HOUSTON COUNTY MASONRY
(By Charles A. Dorival)
A history of Masonry in Houston county and of its founders would be in a measure a history of the county, for
the stalwart pioneers who founded the county and who created this beautiful and prosperous community from a wilderness
of hills and prairie, also founded our lodges, and their instructive tongues transmitted to us, their descendants,
unimpaired the excellent tenants of our institution.
Grand Master Moses Sherbourne in his address before the Fourth Annual Communication of the Grand Lodge in 1856,
relates that "In May last (1855), I received the petition of several brothers residing in this territory opposite
La Crosse, in the State of Wisconsin, for permission to join the Lodge at La Crosse." This permission was
granted, but does not have appeared to have satisfied the Masons of Houston county, for on February 22, 1856, dispensation
was granted by Grand Master A. C. Pierson for the establishment of a lodge at Hokah, and on January 8, 1857, charter
was granted to this Lodge as Hokah No. 17.
In 1857, this lodge was visited by the Grand Master, and he reports that several members were in attendance whose
residence was 15 miles distant, that not only were they in attendance at that meeting, but that they were generally
punctual at all meetings. Their example should be imitated by our present members.
C. G. Wyhoff was the first Master of this lodge, and other Brothers prominent in its organization and early history
were C. W. Thompson, Edward Thompson, B. F. Pidge, D. L. Clements and S. J. Printiss.
In March, 1860, the Charter, clothing, jewels, and furniture of the lodge were destroyed by fire, and at the next
meeting of the Grand Lodge we find that the Grand Lodge dues were remitted and a new charter granted without fee.
In these days Hokah lodge was one of the strong lodges in the state, and its members were honored by elective and
appointive offices in the Grand Lodge.
With the removal of the railroad shops and mill from Hokah the lodge began to decline, and in the report of the
Grand Master in 1906, we find that the District Deputy reports that there had been no meeting of the lodge for
5 years. Investigation of the Grand Master disclosed that the lodge returns showed two restored during the year
and one withdrawn. Examination of the returns for 1904, showed that 17 members were stricken from the roll that
year. The Grand Master relates writing to the secretary, and receiving a reply stating that the last meeting of
the lodge was held December 28, 1904. at which time the names of 17 members were stricken from the roll. The constitution
of the Grand Lodge provides that the failure of a Lodge to hold a meeting for one year shall be cause for forfeiture
of its charter, and on June 25, 1906, the charter of this, the pioneer lodge of the county, was surrendered. The
last officers of the lodge were: L. T. Lyon, Master; J. D. Becker, Senior Warden; and W. S. Moe, Secretary.
The next lodge organized was Caledonia, No. 20, dispensation for the formation of which was granted in 1857. The
lodge held its first meeting, as a Lodge, U. D., on Friday evening, Oct. 2, 1857, in the room over the north end
of Ara D. Sprague's store, located on the present site of the Sprague State Bank.
At this meeting there were present William B. Burfield, W. M.; William F. Dunbar, S. W.; Robert S. Williams, J.
W.; Samuel McPhail, A. D. Sprague, William W. Willis; and as visiting brothers, James Hiner and Eugene Marshall
of Hokah Lodge, No. 17. A full charter was subsequently granted by the Grand Lodge, dated Jan 7, 1858. The first
applicant for the degrees conferred in Masonry was William D. Gibbs, who, after the usual preliminary steps was
duly elected, and was initiated Nov. 17, 1858.
At the first election of the Lodge on Jan. 21, 1858, the following officers were elected: R. S. Williams, Worshipful
Master; W. B. Burfield, Senior Warden; J. J. Belden, Junior Warden; W. D. Gibbs, Secretary; Ara D. Sprague, Treasurer;
and Samuel McPhail, Senior Deacon. These officers were duly installed by C. W. Thompson, Worshipful Master of Hokah
Lodge, No. 17.
In July, 1871, the Eastern Star Degree was conferred on a number of the wives and daughters.
For a complete history of this Lodge, see article by W. H. Harries, in Grand Lodge Report, 1905, pages 154-159.
On Nov. 15, 1858, G. M. Purson granted dispensation for the formation of Lodge at La Crescent, and the next session
of the Grand Lodge on Oct. 26, 1859, charter was issued to Morning Star Lodge, No. 29, at that place. with Capt.
J. C. Day as Master and J. O. Sawyer as Senior Warden. Others active in the formation of the Lodge were Herman
Gleason, Capt. E. H. Kennedy and Geo. F. Potter. This Lodge is still alive and vigorous.
