Local Treasures: Forrest Masonic Lodge #19

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Photos by K2 Images

It’s quite possible that local residents and visitors to the historic downtown square in Huntsville, Texas have often walked past Forrest Masonic Lodge #19 and wondered what goes on in there. On Saturday, January 12, 2019, the Lodge hosted their 175th Anniversary Celebration. They welcomed a number of officials from the grand Masonic Lodge organization in Waco, as well as over 200 other guests, which included: members and their spouses, girlfriends, and significant others. Since the building is not big enough to hold such a large group of people, they held the program and lunch at the Walker Education Center, then, according to Steven Rich, lodge treasurer, everyone returned to the lodge for the remainder of the celebration. 

Although women are not permitted in ceremonies or official meetings, they are encouraged to attend special events, such as the upcoming Sweetheart Banquet which will be held in February. Wives, girlfriends, significant others, and widows of past members are invited. The lodge also hosts several events that are open to lodge members’ immediate families and the general public. In May, the Masonic Lodge will host their Annual Scholarship Banquet, where they will give away three scholarships. They also have two fundraising events that are held during the months of March and April, and the Chili and Gumbo fundraiser held in October. These events bring in lots of community support, and provide assistance with their scholarship funds. The Forrest Masonic Lodge organization is also a proud supporter of the Huntsville Public Library, the Senior Center, the Walker County Children’s Protective Services, and SAAFE House, to name a few. “We are a charitable organization and put our money into the community,” said J.D. Dickinson, lodge secretary. “During the fundraisers, we often have guests mention that their grandfather or another family member was a Mason, so we take the opportunity to give them a tour of the building. It serves as somewhat of an open house.” said Rich. 

Originally, masonry came to the United States from the Great Lodge of England, which was essentially two grand lodges that merged into one in the 1700s. When Masons arrived on boats, along with the immigrants, they began to establish lodges. Masonry arrived to Texas in 1837. Sam Houston was the presiding grand officer of the Grand Lodge of the Republic of Texas in Houston. “We were one of 25 original lodges chartered by the Republic of Texas,” said Dickinson. “We’re number 19.” When Texas first became a State, the first lodge was on the old Cincinnati near Trinity, it was #26. 

It was not until January 1844 that the Grand Lodge of the Republic of Texas, chartered the Forrest Masonic Lodge #19. It is the oldest organization in Huntsville, and has been in the downtown square of Huntsville for 175 years. Their first meeting place was in the southeast corner of the square, which was also the first brick building constructed in Huntsville, Texas by Alexander McDonald, the first Worshipful Master of Forrest Lodge. He had a mercantile store on the 1st floor, and lodge meetings were held on the 2nd floor.

In 1849, the Masonic Lodge built their first lodge on the north side of the square. Then, in 1881, that building burned down, and soon after, they essentially re-built the lodge in the same exact spot. They continued to hold their meetings there until 1909, before moving to their present location at 1030 12th Street. The building was built for $9,700. It has been designated by historical architects as one of the three historic buildings in the downtown Huntsville square. “It’s a job to maintain an old building like this,” said Dickinson, “but we do the best we can.” Dickinson has been a lodge member for 50 years, and has been the lodge secretary for 17 years. 

According to Rich, the organization is no longer an operative organization of working stone masons, but has over time morphed into a more ‘speculative’ fraternal organization, “and that’s what we’ve been for hundreds of years. We are also not a secretive organization like many believe,” he added, “but rather, an organization with secrets, like any other fraternity.” Currently, there are approximately 220 members that come from “all walks of life.” Dr. Elliott T. Bowers, SHSU president from 1970-1989, was the last SHSU president who was also a lodge member. While several of the current members are from Huntsville, others come from surrounding areas. In fact, one particular member lives in Australia, and occasionally comes to the meetings. “Several Texas heroes have been lodge members as well,” added Dickinson. “General Sam Houston, Governor George Tyler Woods, the second governor of Texas, and Henderson Yoakum, a Huntsville attorney known as the Texas Historian. He wrote the first definitive history of Texas, and he was a member and past master of this lodge,” said Dickinson. A picture at the end of the hallway before entering the lodge meeting room also identifies various well-know people throughout history who, at some point in time, were also Masonic Lodge members: George Washington, Sam Houston, William Martin Taylor (father of the Masonic Ritual), John Wayne, Harry Truman, Franklin and Teddy Roosevelt, Stephen F. Austin, Winston Churchill, Charles Lindbergh, Will Rogers, Lorenzo de Zavala, Juan Seguín, and Barrett Travis. 

The lodge room itself is quite spectacular. It showcases five beautiful, original stained-glass windows. When the light comes through the stained-glass windows on a bright sunny day, “You just can’t recreate the beautiful lighting that stained glass produces,” said Rich. “We are very proud of our windows. They survived a hail storm that came through here in 1975. It damaged two of the windows, and they had to be restored. Only two other buildings in Huntsville have original stained-glass windows from that time period, the Peabody Library on the SHSU campus, and the Methodist Church. The other was Old Main, also on the SHSU campus, but those were unfortunately lost in the fire. Each window in the lodge meeting room displays well recognized symbols representative of the Freemason fraternal organization, such as the square and compass, the “G” that is oftentimes seen within the square and compass, and the “all seeing eye,” which is also on the back of the $1 bill. Inside the lodge meeting room are three by three stations designated for the three principal presiding officers. The presiding officers sit on the east, the support officers sit in the south and west chairs, and the junior officers sit in different chairs around the room, while members sit on the benches. Unlike some of the big urban area lodges that still wear their top hats, “we’re just regular guys, and we dress comfortable,” said Rich. “It’s really up to each individual lodge.”

Lodge meetings are held on the second floor of the Masonic Lodge, each Monday evening at 7:00 p.m., and regular Business Meetings are held on the first Monday evening of every month. For anyone wanting to learn more about the Forrest Masonic Lodge #19, their complete history has been donated to the Huntsville Public Library. 

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