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Vermont Lodge 116 

Located on Main Street, in Vermont, IL
Stated meeting nights are 1st Thursdays of each month, at 7:30pm.

Astoria Masonic Lodge No. 100 & Tablegrove Masonic Lodge No. 939 have consolidated with Vermont Lodge No. 116


   Ascending a steep, wide wooden staircase to the Vermont Masonic Hall's second floor grand chambers, one easily conjures up images of secret ceremonies and solemn rituals.  Hidden away above a hardware store on Main Street, the building was dedicated in a public ceremony on November 17, 1892, that attracted many residents from the prosperous Fulton County community.  The elegant Hall today remains largely undiscovered in the remote village that lies some sixty miles southwest of Peoria.  But an exterior facade restoration, the opening of its ritualistic chambers to tours during the Spoon River Scenic Drive, and the structure's placement in the National Register of Historic Places on November 16, 1988, have breather new life into the century old building.
     Things were a lot different one hundred years ago in the village of Vermont.  Founded in the 1830s, its population had peaked at 2088 in the mid- 1850s.  A wagon and buggy works tanneries, marble works, iron foundry, washing machine factory, chair factory, sawmills, shoe factory, and five meat packing plants all contributed to vermont's boom times.  By 1870 the Rockford, Rock Island & St. Louis Railroad had crossed the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad in town, giving it important nationwide transportation connections for its agricultural and manufactured products.  The 1871 Atlas Map of Fulton County, Illinois boasted that Vermont "has several fine residences, block, etc., a good, live newspaper, a fine county surrounding it, and many wealthy men residing in it, all of which should make their town one of the best in the county."
     By 1890 many successful commercial businesses lined Main Street, though the village's population had leveled to 1,180.  Edmund B. Nelson announced that he was about to build on Main Street, and the local Masons (who had been meeting in various places ), struck a deal with Nelson to create a lodge on the second floor.  No doubt local Masons ambitions were fueled by the construction of the grand twenty one story Masonic Temple in Chicago but perhaps more importantly by the impending construction of the neighboring Vermont Independent Order of the Odd Fellows Hall.
     A ninety nine year lease was arranged in 1891 in which the Lodge agreed to "erect and construct and pay the entire costs of the erection and construction of said second story from the top of the joists on the first story to said building and to keep and bear all expense of keeping the roof of said building in good order and repair."  Recording the nomination of a committee to handle building arrangements, /minutes note that the ceiling height " was to correspond with the I.O.O.F. Hall.
     The Lusk Chapter No. 20, a Masonic lodge of the Masons, helped out with construction expenses and was granted full use of the hall jointly with Vermont Lodge No. 116.  A committee was appointed to solicit subscriptions for the building's construction, and a $3,000 mortgage was arranged.  The building was dedicated a year later on November 17, 1892, at 2:30 p.m.  To help pay for the building and reception, an admission charge was set at $2.50 per couple or single men and $1 for single women.  Arrangements were made by a special committee to provide rail travel and accommodations at the local Kirkbride House for those coming from out of town.
     Vermont Masons took part in rituals that had their roots in the medieval stone worker's guild that eventually evolved into a secret fraternal organization.  Transplanted with European settlers in the American colonies, lodges soon sprang up throughout the country, and by 1800 the order claimed 18,000 members and was growing rapidly.  George Washington, Marquis de Lafayette, Benjamin Franklin, and John Paul Jones were among early notable members.  But a wide-spread anti Masonry movement in the late 1820s fueled by hysteria about its secret rituals and oaths and its supposed challenges to Christianity decimated the movement, and many lodges closed.  The fraternity's respectability was restored by 1850s, and between 1850 and 1860 its membership almost tripled ( from 66,142 to 193,763 ), and by 1870 there were 446,000 Masons in more than 7,000 lodges.
     Businessmen, politicians, and clergymen lent respectability to Mason organizations.  Members proudly wore the Masonic symbol -- a square and compass -- on their watch chains.  The public witnessed their ritualistic cornerstone - laying ceremonies, funeral rituals, and their attendance in masse at church services.  Mason were prominent at the dedication of the Statue of Liberty in 1885.  The ceremonies opened with a colorful parade of gallantly uniformed members and ended with a spectacular Masonic ceremony that included speeches by public and Masonic officials.  Newspapers widely covered similar events, and the laying of the cornerstone of the Masonic Temple in Chicago -- the world's tallest building -- was front - page news.
     In 1879 the fraternity claimed half a million members.  The Ancient and Accepted Order of the Freemasons was the most popular and prestigious fraternal order in the world and was a model for most other fraternal organizations.  By the late nineteenth century the Mason had evolved into a quasi religious secret society dedicated to the ideals of fraternity, charity, and moral behavior.  For members it offered social activities, relief in times of distress, possible financial and political advantages, moral upliftment, and self-improvement.  Instilling the traditional virtues of sobriety, thrift, piety, industry, self-restraint, and moral obligation, Masonry offered its members identification with the vales of the late nineteenth century middle class, which was over whelmingly native, white, Protestant, and male.