Soon after the formation of the Lodge at La Crescent the Civil War broke out and the growth of Masonry was halted
and disorganized. A striking illustration of this condition is the fact that no session of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota
was, held during the year 1863.
An example of Masonic charity which will forever be well cherished occurred in 1867, when in response to an appeal
from G. M. Nash for contributions for relief of suffering in the southern states, Caledonia Lodge No. 20 contributed
$31.50, and Morning Star No. 29, La Crescent, $49.50. When one considers that the Great War had just ended and
that the contributions were made for the relief of those who had recently tried to dismember the Union, it affords
a great lesson in Masonic charity.
The Masons at Houston appear to have had some difficulty in organizing, as Grand Master Purson in his address to
the Grand Lodge in 1861 reports that "application for a dispensation was made for a new lodge at Houston.
Although the applicants were personal friends and the application was recommended by two lodges, I felt compelled
to decline to grant the request, because there are three lodges in the county and one would probably be materially
injured by the establishment of a new lodge, and because of the sparse population surrounding the proposed location
I doubted the ability of the brethren to sustain a lodge for any length of time."
No further effort appears to have been made until 1867, when Bro. E. H. Kennedy, representing Morning Star Lodge
No. 29, at the session of the Grand Lodge, presented a petition of the brethren residing at Houston for dispensation
to open a lodge at that place and dispensation was so granted Oct. 23, 1868, and the lodge was chartered as Mystic
Circle No. 79 on Jan. 15, 1869, with the following officers: E. H. Kennedy, Master; Eugene Marshall, S. W.; W.
S. Case, J. W., and F N Goodrich, secretary. The lodge at Houston was not, however, over its troubles, as its hall
was destroyed in 1870, and for over a year no meetings were held. The Grand Lecturer and Visitor expressed dubiousness
as to whether a lodge could ever be maintained at that place, and, in fact, for four or five years it remained
practically dormant. The Grand Lecturer in the same report complimented the now defunct Hokah Lodge, which shows
how times have since changed.
Though efforts for a lodge were previously made at Houston, the Brownsville Lodge antedates them in organization
and number of charter. Disposition was granted for a lodge at this place on Nov. 19, 1866. The report of the Committee
on U. D. Lodges in 1867 does not give this lodge a very flattering report of its work and recommended that it be
continued under dispensation. It was finally chartered as Brownsville Lodge No. 73 on Jan. 15, 1869, with the following
officers: J. B. Le Blond, Master; J. M. Riley, S. W.; Wm. M. Wycoff, J. W.; and E. B. Strong, secretary.
The lodge at Brownsville was never strong in numbers, having been founded at about the time of the decline but
had in its membership some very well informed Masons. It decayed with the decay of the town and on May 12, 1905,
its membership had shrank to sixteen, several of whom were non residents, and on that day surrendered its charter.
The members of this lodge, as with the defunct Hokah Lodge, largely became members of the lodge at La Crescent.
The last officers of the lodge were: C. E. McCan, M.; J. C. Beck, S. W.; W. F. McCan, J. W.; E. M. Winslow, secretary.
Orient is one of the most interesting lodges of the county, into whose history it would be well to go deeper than
the length of this paper or the material at hand would permit. Situated in a rural community, it is unique in the
county and there are probably only one or two such lodges in the State. It is strong and vigorous, new life having
taken the place of its founders. It owns its own place of meeting and a visit to the lodge is a great pleasure.
Dispensation was granted for its establishment Dec. 9, 1869, and it was chartered Jan. 11, 1871, as Orient Lodge
No. 84, with twelve members, its first officers being: Master, I. H. Goodwin; Senior Warden, Nathan Vance; Junior
Warden, Harrison Wood; Secretary, W. E. Barber.
The earliest statistics I have been able to procure as to membership I find in the proceedings of the Grand Lodge
for 1869 and are as follows. No. 17, Hokah, 48; No. 20, Caledonia, 36; No. 29, La Crescent, 44; No. 73, Brownsville,
14; No. 79, Houston, 25; total, 167.
The proceedings of 1870 give a list of the members of all the lodges in the State, and as a matter of interest
I have incorporated the names herein.
