Masonic Lodge played key social role in Spring Valley
Tuesday, April 01, 2014 3:20 AM
Social life was vitally important in the early settlements and folks relied on churches and groups for mutual support. The first lodge to organize in Spring Valley in 1866 was the Masonic Lodge, known as Lodge No. 58, A.F. & A.M., the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons. They began with 11 members: E.J. Kingsbury, J.D. Farmer, Robert McCord, Calvin Taylor, S.M. Hudson, James Teter, Isaac Forkner, W. Mordoff, Geo. Walker, John Q. Farmer, and Sylvester Treat.
In 1887 when their By Laws booklet was printed by Langworthy & Son (newspaper folks), there were 83 "active" members, although many names had been removed when men moved away, died or discontinued membership. The masonry principle of total equality among its membership was key to the organization. All petitions for membership and degrees had to be in writing including age, occupation, nativity, and must include names of two Master Masons. An applicant could not be present while his membership was voted on. Dues were $2 per year, but each application for a degree cost $5 and for Master Mason it was $10.
Meetings were held the first and third Tuesday of each month and the lodge met in various rented halls throughout the years. In 1951 the lodge purchased the former Evangelical United Brethren Church on the corner of East Park and Section Avenue to establish a permanent home. At the time of the sesquicentennial in 2005, membership had dwindled dramatically, but the lodge continued to serve the community with high school scholarships and since 2000 the basement was used as the Kiwanis Santa's Toy Workshop. We remember many dear people who worked on this project.
Three of the officers comprised a standing committee on charity whose duties were to attend to the necessities of the members, their widows and orphans, and were authorized to draw on the lodge funds for any sum, not exceeding five dollars at any one time, for charitable purposes. Special services were offered at the time of burial for the members. The women's counterpart was the Order of the Eastern Star, and the Robert Morris Chapter was formed in 1871.
At least two noteworthy events involved the Masonic Lodge in Spring Valley. In 1962 the old school buildings on South Broadway - the 1885 Molstad building and the 1911 high school - were demolished and a new elementary school built in their place at a cost of $750,000. My son, David, was one of the first kindergarten students to enjoy the handsome two-story building opened in 1963. During those progressive years, Dr. E.L. Morse, chairman of the school board, was also a member of the local Masonic Lodge. They were asked to lay the cornerstone at the new elementary school, and chosen for the honor was Ed Zimmer, age 83, since he had been present at the laying of the cornerstone for the 1911 high school. Those cornerstones now reside beside the Methodist Church Museum on West Courtland St.
Another big project that impacted the entire region was the establishment of Leonard Masonic Park five miles northeast of town. The story: Once the site of DeFor's lumber mill along spectacular bluffs and on a branch of Deer Creek, it later became known as Weisbeck's mill where he produced beautiful walnut furniture. The property went into the hands of Nick Leonard who thought the beauty of the place deserved to be celebrated. He deeded ten acres to the Masonic Lodge in 1915. A minstrel show, attended by 1,200 supportive citizens each paying one dollar, raised money to erect a picnic pavilion and camp kitchen. In the following years the park was the site of countless outings for families and graduation parties, church and Sunday School picnics, and much more plus offering a fresh spring for drinking water, swimming, fishing and gorgeous bluebells for picking. We won't mention it was also a nesting place for rattlesnakes. In later years vandalism was pervasive, and in 1999 Masonic Park was deeded to Fillmore County for maintenance.
I'm pleased to have a copy of an annual report dated 1924 showing both my grandfathers held offices in the lodge. Dr. G.L. Boucsein (veterinarian) was Worthy Matron, and Harry H. Steffens (cashier at First State Bank) was secretary. At that time dues were $3 a year, membership stood at 248 with 30 percent as non-residents. We believe the lodge is no longer evident in Spring Valley, and members may belong in Stewartville. Our thanks to Mary Kay (Hinze) Posey of St. Cloud who sent in the 1887 By-Laws booklet.