An Abbreviated History of
St. John’s Lodge #115
by Mark Sigismund, P.M.
Founded prior to 1731, St. John’s Lodge #1 (in which Benjamin Franklin later was made a Mason) was the first of four lodges warranted in the Pennsylvania Colony by the Grand Lodge of England (Moderns). In 1758 the last of these obtained a warrant from the Grand Lodge of England (Ancients) and became the nucleus for what was to become our present Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania. The other three, including St. John’s #1, passed into oblivion.
Just over a half century later, and in time-honored manner, 13 members of Washington Lodge #59 petitioned Grand Lodge to form a new lodge in Philadelphia, and to name it St. John’s, memorializing the name of the original first lodge. The petition was granted, and on February 19, 1810 our St. John’s Lodge was consecrated and constituted in ancient form, with a warrant numbered 115. Installed at the same time were Brothers James McCurdy, W.M., Bayse Newcomb, Jr., S.W. and Joshua Sullivan, J.W. The original by-laws adopted by the Lodge called for stated meetings on the first Saturday of every month; that each member should pay on every stated meeting night, fifty cents, and that visiting Brethren should do the same. The initiation fee was fixed at $30.00.
Lodge membership and its activity increased until it entered the anti-Masonic period or “craze” as it was more appropriately called. In April, 1837 one of the Grand Lodge historians called it the “Dark Age of Freemasonry” and reported that the warrants of about 55 lodges were vacated. Our records show that no lodge was opened for several months that year because an insufficient number of Brethren were present. At the stated meeting of Dec. 6, 1837 a resolution was passed “that this Lodge take into consideration the propriety of giving up this warrant to the Right Worshipful Grand Lodge, and joining Lodge #2.” However, at another meeting on Dec. 21st it was considered inexpedient to dissolve the lodge, and new officers were elected for the ensuing year.
With the craze over, the lodge continued to prosper, membership increased, and in 1919, when “the boys came home” from World War I, 116 candidates were initiated. In 1925 our membership topped out at 975, but decreased the following year when some of our members resigned to found “Sesquicentennial Lodge” in honor of our country celebrating that milestone. Before being founded, however, it was changed to Bayse Newcomb Lodge, named after our founding Senior Warden, and only member to become Grand Master (1817-1821). In December, 1985, Perkins Lodge #402 merged with us.
The backbone of any lodge is its workers and Past Masters. Through 2014, 197 brethren have occupied our Oriental Chair as Worshipful Master. To these may be added seven Past Masters who have been admitted to our lodge, and 111 Past Masters plus one admitted Past Master of Perkins Lodge #402. There is no complete record as to the military service of our members. It is known that we have had Brethren who were veterans in all conflicts from the Civil War through Vietnam, and veterans from later conflicts may still be joining us. A bronze plaque, currently in Grand Lodge library was made in 1918 and lists our veterans from the first World War. They, and others, have been recognized at Veteran’s Day meetings since that time, more especially eight of our brethren who sacrificed their lives in combat.
A list of lodge activities over the years could be very lengthy, so only a few are mentioned here. To form a solid financial foundation for our lodge, and its charitable activities, a Permanent Fund was established in 1848, and a Permanent Charity Fund in 1917. Lodge minutes details charity given to other lodges and their members who suffered from Civil War action, to our aged members or their widows. Like many other lodges we helped underwrite the construction of several Grand Lodge Masonic Temples, participated in laying the cornerstone of the present one, and 180 members marched in its dedication parade on September 26, 1873. Patriotically, Liberty Bonds were purchased in 1917, contributions made to a War Relief Fund, and money set aside from initiation fees to help build and support the Masonic Homes at Elizabethtown. In all, St. John’s Lodge #115 is proud of its heritage, beginning a new phase in the Lodge’s growth as it held its bicentennial in 2010.
[Slightly updated November, 2014 — D. M. Director, P.M.]
For more on the early history of Freemasonry in America, click here.
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