Lodge History - 1797-1997
The following page shows a history of Olive Branch Lodge from 1797 to 1997. I hope you find it interesting and informative. The outlined was compiled by Bro. Randolph G. Mogren, Jr., a revered Past Master of Olive Branch Lodge.
It is given to few fraternal organizations to attain nearly 225 years in age. To look back at the many events and accomplishments in the short space of a few minutes is a most difficult task. What I present to you is a summary of the efforts of countless brethren. What does stand out more than any single fact is the dedication and sincerity of our membership. These men of character have shaped and molded a history of Olive Branch Lodge that all may be justly proud.
The actual history of Olive Branch begins in April, 1796, more than a year before its official recorded history. In those preliminary months a group of gentlemen, presumable Masons, gathered together to discuss Masonic Matters. These early meetings were conducted in the Town of Oxford on Main Street in a licensed Public House owned by Samuel Campbell. Public Houses served as a "community center" almost from the time of settlement in the New World. Men folk gathered to gossip, hear the news from travelers, discuss local and national politics and, on occasions, take a drink or two.
For some 13 months this group of men met regularly in what must be described as spade work. Finally, on May 1st, 1797, the first formal organization was effected which four months later was to become the future Olive Branch Lodge. Historically brethren, Freemasonry, with its emphasis on brotherhood, enlisted many leading colonial Americans who saw in the order a vehicle for establishing the principles of liberty and equality.
To obtain a truer perspective and a keener appreciation of the antiquity of our lodge let us glance back 200 years to the time that a group of brethren assembled to discuss Masonic matters.
The new nation was not yet a decade old. George Washington, that splendid patriot, leader, and Mason, had just completed his eight years as president. Our nation was still in the process of adjustment to its new status as a Union. Civilization was found along only a fringe of country bordering on the Atlantic Ocean. From North to South it averaged only 100 to 150 miles inland. The pioneers had not yet begun the westward expansion over the Appalachians to the Ohio Valley. Beyond the settlements was a wilderness of virgin forests, wildlife of every description, and the American Indian. Communication was difficult and infrequent. Travel was by foot, horseback, or by oar and canoe along the lovely rivers and streams of America. Such was this country of ours in 1797 when Olive Branch Lodge was born.
Olive Branch Charter
Our charter was duly granted and bears the date September 14th, 1797. On September 25th the lodge held its first meeting under its charter in Campbell Hall, Oxford, Although it was now a regularly constituted lodge it had no official name. That situation would be remedied in due time. The charter was signed in 1797 by Most Wor. Paul Revere, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Mass. During his term of office Paul Revere signed twenty-three charters of which nine were signed in 1797. A second illustrious name contained on our charter is that of Isaiah Thomas. Wor. Bro. Thomas was a patriot and minuteman publisher of the Worcester Spy, and Senior Grand Warden of the Grand Lodge. It was he who read the Declaration of Independence from the steps of the South Church on Worcester Common. It took genuine moral courage to perform that deed in those perilous revolutionary days.
First Public Installation of Officers
On September 13th 1798 the first public ceremony of officers being installed was held in the Universalist Church in Oxford. This church is the oldest Universalist Church in the world, a great distinction for the humble edifice which appears not to be too keenly appreciated by Oxford or the Universalist bodies of today.
On April 17th, 1799, Bro. Jonathan Harris was voted a warm thank you for providing a name for the new lodge. In just what words the name was presented in not a part of the records. The name was presented simply as "Olive Branch." It is too bad that the symbolism of the olive branch could not apply to the world situations of today. Imagine nations living by the principles of our Fraternity.
For the next 18 years Olive Branch members met in the Jonathan Davis Mansion on the road leading from Oxford to the Major Samuel Waters residence in West Sutton.
First Board of Investment
In 1807 the treasury showed a balance of $404.87 and in 1810 a total of $565.16. This sum of money prompted the lodge to form a committee to see to the loaning of the monies of the lodge. At that time, no banks as we know them yet existed. That appointed committee would be considered today as a board of investment.
Building of First Hall
In the fall of 1815 the lodge, finding the treasury with ample funds, decided to build the hall it so long considered necessary. This it proceeded to do at a cost of $1215.08 but this structure was neither individual or exclusive. It was built as an annex to an old tavern in West Sutton called the Samuel Waters Tavern. This, our third home, was built by Ruben Waters at the corner of Central Turnpike and Town Farm Road in West Sutton. This building would e later called the Col. Jason Waters Hall. The records do not state if attendance showed a marked improvement, that I leave to the imagination of the assembled brethren.
