On Saturday, September 14, Officers of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Indiana visited the Lodge at 125 E. North Street in Winchester to rededicate the building on the 175th anniversary of the foundation of Lodge No. 56. An ancient ceremony was performed where the officers used the tools of their trade, the square, the level, and the plumb, to insure that “the craftsmen had performed their duty and that the building was true and sound.”

    The ceremony was presided over by 2019 Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Indiana Kenneth E. Roy Jr., Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Lodge  F.&A. M. of Indiana Daniel L. Martin. 2019 Officers of Winchester Lodge are, Worshipful Master Joseck T. Albertson, Senior Warden Derek A. Phelps, Junior Warden Rob Morford, Senior Deacon Jason A. Hawley, Junior Deacon Adam J. McCaffery, Secretary and Past Master Hugh S. Smith, Treasurer Floyd D. Geesy, Chaplin James E. Pegg, Senior Steward Canon M. Briggs, Junior Steward and Past Master Jerry D. Williams, and Tyler Floyd (Steve) S. Collins.

    Also in attendance were members from three lodges in Ohio, as well as the oldest attendee, and actual brick mason Jim Hummel who became a member of the Doric Lodge of Ridgeville in 1955 and its Master in 1964. Hummel has taught many of the area’s brick masons their craft.

    Following the rededication ceremony, a meal of chicken and noodles, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn, and a dinner roll, catered by Mrs. Coe’s Noodles was enjoyed by the Masons and their guests. Dessert was provided by Wick’s Pies and featured their famous old fashion sugar cream pie.

    Winchester Masonic Lodge No. 56 also had 200 coins minted by Silver Towne to commemorate the event. These coins could be purchased for $10 and have whatever information they wanted etched on the coin for an additional $5.

    On January 26, 1844 members of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Indiana met and installed Edward Edger as the first Worshipful Master of the Winchester Masonic Lodge No. 56. No record was made of the location of this first meeting. Early meetings were held at various locations such as the Court House, homes of various Masonic Brothers, and above the Sheriff’s residence, eventually finding a home in the Masonic Hall on the third floor of the North Side of the town square.

    The Freemasons are the oldest and most widely known fraternal organization in the world. Symbolically, the Craft dates back to the days of King Solomon and his building of the first Temple in Jerusalem, as depicted in the Old Testament of the Bible and in the Hebrew Tanakh. The oldest document that makes reference to Masons is the Regius Poem, circa 1425. The illustrious roots of the organization date to when its members were operative Masons who built castles and cathedrals throughout Europe in the Middle Ages. The ritual of the modern fraternity incorporates metaphors of character building with symbolic meaning from architecture, engineering, masonry and construction. It uses the signs and words originally developed by the medieval Masonic guilds as methods of recognition, and the language evolved from a number of sources.

    The current organization as we know it today began in the 17th century in Scotland when the stonemasons started to accept members into their lodges who were not members of the Mason’s craft — these men were referred to as “speculative Masons” or “accepted Masons.” The modern fraternity of Freemasonry officially began with the formation of the first grand lodge in London, England in 1717.

    Freemasonry was brought to the United States with our early settlers from England, Scotland and France, and the Craft became very popular in colonial America. Henry Price, a Boston merchant and tailor, received a deputation from the Grand Master of England to form the first Provincial Grand Lodge in the Western Hemisphere in 1733. The fraternity spread throughout the colonies by way of charters carried primarily from England and Scotland, including a number of traveling military lodges that existed at first to serve soldiers, but soon began to confer degrees upon civilians, as well. Even when war with England broke out in America, there were numerous cases of Freemasons on opposing sides of the conflict treating each other with civility and honor.

    Freemasonry had an enormous influence at the time upon the founders of America, as it was a practical and functioning system of democratic governance and administration, toleration of all social classes and religious faiths, with a civilizing influence through the education of its members – all based upon Enlightenment-era philosophies. Of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence, nine were known to be Masons at the time, and as many as thirty may have been members (or would later join). Among the country’s early Masonic leaders were George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Paul Revere, and John Hancock. Another influential Mason, Chief Justice John Marshall, served as Chief of the Supreme Court for more than thirty-four years and shaped the court into its present form.