     The founding of Masonic lodges in Illinois followed the pattern of settlement that was typical of other states.  On December 14, 1805, Western State Lodge No. 107 was instituted at Kaskaskia.  The Illinois Grand Lodge of Freemasons was organized seventeen years later, and Shadrach Bond, the first governor of the state of Illinois, was installed as its first Most Worshipful Grand Master at its convention in Vandalia.  Illinois Masons participated in the cornerstone laying ceremonies of the new state house in Springfield on October 5, 1868, and in the 1861 funeral of one of its members, Stephen A. Douglas.
     Vermont Lodge No. 116 of the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, chartered on October 12, 1852, was part of the fraternal society boom at mid-century.  Other fraternal organizations in town included the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Rebekah Lodge, Knights of Pythias, Modern Woodmen of America, and Illinois Chapter C of the PEO Sisterhood.  Many members came from Vermont's local Methodist and Christian congregations.
     By 1901 more than five million Americans belonged to six hundred orders, prompting the Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of Fulton County of 1908 to note: "Every village hamlet and many of the county crossroads settlements established orders within the last one or two decades.  There is literally no end to the number, as this is the age of secret orders."
     Lusk Chapter No. 20 of Royal Arch Masons which would share the Vermont Masonic Lodge took most of its members from neighboring communities.  Chartered two years after Lodge No. 116, both organizations met at various times in the upstairs of the Colonel Thomas Hamer store building and in rented rooms od two other Main Street businesses before deciding to erect their own headquarters.
     Vermont Masons' decision to lease and build an upstairs headquarters was typical of small town fraternal organizations.  Their grand new headquarters had plenty of room for public and private ceremonies, and was furnished with the latest in Victorian style.  Ti was located at the south end of the two-block-long Main street business district and adjacent to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows building.  The first floor has been continuously occupied by a hardware, heating, and plumbing business since its construction in 1892, and the lodge has always occupied the second floor.  The commercial storefront features plate glass display windows and angled windows on either side.  Slender cast-iron columns flank the transom and double entry doors at the facade.  A cast-iron stoop purchased from the Buda Iron Works in Buda, Illinois, leads to the entry.  The wood and tarpaper covered canopy is supported by slender, round cast-iron columns with scroll brackets.  To the left of the storefront is the entry to the lodge.  Original double wooden paneled doors framed with cast iron pillars open to stairway to the headquarters.  a multi paneled stained glass transom is inscribed with names of groups that met upstairs.
     The second story is clad with a High Victorian Gothic style heavy lead coated, fabricated sheet iron facade ordered from the Willis Manufacturing Company in Galesburg. ( Researchers can trace virtually every purchase made for the Hall's construction and furnishings because the records are so complete.)  A central window bay project from the second story facade.  Ti is framed by iron modified Corinthian columns that rise to support a fish scaled, shingled roof crowned by a delicate iron fence.  Flanking the bay are tall double hung widows capped with arched stained glass clerestory windows.  Above each arched window are seven rounded Corinthian colonnettes that rise to Gothic pointed arched parapets.  Rising above the bay is a metal surface resembling masonry that extends behind the colonnettes.  At each end of the front facade are square fluted decorative columns that rise to finials at each end of the parapet.  A sheet metal panel that rises above the central parapet -- again with finials at each end -- is inscribed "Lusk Chapter No. 20."  Originally, a Gothic inspired crown topped the central parapet.  The parapet extends just around the corner to the south side, which fronts a street and the village park.
     Vermont's lodge quarters, with its anteroom leading to a separate main lodge room and social rooms, typified the arrangement of lodges throughout the Midwest.  Twenty-four steps broken by a landing lead to the double paneled doors of the lodge anteroom.  An iron bell -- rung by turning a handle -- announced a visitor's arrival.  An oak corner fireplace with a paneled table and beveled mirror add an air of formality to the room.  All wood as well as the several anteroom doors are grained and varnished, and feature bulls eye or decorative incised corner blocks with foliate carving.
     The dining room and kitchen were used for lodge social meetings.  An interior open stair along the north wall leads to a balcony overlooking the dining room.  Removable wood panels in the balcony may be opened to view the lodge room below.  In the late 1940s a partition was installed to separate the kitchen and dining are, and a dropped ceiling was added that cut off the balcony view of the dining area.  The ceiling panels have since been removed, though the framework remains.