The records do state that while the lodge continued to prosper, its proximity to the tavern taproom was not conducive to sobriety and decorum within the lodge rooms.
Perhaps because of this problem, the lodge in 1822, again discussed the question of relocation. Amidst a rather strong opposing vote the motion to relocate was passed.
First Dinner Expensed to the Lodge
In January, 1824, the lodge was quartered in its new structure called the Rufus Putnam building located in Sutton Center. This building was constructed in conjunction with the Sutton School District a cost of $714.92. In June of 1824 lodge members made their first visit to Millbury to observe St. John's Day. This meeting was held in Benedict Hall Located on the Old Common. A procession was formed at the hall and the brethren proceeded to the meeting house (no the First Congregational Church in Bramanville). Following the ceremony members returned to the hall to partake of a sumptuous meal and entertainment in which the ladies and neighboring clergymen participated. This participation by women in a Masonic observance is the first officially recorded.
Two New Lodges Formed From Original Membership
Growth of the lodge and difficulty of travel resulted in Oxford and Dudley applying for and receiving permission from Olive Branch to institute lodges of their own. The record reads, "That it was so voted to grant these requests and to also attend ceremonies of the Grand Lodge in instituting the new lodge in Oxford."
Our early historians make not that in the late 1820's the first manifestations of the unrest attending the Anti-Masonic excitement became apparent in Olive Branch. This unrest alluded to the beginning of a period of persecution and violence which swept the entire nation and lasted for twenty years.
It began when a certain William Morgan, a dissolute character of bad reputation threatened to write and publish certain articles which were to be entitled an "Exposition of the Ancient Craft of Masonry." These articles were to be published in collusion with David C. Miller, publisher of a weekly paper in Batavia, New York. His reputation was on a par with Morgan's namely worthless. Morgan suddenly and mysteriously disappeared and was never definitely seen again in Batavia. His disappearance aroused violent repercussions. Public clamor charged the Masons with responsibility for his disappearance. Other uglier charges ware made covering the whole gamut of crime. The charges were accompanied with persecutions and violence. These violence and excesses in some areas became so great that many lodges surrender their charters and ceased to exist. Many men of Masonic affiliation dared not attest to being a member of the craft. However, during the long years of trouble and danger, Olive Branch members continued to meet in a quiet and steadfast manner.
Two New Locations
In 1845 the urge to move resulted in the loge acquiring quarters in a building owned by the Sutton Manufacturing Company located at the corner of Boston and Providence Road in Wilkinsonville. This was a time, however, of general dissatisfaction with meeting accommodations in Wilkinsonville. For infrequent periods of time our brethren met in the Charles Toutellott Hall in West Sutton and even the Masonic Hall in Webster. Finally in 1859 the lodge voted to hold all future meetings in the town of Millbury. These quarters were located in the old Arcade Building located above the Methodist Church on Elm Street. Finally, in 1872, a new hall was constructed in the Rhodes-Simpson Block on South Main Street at a cost of $2888.33. This was the site of our present building.
After ten prosperous years misfortune overtook the lodge when on the morning of march 11th, 1882, the building was completely destroyed by fire. Among the irreplaceable losses was the ancient and valuable Bible presented by Isaiah Thomas. Fortunately, the lodge records, the alter Bible, the charter and the Master's Square were saved.
A new building was soon begun of durable brick. During construction the lodge meetings were conducted in the Grand Army Hall of the New Town Hall. When finally ready in 1884 the lodge room with its starry decked ceiling, its borders of symbolism's, the embellished Master's station, and the symbolical paintings to the right and left of the presiding Master indeed made our lodge one of the most beautiful and certainly the envy of countless visitors. From that time to now has served its members well.
As one reads the records from 1884, so many memorable events have occurred, I felt compelled to continue and present to you some of those of more notable historical value.
