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The History of Fernwood Lodge
Constituted December 9, 1875
In the year 1875, a number of brethren gathered together to discuss the formation of a new Masonic lodge in the Delaware county area, just west of Philadelphia known as Fernwood.
The result was a petition was presented to the Grand Lodge at its Stated Meeting held December 1, 1875. The petition was referred to the Grand Officers with power to act, and at a meeting of those officers shortly after, the Charter was granted to sixteen brethren giving power to open a new Lodge and to make Masons, under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania.
The officers named in the petition were:
- Brother Oliver B. Moss, for Worshipful Master,
- Brother Oscar R. Graham, for Senior Warden,
- Brother Samuel A. Ferrell, for Junior Warden.
The brethren named in the warrant came from varied walks of life. Brothers Moss, Hoffner, McKinney, Matchett and Ferrell were identified with the building trades in and around South and West Philadelphia. Brother Graham represented the Singer Sewing Machine Company in Philadelphia. Brother Schofield was a painter in South Philadelphia and Brother Pike was a dentist from the same section. Brothers Clegg and Beatty were connected with Callaghan’s Mills, the former as secretary to the owner, the latter as a foreman in one of it~ departments.
Brother John H. Riley was an awning maker and one of the active members at the meetings. Brother Crompton was a paper box manufacturer, and was the founder of a firm which was still in business when the Lodge celebrated it~ Fiftieth Anniversary in 1925.
Brother Swindells was a Methodist minister, and Brother McLean was manager of the Baptist Publication Society in Philadelphia, while Brother Bardsley kept a bookstore at the corner of Sixth and Jayne Streets in the city.
The petition was recommended by George W. Bartram Lodge No. 298, and by Brother William . Kelly, Past Master of Lodge No. 59, afterwards Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania in 1898-99; also by Brother William B. Heck of Lodge No. 419, and Brothers Charles E. Meyer and Harry G. Clark of Lodge No. 158.
The new Lodge was constituted by the Grand Lodge in the schoolroom on the second floor of the schoolhouse located on Fourth Street in Fernwood on December 9, 1875.
The following Grand Officers were present:
- Brother Alfred Potter, Right Worshipful Grand Master,
- Brother Robert Clark, Right Worshipful Deputy Grand Master,
- Brother James M. Porter, Right Worshipful Senior Grand Warden,
- Brother Michael Nisbett, Right Worshipful Junior Grand Warden.
- Brother Thomas R. Patton, Right Worshipful Grand Treasurer,
- Brother John Thomson, Right Worshipful Grand Secretary.
At the first meeting of the Lodge, held on December 10, 1875, the following Officers were elected to serve one year:
- Brother Oliver B. Moss, Worshipful Master
- Brother Oscar R. Graham, Senior Warden
- Brother Samuel A. Ferrell, Junior Warden
- Brother Henry M. Hoffner, Treasurer
- Brother George W. Shirley, Secretary
Four petitions for initiation and membership and four for membership were received at this meeting.Soon realizing that the schoolroom was not adapted to Masonic work and in view of the fact it was the only public building in Fernwood at that time, a number of the brethren suggested that a new structure be erected to serve as a meeting place.
The “Fernwood Masonic Hall Association” was organized and stock issued to provide funds for the building the proposed structure. This stock was not only subscribed to by the members of the Lodge, but also by citizens of the community who were interested in the undertaking.
The building was constructed on Baltimore Avenue at the corner of Church Lane and the first meeting in the new building was held on December 1, 1876.For a period of twenty-one years the Lodge held its meetings here, until it was destroyed by fire on February 26, 1898. All the paraphernalia, furniture and the Lodge Warrant were lost. The records, which were at the home of the Secretary, were saved and are still in existence. At the time the Hall was destroyed, Brother William J. Kelly was Right Worshipful Grand Master of Masons in Pennsylvania. Application was made to him for a new Warrant and for permission to move the Lodge to the Masonic Temple, Philadelphia, where we still hold our meetings at the present time.
The permission was granted and a new Warrant issued, and the first meeting after the fire was held in Oriental Hall, Masonic Temple, Philadelphia, on March 21, 1898. The Lodge continued to meet there until October, 1919, when, due to increased membership and attendance at the Stated Meetings, it became necessary to move to Corinthian Hall.
Starting with the sixteen Charter Members the membership grew to 1150 until the period of the early 1930,s when Freemasonry and just about everything else was on the decline in our great country due to the Great Depression. Membership continued to decline until 1943 when a then low mark was reached of 705. At this point the membership started to increase until reaching 1950, the year of our Seventy-Fifth Anniversary, when we reached approximately 1000.
