Officers for 1999
District A.F. & A.M.
District Schools Western
District A.F. & A.M.
IL Grand Lodge
Lodges of Fulton
Vermont Lodge 116
Located on Main Street, in Vermont, IL
Stated meeting nights are 1st Thursdays of each month,
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
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.
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
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
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
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
Comments and opinions expressed on these pages do not
necessarily reflect the
"official" policies of the Grand Lodge of Illinois.