Saturday, June 16, 2012

Woodbury's Era of Freemasonry

Masonic Temple, home of Florence Lodge No. 87 from 1926-2011.
The definitive origin of Freemasonry as a worldwide fraternal organization is one shrouded in mystery and speculation. However, the story of its introduction to Woodbury, New Jersey is fairly clear. The era of Freemasonry in the City of Woodbury began in 1792 when Franklin Davenport, nephew of Benjamin Franklin (also a Freemason), along with fellow Master Masons of Gloucester County including John Blackwood, Champion Wood, Benjamin Whitall and others, successfully petitioned the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of New Jersey on July 3rd, 1792. Thereafter, a warrant was duly issued to form the Woodbury Lodge No. 11, A. F. & A. M. Unfortunately, on June 15, 1817 their lodge room, along with their furniture, jewels and records were lost to fire when the Bull's Eye Tavern, located near where Green's Opera House block now sits, burnt down. A new warrant was soon issued and one hundred dollars was ordered from the Grand Lodge for the Woodbury Masons to rebuild their lodge room. About 24 years later in 1842, the proceedings of the Annual Communication of the Grand Lodge show that the Woodbury Lodge No. 11 was stricken from the lodge roll. It does not state a reason why, however it is reported that throughout its 50 years of existence, the Woodbury Lodge No. 11 consisted of "enlightened Masons" and continually met in "the most approved Masonic form."

Secret Socities (sic)
column from an 1897
Woodbury Daily Times.
Woodbury was then without a Freemasonic lodge for 26 years until February 20th, 1868 by a warrant issued from the Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of New Jersey, the Florence Lodge No. 87, A. F. & A. M. was dedicated in ancient form. Many original members received official demits from their respective lodges from all over New Jersey, New York, and even California just to attend Woodbury’s new lodge! Among Florence’s early members were Dr. John R. Sickler of the original Woodbury Lodge No. 11, Lewis M. Green (five-term Mayor of Woodbury), and Benjamin W. Cloud of Camden Lodge No. 15, who became the first Worshipful Master of Florence Lodge. Cloud’s daughter, Florence is who the lodge is named after. The Florence lodge room was originally located in the Odd Fellows' Hall (formerly next to Christ Episcopal Church) on Delaware Street. In 1903 they began to meet at the Loyal Order of Moose Building formerly located at 28 Cooper Street. Both locations were also homes to similar, yet unrelated non-Masonic secret societies.

Florence Lodge went on to lay the ground work for other lodges throughout the area and notable buildings in downtown Woodbury had their cornerstones laid in true Masonic fashion. The Mantua Lodge No. 95 (chartered in 1869) and Cloud Lodge No. 101 Gloucester City (founded in 1870), which later merged with Collingswood Lodge No. 210 (founded in 1917) to form the Collingswood Cloud Lodge No. 101 in 1994, were both exemplicated on the floor of Florence. In 1888, then Florence Grand Master, Robert M. Moore laid the cornerstone of the new Methodist Church Building on Broad St., Kemble Memorial. In similar style, the cornerstone of the high school, then known as the William Milligan High School, named after the Woodbury educator and Florence Lodge member, was laid with Masonic ceremony on November 21st, 1908. Deposited within the high school cornerstone was a Lodge Calendar and roster of Florence membership, a silver trowel was also placed within and was engraved with the following: "Brother William Milligan, after whom this High School is named, was long an honored member of this Lodge." When the school was rebuilt in 1912 after succumbing to a damaging fire, Milligan’s name was controversially left off the school building.

Moose Lodge 28 Cooper St.
In 1917, a three story brick house was purchased. It sat next to the "site of the new post office," referring to the current post office at 35 N. Broad St. which was in the planning stages as early as 1917, but by order of the United States Secretary of the Treasury due to the U.S. involvement in the Great War raging in Europe, was delayed until 1924. "The ultimate improvement of this new purchase for a permanent Masonic Hall, is contemplated by the Lodge" (Pierson, 1918). However, this never occurred. Instead, almost directly across the street, a large 3-story structure was built in 1926 at 48 N. Broad Street next to the oldest residential house in Woodbury, the Franklin House (whose construction date is usually given as ca. 1765, but evidence shows it could have been built much earlier, perhaps as early as the 1600s). Florence lodge continued unceasingly in this location for many years.

Square and Compass
door knob of the former
Florence Lodge.
There is a popular Masonic quote, "Knock, and it shall be opened unto you." This particular adage will no longer work at Florence Lodge. In 2011 the Florence Lodge No. 87 closed its doors forever by order of the Grand Lodge of New Jersey. It has been consolidated with the Paulsboro Swedesboro Lodge No. 157 to form the newly constituted (April 28th, 2011) Clarksboro Lodge No. 87 F. & A.M. For 143 years Florence Lodge No. 87 A. F.& A.M. consisted of true seekers including many notables such as a U.S. District Attorney, Governor, Superintendent of Public Schools, a couple State Senators, members of Congress, Assemblymen, Postmasters and even our very own former Mayor, Lewis M. Green. The former Florence Lodge building was recently purchased and is being adaptively-reused by a local Woodbury-based insurance company, Excess Reinsurance, for their offices. 

Thus ends the story of Woodbury's era of Freemasonry. Until next time around perhaps! "So here's to the sons of the widow, Wherever soever they roam, Here's to all they aspire, And if they desire, A speedy return to their home." - R. Kipling.
 
Square and Compass stone and metal
inset on the top step of the former
Florence Masonic Lodge.
This historical overview of the history of Freemasonry in Woodbury was largely culled from the excellent research of Past Master George Pierson and Grand Secretary Isaac Cherry, which was delivered at the fiftieth anniversary of Florence Lodge, February 20th, 1918 and was subsequently published in the Woodbury Daily Times (see below citation).

Pierson, G. E. (1918, February 21-26). History of Florence Lodge No. 87 F.&A.M. Woodbury Daily Times


Whitehead, W. S. (1870). Origin of masonry in the state of new jersey: And the entire proceedings of the grand lodge, from its organization.. Princeton: J. H. Hough. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=_0AuAAAAYAAJ&dq

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hello, I enjoyed very much reading your article on "Woodbury's Era of Freemasonry" but a couple things in the article are inaccurate. Cloud Lodge, not Collingswood Lodge is the older of the two lodges. Cloud Lodge in Gloucester City, NJ, was constituted in Janaury, 1870, not 1917, according to http://collingswoodcloud101.org/historycc101.html Otherwise, I enjoyed you article, keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the notice! I must've had the dates reversed. Updated the blog entry to reflect the correction.

Village Green said...

Both the Square and Compass doorknob and step inset pictured above have been removed. November 2012.

James Wilgus said...

My father was a past master Mason at that Lodge, and it saddened me to know that it no longer exists.
I hope that all of the photos of the past masters have been treated with the respect that those men deserve.
I am also wondering where all of the honourable Masonic items have been placed. This is such a great part of the history of Woodbury, and I hope that these items have been treated as such.