    Other organizations tied to Freemasonry are Scottish Rite, York Rite, The Shrine, The Grottoes of North America, The Order of Demolay, Rainbow for Girls, Job’s Daughters, Order of the Eastern Star, and Daughters of the Nile. Winchester Lodge No. 56’s sister organization, Order of the Eastern Star Chapter 60 also uses the Masonic Lodge on North Street for its meetings.     

    Freemasonry began when stonemasons formed local organizations, called lodges, to take care of sick and injured members, as well as the families of those who were killed on the job. The medieval Masons also used their lodge buildings on job sites as places to meet, receive their pay, plan their work, train new apprentices, and socialize. Today, this term refers both to a specific, organized group of Masons, and the room or building in which they meet.

    There are nearly 400 lodges in Indiana. Winchester’s Lodge No. 56 is one of four remaining in Randolph County, along with Losantville, Farmland, and Parker City. Due to changing times, many lodges have closed and consolidated membership with Lodge No.56. Huntsville Lodge No. 367 closed in 1927, others that have become a part of Lodge No. 56 are Summers Lodge No. 638, Lynn Masonic Lodge No. 223, Turpen Lodge No. 401 of Union City, and Doric Lodge No. 362 of Ridgeville.

    Tragedy struck the Winchester Lodge No. 56 on February 1, 1944 when the Masonic Hall was destroyed by fire. The community rose to the aid of the Lodge with many organizations and fraternities offering the use of their buildings as a temporary location for meetings. Many of the other Masonic Lodges in the county sent letters offering the use of their buildings as well. Some documents, relics and a Bible were salvaged from the fire and are on display at the Lodge’s current location. Many artifacts from the rich history of the organization are on display. Some are Pre- Civil War and a few date back to the Revolutionary War era. An entire display case is filled with memorabilia from Winchester born Troy L. Puckett, a one time Major League Baseball pitcher with the Philadelphia Phillies, and a Mason who held every office within the organization at one time or another

    In March of 1944, the Masonic Lodge found “the only suitable place for a new temple” in the Moose Home. The home at 125 E. North Street was built in 1914 as the meeting place for the Moose Lodge, but had been vacant since 1924. A vote was cast to purchase the building for $5,000.

    Since its earliest days, the Masonic Lodge has benefited the community in many ways. In June of 1946, the Lodge opened their doors to serve as an emergency hospital for the people of Randolph County while the new hospital was under construction. The Lodge held their meetings on the second floor while the hospital operated “sometimes literally” on the first floor. One recent visitor told members that she was born in what is currently the Secretary’s office.

    While Freemasonry itself is not a charity, from its earliest days, charity has been the most visible Masonic activity. Freemasons have always been devoted to caring for disadvantaged children, the sick and the elderly. In fact, Masons in North America give away approximately $2 million to national and local charities each day, of which more than 70% is directed toward the general public. Masons are also actively involved in a great deal of community volunteer work. But personal acts of charity are deemed to be an essential cornerstone of Masonic philosophy, and this begins with agreeing to help, aid and assist fellow Freemasons and their families.

    Masonic Lodge No. 56 holds a children’s breakfast on the first Saturday of each month. They also have a “Haunted Lodge” every October, which kids and members both really enjoy. Guests for all events at the Lodge are asked for an “at will” donation giving as much as they are willing or as little as they can afford. The Lodge serves the community in many ways, providing numerous scholarships to Randolph County students, and donating to local libraries. They frequently donate to the Journey Home and the Winchester House.This year, the Lodge is planning a Veteran’s Day Chili Cook-off to benefit the Journey Home.

    The Lodge also does a lot of work with the WCHS Earth Club and Cub Scout Troop 58, as well as Little League and other various youth organizations.

    Freemasonry offers its members leadership opportunities at the lodge, District, and Grand Lodge level. As Freemasons progress through the Craft, they discover different aspects of themselves and develop a range of skills that even they might not have known they possessed. By developing leadership techniques that fit their personality, Masons unlock the door to their full potential.

    Winchester Mayor Shon Byrum issued a proclamation declaring Saturday, September 14, 2019 as Winchester Masonic Lodge No. 56 Day. The organization has been an integral part of the community for 175 years and hopes to continue living up to their motto, “Making good men better since 1844” for years to come.