     The main lodge was surely the epitome of the meeting room decor.  Entering the main lodge room from the south hall through double doors visitors and members are greeted by magnificent splendor.  Three large widows on the south and two pairs of windows on the east light the room.  Dark cherry stained woodwork frames the windows and doors.  Rectangular and square panels of fabricated sheet metal and moldings of various size line the walls and ceilings of the lodge room.  Rectangular paneled bands of various widths that encircle the room are interrupted by molding.  A wide cove molding tops the walls and leads to the ceiling.  The ceiling pattern is a series of square and rectangular coffered panels arranged around a central polygonal coffered panel.
     The panels, bands, and coffered ceiling still have their original painted surfaces of various greens, grays, beige's, and gold's.  Gilding separates the large panels and the cornice, which were ordered from Hinman & Co., Chicago.  The original diamond patterned wall to wall carpeting, ordered from Marshall Field & Co. in Chicago, remains in good condition.  The original furniture, including the ritual stations, are still in use.  Electric lighting was installed in 1900, and light fixtures and ceiling fans in the main lodge room appear to date from 1915 to 1920.
     The newly completed Masonic Hall was an imposing symbol of the wealth and permanency of Vermont's Masonic organization.  Masons earned the right to enter the lodge's impressive chambers, participate in ritual ceremonies, and learn of its secrets -- thus setting a man  apart from the outside world.  A tyler with a ceremonial sword stood outside the main lodge room to guard the chambers from the public.  The presiding officer sat on a large raised platform that formed part of a cross with an altar at its junction.
     Ritual -- an integral part of every Masonic meeting -- was important to funeral services, cornerstone - laying ceremonies, and initiations.  symbolic actions, oaths, passwords, grips, and secret signs gave each new Mason the same initiatory experience, forging a bond with the fraternity.  Performances of the rituals were full of religious symbols and allegories emphasizing man's relationship with God, the inevitability of death, and the hope for immortality.
     Vermont's Masons used the lodge in a number of ways.
Minutes of meetings record public installations of officers, general meetings, dinners, dances, and the rental of the dining room to other fraternal groups.  When the public was allowed to enter the lodge quarters for events such as the installation of officers and funerals, they were greeted by an impressive array of uniformed members and solemn rituals.  A member recalls the large crowd that turned out for his grandfather's funeral.  Joining the Masons were the Knights Templars ( an adjunct multi-community Masonic Group ) with their silver trimmed black uniforms, silver swords, and plumed helmets.  Following the funeral in the main lodge room, the Knights led the procession to the cemetery.
     The Masonic fraternity had more than three million members at its peak, but in the late 1920s the organization started to decline.  The formal rituals and ceremonies soon became relics of the past, and other forms of entertainment and recreation took member away from the organization.  The village of Vermont and its Masonic Lodge followed a similar decline.  Automobiles and improved hard roads made it easier for townspeople to shop and work in the larger cities of Canton, Macomb, and Peoria.  Farming mechanization reduced the number of laborers needed and may farmer left their farms for jobs in the cities.
     Two of the lodges last major activities were the Vermont Centennial Celebration in 1935 and the Vermont Masonic Lodge Centennial in 1952.  The lodge, with its elderly membership, still meets regularly but has reduced its number of activities.  Interest in its architecture and history led to the lodge building's nomination to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.
     The structure's place on the National Register made it eligible for an Illinois Heritage Grant from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.  A fifteen hundred dollar matching grant helped to fund repairs and painting of the front bay and facade in September 1990.  The front bay window was leveled and repaired and strengthening support was installed.  Contractors also repaired and replaced rotted window sashes with planed and milled boards duplicating the originals.  Interior wood was stained and varnished to match the color of the originals.  To prepare the metal facade for painting, it was hand scraped and sanded, and wire brushed.  Holes were repair with sheet metal patches, then riveted and soldered.  The bare metal was spot primed and facade painted with two coats of paint.  In consultation with architects from the agency, the wood surfaces were painted gray and metal painted beige.  Window headers, frames, and sashes on the south facade were likewise prepared and painted to match the windows on the west facade.
     It has made a considerable impact on the building at the end of Main Street.  Though membership of the Masonic Lodge has declined along with Vermont's population ( now about 800 ) small signs of new life have appeared in town.  The lodge's restoration and the inclusion of Vermont with a tour of the lodge and Victorian homes during the annual Fall Spoon River Scenic Drive has attracted visitors.  Proud members of the local lodge go about their regular scheduled meetings with all the pride and ritual of the historic fraternity.  And the occasional visitor can sometimes catch a glimpse of another age -- if not another world -- in the meeting rooms of the Vermont Masonic Lodge.
     In 1989, the Vermont Masonic Hall was placed on the National Registry of Historical Landmarks. 

For additional information or a tour.  Please call one of the officers or write to Harold McCurdy at RR1, Vermont, IL  61484  the lodge Secretary.

E-mail any information or comments to The Web Keeper:
Wor. Bro. Geoffrey Lynn Lasswell

Comments and opinions expressed on these pages do not necessarily reflect the
"official" policies of the Grand Lodge of Illinois.