Booklets were published in connection with the 25th, 50th, 75th and 100th Anniversaries as well as ones commemorating the Brethren who served in both World Wars.
The Fiftieth Anniversary celebration took place on Saturday afternoon, December 5, 1925. The Lodge was opened at 3 P.M., with 537 members and 63 visitors present. The Lodge was closed at 5:45 P.M. and a banquet was served at the Elk’s Hall, which later became the Broadwood Hotel. The assemblage was addressed by Brothers Raymond H. Woolford, Worshipful Master, Samuel M. Goodyear, Right Worshipful Grand Master; Edgar F. Smith, Provost of the University of Pennsylvania and Edward W. Patton, Past Master.
Brother Patton was called by the Great Architech of the Universe on April 6, 1926. He was present when the Lodge was constituted in 1875, was admitted at the first meeting in 1876, and remained an active member for over fifty years, during which he served as Representative in the Grand Lodge.
Little did the members know that in that same year of 1926 when they made a Mason by the name of Brother Raymond Sorbier, they had gained a Brother who would equal, if not surpass, the record of Brother Patton. Brother Sorbier, who later changed his name to Sorber, went on to become Worshipful Master in 1935 and continued to instruct and confer all three Degrees for a period of over sixty years. He was an active Past Master for over 50 years, being instrumental, along with Harry E. Heatherby, P.M., in teaching the degree work to Brother Virgil D. Penn III, P.M., who later served the Lodge twice as Worshipful Master (1974 & 1988) as Secretary and Treasurer and the District as Chairman of Masonic Culture and District Deputy Grand Master. Brother Penn was born the same year Brother Sorber served as Worshipful Master, 1935, giving one some idea what a long and wonderful contribution he made to the Lodge.
Brother Sorber probably conferred more degrees than any other member of the Lodge, but as records were not kept during the early years, we cannot know for certain.
On March 22, 1928, a recommendation was made to amend the by-laws so as to establish a Permanent Charity Fund. This was later adopted at the April Stated Meeting and approved by the Grand Lodge on June 6, 1928.
An interesting event during the year 1931 was the Bi-Centenary Anniversary celebration in commemoration of two hundred years of Freemasonry in Pennsylvania, which was held in October. Brother Harry L. Adkins, then Worshipful Master, represented Fernwood Lodge No. 543, as delegate. Grand Officers were in attendance from more than thirty Grand Jurisdictions throughout the world.
At the Stated Meeting in June, 1937, a proposal was made to change the regular place of meeting of the Lodge from Corinthian Hall to Ionic Hall, and the resolution was adopted.
During the year of 1940, Fernwood Lodge had the honor of having a then record number of nine members eligible to receive fifty year emblems, namely, Brothers Price L. Patton, John A. Craig, J. Milton Lutz, P.M., David Irvin, George W. Phillips, Harry C. Foster, Joseph K. Sommers, John D. Henderson and Joseph Crawford. The presentations were made, with one exception, by Brother William Sharpless, who was District Deputy Grand Master of District “B” at the time. Brother William H. Brehm, Right Worshipful Grand Master, presented the other to Brother John B. Henderson at the Masonic Home.
During the War year of 1941 it is interesting to note that the following request was made in April: “In order to assist in a plan which will render service to those members of the Lodge or those members who have sons in the Armed Forces of the United States, kindly notify the Secretary of the Lodge the names of those in such service, giving the address, military rank and organization to which each is attached.”
At the Stated Meeting of February, 1942, a letter from the Right Worshipful Grand Master, Brother John A. Lathwood, was read relative to conducting a “Flag Ceremony” at the Meetings of the Lodge.”
At the Stated Meeting of March, 1942, a communication was read announcing that the Masonic Military and Naval Service Committee of Pennsylvania had opened a central office in the Consistory Building at Harrisburg, Pa., under the direction of Brother Herbert B. Hunt. Subsequently, at the September Stated Meeting of the Lodge, Brothers Harold Wrigley, P.M., Frederick W. Hobdell, and Russell Collum were appointed members of the Fernwood Masonic Military and Naval Service Committee, with Brother Wrigley as Chairman.
At the Stated meeting in September, 1942, Worshipful Master Andrew B. Anderson appointed the same brethren, Brothers Harold Wrigley, P. M., Chairman, Frederick Hobdell, and Russell Collum to endeavor to bring some cheer and comfort to those members or sons of members of the Lodge serving in the Armed Forces during WWII. We had 35 such individuals serving as members of the Armed Services of the United States. The committee sent letters containing information about home and the Lodge to each of these every week. Newspaper articles from The Evening Bulletin and the Philadelphia Record were copied and sent overseas. Not to be outdone our hardworking committee originated a newsletter of its own titled “The Fernwood Newsletter,” which included news of home and also news of those in the Services and became a great success.