Hokah Lodge No. 17: Clark W. Thompson, Edward Thompson, Oreb Parker, Anthony Demo, Cyrus G. Wykoff, D. L. Clement,
John N. Klene, David House, B. F. Pidge, J. H. McMillan, L. S. Keeler, Geo. O. Evans, Wm. F. Weber, Waller Krick,
Michael Wilhelm, Hosea A. Wightman, E. Smith, John C. Snure, Sam J. Prentiss, Martin Diem, Lewis C. Foote, John
Currie, Horatio Selfridge, Donald Currie, Benjamin Locke, Lemuel Rossiter, Levi T. Lyon, Wm. Snure, James Thompson,
Andrea P. Coulter, Frederic Oben, John G. Craig, Chas. R. Townsend, Harvey H. Snure, Albert J. Snure, John Hallmeyer,
Wm. H. Harris, Worthington A. Prentiss, Richard M. Clements, Wm. H. H. Dunham, James McDowell, Lorenzo D. Maxwell,
Westy Luddington, Eugene Perkins, Wm. C. Pidge, Augustus B. Lyon, Wm. M. Wycoff, Milton W. Selby, Jacob F. Fleischer,
Wm. Purshall, Richard A. Murray, Columbia French, Lewis L. West, Geo. H. Willis, Norman Webster, D. A. McArthur
and Charles E. Massey. Total, 57.
Caledonia No. 20: Win. F. Dunbar, Chas. A. Coe, James J. Belden, Jacob Webster, Ara D. Sprague, Daniel Gates, Joshua
Rollins, Thomas W. Burns, Edward Nule, James O. Phillips, E. P. Dorwal, N. E. Dorwal, Wm. McGuines, Fernando S.
Laflin, Winston Taylor, Bailey B. Webster, Alonzo A. Preston, Wm. Angus, P. P. Wall, Theobald Krick, Daniel Hainz,
M. M. Wooden, Aaron Beard, John Polley, Edwin H. Stewart, D. G. Sprague, John O'Connor, Nicholas F. Damron, Millon
B. Metcalf, R. F. Judd, Henry M. Rollins, Ora N. Ferrin, Joseph Green and James B. Southworth. Total, 34.
Morning Star No. 29: L. R. Hall, R. N. Anderson, Thos. McRoberts, Herman Gleason, H. D. Gurley, W. W. Buck, Chas.
Guynup, Nathan Brown, W. H. Carroll, B. S. Grant, O. D. Grant, John Fumga, Jr., John J. Johnson, P. H. Grant, J.
H. Wheelock, Thos. Fletcher, James P. Bissett, Chas. H. Workman, H. Fosset, Alex Steadman, Wm. Steadman, Daniel
Steadman, and John A. Anderson, Geo. F. Potter, J. A. Higgins, James P. Berry, Henry T. Fox, John Fumga, Sr. J.
A. Sawyer, W. R. Anderson, S. C. Dick, L. Van Loon, F. Minke, Thomas Minshall. Total 34.
Houston No. 79: F. N. Goodrich, Edward D. Brown, Charles Tiffany, E. McIntire, Wm. E. Barber, Moses Emery, Neils
Scherlie, Cortland Fitch, Isaac Thompson, Ole G. Hogan, Thomas Rhodes, Chas. Emery, Henry McGowan, DeWitt C. Dyer,
Andrew L. Tennison, Henry I. Airon, Oscar Ainsworth, Gilbert M. Corey, Joshua Emery, Nathan Vance, E. H. Kennedy,
W. S. Case, Eugene Marshall, Albon P. Mann. Total, 24.
Brownsville No. 73: J. B. La Blond, Thomas McMichael, Harrison H. Selfridge, Harvey Bell, Chas. Mehl, Phillip J.
Schaller, John H. Smith, Jos. Habercorn, Henry Shrond, Geo. Hoffman, Jesse Bell, Fred Gluck, J. M. Riley, Valentine
Richard, Jacob Walters, Christopher Clark, John C. Beck, and E. B. Strong. Total, 18.
Total in county, as previous year, 167.
This carries the record down until all the lodges in the county had been organized. The growth of Masonry in the
county was slow from this period until the past few years. The returns for 1905 show a membership in the active
lodges in the county as follows: Caledonia No. 20, 61; Morning Star No. 29, 49; Mystic Circle No. 79, 44; Orient
No. 84, 16; total 170a very small increase in thirty five years. Since 1905 all the lodges in the county have experienced
a remarkable growth, considering the fact that the population of the county has decreased during the period since
that date. The returns for 1915 show: Caledonia No. 20, 96; Morning Star No. 29, 56; Mystic Circle No. 79, 72;
Orient No. 84, 31; total, 255; increase in ten years, 170.
The defunct lodges at Brownsville and Hokah can have contributed but little to this growth as Morning Star No.
29, the only lodge gaining any members through their discontinuance, gained but seven members during the period.