Blizzard of 1888
The Great Blizzard of 1888 occurred on the same day of a regularly scheduled lodge meeting. Despite the hazards of traveling four of our courageous brothers: Wor. Master Humphreys, Secretary Crane, Tyler George Gates, and Bro. Charles H. Hakes walked to the lodge and transacted the evening's business. They thus maintained the lodge record of continuous sessions since 1797. A similar incident again occurred in 1899 when six brothers appeared at the lodge room to maintain a record still intact today.
The following letter was read to the lodge members in October, 1906. "To the members of Olive Branch Lodge, A.F. & A.M., My sister and myself, great-grand daughters of Isaiah Thomas, who, we are informed, was Grand Senior Warden of the Grand Lodge of Mass. and signed your charter as such, Paul Revere being Grand master at that time, have decided to present to your Lodge a portrait of our great grandfather, an heir-loom which was presented to our mother by him personally and which we, as the only living descendants of that branch of the family, desire to place in the hands of those who we are assured by Mr. Humphreys will hold it in great veneration. We also include the gift of a Bible of great antique value, printed by him in 1791. Knowing yours was destroyed by fire, we trust this will also be acceptable. These gifts were graciously given by Clara and Mary Randall.
First Telephone Installed
Of little historical note by worth mentioning is the fact that the lodge voted to install a telephone in the lodge in the year 1909, a most desirable convenience for the brethren of that time. In the same year action was taken to ensure that every Past Master should be so honored with a Past Master's Jewel.
When William Howard Taft was elected president the lodge voted to confer an honorary membership on the foster son of Millbury. His mother, Mrs. Louisa M. Torrey Taft, was born and reared in Millbury. In his youth, President Taft spent many of his boyhood days in our town attending its public schools, fraternizing with its youth and participating in sports, especially baseball. The President's aunt, Miss Delia Torrey, was well known in Millbury for the "apple pies."
The president visited Millbury to observe his 55th birthday anniversary at the home of his aunt. An oral invitation was extended to President Taft to visit the lodge. On the evening of September 14th, 1912, the lodge opened to receive the President. He as tumultuously greeted by the assembled brethren and was cordially welcomed by Wor. Master James W. Robertson. He was there upon escorted to the East where he was seated at the Wor. Master's right. Here he received the respectful greetings of all present. To each he accorded a warm smile and cordial handclasp. This visit was a brief one but certainly most memorable to all in attendance that evening.
Record Service Record
The year 1914 marked the passing of Bro. Ira N. Goddard. He was 81 years old, and served as town Clerk for 61 years achieving the distinction of having served in that office continually longer than any other Town Clerk in the United States, so far as could be determined.
In 1925 Wor. Edward F. Hull as seated as Master. It was one year short of fifty years since his father, Wor. Samuel E. Hull, was similarly inducted in 1876., The lodge has also had two other father son combinations in its long history. Wor. Charles N. Gurney in 1944-1945 and his son Charles, Jr. in 1962-1963. It was my pleasure to sponsor Wor. George Fegreus who became Master in 1966 and his son Charles presided in the East in 1976.
Armsby Building Bought
November 22, 1928, will ever be a red letter day in the history of the lodge. I on that date the lodge became the proud possessor of the Armsby Building. It had occupied the Armsby premises for 44 years as tenants. With the purchase of this structure it could truly be called the "Masonic Block". During the lodges history it has occupied some 10 domiciles from its humble beginnings in Campbell Hall, in Oxford.
The second World War might be noted for the manner in which many candidates were made members of the Craft. The Grand Lodge granted dispensations permitting the lodge to confer the Entered Apprentice and Fellowship Degrees in one evening and the M.M.'s Degree some four days later. In the case of one candidate the three degrees were conferred in just two evenings.
Brethren, there is little that is dramatic and exciting in the course of general lodge life. The records often seem repetitious and most of if historically unimportant. However, minor events are really the heart and soul from which more important events occur. It is a fact that the proceedings of any lodge are usually shaped and controlled by a group of the more active and prominent brethren, whose individual efforts steer the proceedings of the lodge especially in important matters. It is fortunate that our lodge has possessed such outstanding leadership. Its history is replete with the names of such leaders and its progress testifies to the wisdom and denotation of their efforts.
Whatever the future holds for each of you which has yet to be written. So in closing may I remind all of these very familiar words of ritual: "May kindness and brotherly affection distinguish your conduct as men and as Masons. And may the tenants of your profession be transmitted through each of you, pure, and unimpaired, from Generation to Generation.