Brother W. Harry Shaw, Jr. served as Worshipful Master in 1943. Brother Shaw was later to become Principal of the Temple School of Instruction. During Brother Woodalls term as Grand Master he appointed Brother Shaw as Instructor of Ritualistic Work for the entire Pennsylvania Jurisdiction.
The committee performed a tremendous effort for several years and their work was then greatly expanded when Brother John H. Doherty, District Deputy Grand Master of District “B,” made an appeal at the October Stated Meeting in 1943 for radio sets, regardless of condition, to be donated for the use of the wounded veterans in various hospitals. Brother Alfred E. Wills, Jr., volunteered to repair any radios donated, and he was immediately added to the committee.
Brother Wills dedication and untiring effort was later greatly aided when the Right Worshipful Grand Secretary, Brother Matthew Galt, Jr., had a complete testing outfit purchased. An unbelievable total of 725 radios were sent to the hospitals. It is difficult to properly appraise the work of the committee, for the members devoted untold hours in carrying out all of the features of this wonderful program. Fernwood Lodge can well be proud of this contribution to our fighting men.
During the recent Desert Storm conflict Brother Michael Hryschnyn was the chairman of a committee which sent various items to our fighting men to help comfort them and to let them know their Masonic Brothers had not forgotten them. Fernwood had four men involved. The committee sent items to any Brethren we could reach regardless of their affiliation.
In the year 1946 the Lodge suffered the loss of the first candidate initiated after it was constituted in 1875. He was Brother Price I. Patton, who died on January 8, after having been a member for seventy years.
At the Stated Meeting in April, 1946, A Masonic Military and Naval Service celebration was held, as most of the members of the Armed Forces had returned. A report was presented by Brother Harold Wrigley, P.M., on the work accomplished by the Committee. He also presented to the Lodge four bound volumes of letters received from the Service men during the war.
At the Stated Meeting in June, 1947, the Lodge voted an increase in the fee for life membership to $200.00, or $150.00 after six years of membership.
During the same year of 1947 the Lodge was honored by the presence of the Right Worshipful Grand Master, Brother Richard A. Kern, for the purpose of making a “Mason at Sight.” This was at an Extra Meeting held in Egyptian Hall on December 4, at 3 P.M. The brother to be honored was Merle Middleton Odgers, President of Girard College.
After Brother Kern addressed the Lodge he conferred the Entered Apprentice Degree. The Fellowcraft and Master Mason’s Degrees were conferred by Brothers Andrew J. Schroder and Raymond P. Moser, W.M., respectively.
In 1948 Brother John A. Cather, Worshipful Master, designated the April Meeting as “Fathers and Sons Night,” beginning a tradition that has survived to the present time.
In 1949 Brother Virgil D. Penn, Jr. became a member of the Lodge. A Philadelphia policeman, he attended meetings regularly, but never had the time to work on the floor. Brother Penn was to later serve the Lodge as Worshipful Master on three occasions, 1978, 1980 and 1983, the only member to do so until 2002 when Brother Anthony C. Markette took his place in the East for a third time.
During the Seventy-fifth Anniversary year of 1950, Rochester B. Woodall served as Worshipful Master. Brother Woodall went on to serve as a District Deputy Grand Master 1955-64 and as Grand Master in 1974-75.
Brother Woodall received his Entered Apprentice Degree on February 24, 1944; Fellowcraft Degree April 6, 1944; and Master Mason’s Degree May 4, 1944.
The Holy Bible, which graces the Altar in Fernwood Lodge, was a gift from Brother Woodall.
The Lodge presented a completely furnished room in the Masons Care Building at the Masonic Homes in Elizabethtown in honor of Brother Woodall .
On Oct. 13 in Caracus, Venezuela, Victor Higuera Castellanos, M.W. Grand Master of the Gran Logia de la
Republic de Venezuela, presented Eugene C. Walworth, P.M., Fernwood Lodge No. 543 with the highest award he can bestow upon a Freemason, the Orden Diego Bautista Urbaneja, Primera Clase. Bro. Walworth also received a Diploma de
Honor in recognition of his visit to the lodge and for his Masonic work in Philadelphia. Pictured below are the awards given to Brother Walworth, P.M. by the M.W. Grand Master of the Gran Logia de la Republic de Venezuela.