In the July/August Drummer edition, I wrote about how Granby was full of volunteers, mentioning many organizations such as the Granby Club, Bridge Club, and the Boy and Girl Scout chapters. One organization I overlooked was the Freemasons of Granby, a very early civic organization and the oldest fraternal organization in the world.
In 2011, Karl Van Valkenburgh wrote a brief history of St. Mark’s Lodge No. 91, A.F.&A.M. (Ancient Free and Accepted Masons) titled, Fraternity in A Small Town. As Van Valkenburgh points out, prior to 1864, Mason Lodge 91 was “closely interwoven” with Mason Lodge 36 in East Granby. There were so many men from Granby in both chapters that in 1864, the Granby members petitioned to form their own Lodge, St. Mark’s Lodge 91, A.F.&A.M. They chose Edmond Holcomb as the Master of the Lodge. For the next 140 years this organization served Granby.
In 1864, there were 48 members and, over the next century, membership would reach a peak of 191. Prominent members, besides Edmond Holcomb, included old Granby names: Theodore Maltbie, James N. Loomis, Chester Loomis and Watson Dewey, to name a few.
At the turn of the twentieth century, other members accepted into the fraternity included James Lee Loomis, William Maltbie, Stanley Edwards, Fred Colton, Theodore Case, Fred Griffin, Paul Avery, Edward Goddard, Nathan Allison, Henry Cotton and George Goddard.
According to Van Valkenburgh, the focus of the Freemasons is threefold: fraternity, self-improvement, and charitable works. To become a member, one had to request membership in the Chapter and members voted unanimously to approve the candidate. Once the candidate was accepted, he had to work through three degrees—apprentice, fellow and master mason—to become a full member. In the early 1900s the organization was so strong it didn’t recruit new members.
During the second half of the nineteenth century, the Odd Fellows Club and the Granby Grange came into existence, but they didn’t affect the membership of the Masons at all. St. Marks was a vibrant organization, that invited other Lodges to their meetings or went to other lodges to watch fellow Masons go through the passage of degrees. For nearly three-quarters of a century, St. Mark’s Lodge held its meetings on the second floor of the Loomis building. During the 40 years from 1964 to 2004, meetings were held in the former Odd Fellows building at 19 East Granby Rd., which the Lodge had purchased.
During the 40s, 50s and 60s, meeting attendance was usually over 40 people. The new generation of Granby men who became members included Clifford Goslee, Robert Hahn, Ivan Hotchkiss, Lyall Shaw, Chester DeGray, Jim Oates, James Desmond, George Tuffin, Henry Cotton, Jeffrey Wayand and Karl Van Valkenburgh.
According to Van Valkenburgh, between 1974 and 1996 the greatest drop in enrollment of Freemasons members occurred, particularly for St. Mark’s Lodge No. 91. The fraternity started soliciting members and eased the requirements for becoming a full member. Many of the Granby membership leadership roles couldn’t be filled, so many members filled dual roles in the organization. There were many sports teams organizing as well as other non-profit organizations which perhaps caused some of the decreased participation.
Several members were so dedicated to the organization that at least 10 men from Granby received 50-year pins recognizing their long service. The group included Paul Avery, William Maltbie and James Lee Loomis. One member, Henry Cotton Sr., received a 70-year pin for his dedication to the St. Marks Lodge Number 91, A.F.&A.M.
The Granby Freemasons did not just dissolve into nothing. The members who believed in the organization and still wanted to be part of the Masons merged with Simsbury, and are now known as the Valley Freemasons Lodge No. 36, A.F.&A.M.
The Salmon Brook Historical Society has a display of the St. Mark’s Lodge No. 91 in the Preservation Barn. It can be viewed during summer tours of the Salmon Brook Historical Society, Sundays, from 2 to 4 p.m. from June through September.
Want to learn more about the St. Mark’s Lodge No. 91 A.F.&A.M. or become a member of the Salmon Brook Historical Society?
Please call 860-653-9713 or visit salmonbrookhistoricalsociety.com