $3,000 on the temple mortga ge was made.  In 1930, funds were received from the Albert Moyer estate to set up within the local lodge a permanent relief fund, interest from which is still used for emergency Masonic relief.  

Upon the death of M.W. George Fiefeld, past Grand Master, in 1931, his widow returned to St. Johnsville Lodge the trowel he had used on July 20, 1915 , in laying the cornerstone of the temple.  

Comfort and ease of maintenance in the temple were greatly improved in 1936 when Brother Joseph H. Reaney donated an oil burner, one of many benefactions to his lodge and community.. A year later, the lodge voted to reduce the initiation fee to $35.  

The 75th anniversary of the Lodge was observed in 1941 with an address by the then R. W. Carl W. Peterson of Ilion , who later was to become Grand Master.  In another part of the anniversary observance a memorial service was conducted for the 150 men who had died while members of St. Johnsville Lodge.  Coltmlan Taylor of Amsterdam delivered the memorial address.  

World War II brought the call to service to a number of St. Johnsville Masons, first of whom was Wilfred Y. Kraft, who was Junior Warden of the lodge at the time, in 1942.  

Dues were increased to $15 per year, in 1946.  In 1950, a new Holy Bible was presented to the lodge, which then had 173 members, and in the same year R.W. Jesse H. Grant received his commission as a Grand Lodge representative.  

St. Johnsville Lodge always has been a leading contributor to the Brotherhood Fund, and the records show that in 1951 it raised $324.50 for that purpose.  The following year, St. Johnsville Lodge became the first in the state to ratify an increase in Grand Lodge dues to assist the Masonic Home in Utica .  

The lodge moved ahead with giant strides in 1953 and 1954.  Lloyd McDuffee was appointed District Deputy Grand Master in 1953, and in the same year the stage was ripped from the auditorium and the area converted into a kitchen; W. William Wilsey received his 60-year palm.  In addition to an enthusiastic homecoming for R. W. McDuffee, the following year, a second set of bowling alleys was installed.  

In 1955 the faded rug, worn thin by the tread of many seeking to carry out the plans on the trestleboard, was replaced with a handsome new one provided through the generosity of Brother and Mrs. Adam J. Horn.  Extensive redecorating of the temple was completed the following year. Mr. Horn received a Grand Lodge commission, and Brother George T. Snell became a 68.year member.  

The Village of St. Johnsville celebrated its centennial in 1957, and our Lodge received the grand prize for its float in the biggest parade ever held in the village.  Allen H. Samuels of Fort Plain was our District Deputy.  

Improvements continued.  In 1958, a new electric organ was dedicated; the Lodge again was honored when Adam J. Horn received the 33rd Degree.  In 1959, a public address system for the lodge room was donated by Mrs. Ella May Walrath.  

A Past Master's Association was formed in 1961 to assist, when needed, the officers and trustees of the lodge on any matter for the good of the order.  

During the summer recess in 1962 the lodge completely remodeled the bowling alleys in the basement of the temple.  Many of the brethren gave their time and talents to this project.  The area was a bee hive of activity as new alleys were installed, making four in all; and new automatic pinsetters replaced the old "semi-automatic."  New ceilings, furnishings, and freshly painted walls made this one of the most modern bowling alleys in the area.  

Willard S. Beard became District Deputy Grand Master in 1963.  He was accompanied on all his visitations by goodly numbers of men from his home lodge.  A renewed interest in Masonry began to emerge in St. Johnsville.  

Young men who had been reluctant to assume the responsibilities of lodge office agreed, to serve, and at present the average age of the officers of St. Johnsville Lodge is believed to be the lowest of any lodge in New York State .  

There is new blood new energy.  There is a renewed dedication to the principles of Freemasonry.  Fresh enthusiasms are tempered by the sage counsel of the many brethren with long and illustrious records of service to the craft.  But the trend is forward.  

The plans on the trestleboard are challenging.

          

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