© Liberty Lodge #31 F & A M

Liberty Lodge #31

Ancient Free and Accepted Masons


10 E. Franklin St. Liberty, MO  64068 (816) 781-3775

The first history of Liberty Lodge No. 31 was prepared by Bro. Charles L. Dougherty in 1897, and it was continued to March 12, 1935, by Wor. Bro. Tom Wornall. In 1940 a history by decades was prepared by Wor. Bro. Arthur M. Tutt, who served as Worshipful Master in 1911, and this history was presented at the centennial celebration held October 9-10, 1940. The original history was further extended by a committee on October 9-10, 1940. The original history was further extended by a committee on October 1, 1949. Portions of each of these are incorporated in this narrative.

The historian is confronted with the problem of deciding what is important and what is trivial; what to delineate in detail and at length what to record briefly, and what to omit as of no historical importance. The following is a chronicle of the matters considered important in 119 years of the existence of Liberty Lodge No. 31, A.F. & A.M., from July 18, 1841, to the date of our 119th anniversary, October 9, 1959.

In the year 1840 a number of Master Masons of Liberty and vicinity petitioned the Grand Lodge A.F. & A.M. of Missouri for a charter for a lodge, to be located in Liberty, and, pending the granting of a charter, for permission to organize a lodge under dispensation. Permission was granted on June 26, and on July 18, 1840, the brethren met in a room in the court house in Liberty and opened the lodge with the following officers: Josiah Parker Worshipful Master, Thomas A. Case Senior Warden, pro tem, Henry C. Melone Junior Warden, Henry Coleman Treasurer, Thomas M. Bacon Secretary, Anderson Mclain Senior Deacon, Edward M. Spence Junior Deacon, Henry Fisher Steward and Tiler, pro tem. The members present were Lewis Scott and Bartley Estes, an Entered Apprentice. Thomas A. Case, who acted as Senior Warden, and Henry Fisher" who acted as Steward and Tiler, were visitors, Case being from Cumberland Lodge No. 6, Nashville, Tenn., and Fisher from a lodge the name of which is not shown in the record. Acting under instructions from the Grand Master, Bros. Case, Melone and Spence then installed Josiah C. Parker as Worshipful Master, and he, in turn, installed Henry C. Melone as Junior Warden, Henry Coleman as Treasurer, Thomas M. Bacon as Secretary, Anderson Mclain as Senior Deacon and Edward M. Spence as Junior Deacon. The lodge was known as Liberty Union Lodge. “No further business appearing," according to the record, ”the Masters, Fellowcrafts and Entered Apprentice lodges were closed in due form and harmony at 11 o'clock."

At the first regular communication on August l, 1840, petitions for the degrees were received from John S. Lightburne, John Browning, Jonathan D. Skaggs and John Edwards, Jr., and a petition for advancement to the degree of Fellowcraft from Bartley Estes, who had received the degree of Entered Apprentice elsewhere, but the record does not give the name of the lodge or the place. Bros. John Ferril, John Gordon and John Halbert were admitted to membership “on Motion." John Gordon was appointed Steward and Tiler and was duly installed, and a committee was appointed to prepare by-laws, which were later adopted and frequently amended in the succeeding years.

The first two meetings were held in the court house and the lodge then arranged to meet in a room on the second floor of the Berry Building, one-half block east of the court house on the south side of Kansas Street. The first degree conferred by the new lodge was August 15, 1840, when Bartley Estes, an Entered Apprentice, was passed to the degree of Fellowcraft at a meeting called for 3 P.M., and "at early candle light" that same day the degree of Entered Apprentice was conferred for the first time the candidates being John S Lightburne, John Browning and Jonathan D. Skaggs. The first time the Master Mason degree was conferred was September 8, 1840, the candidate being Bartley Estes. On the 25th day of the same month John S. Lightburne, John Browning and Jonathan D. Skaggs were raised to th€ degree of Master Mason, they being the first candidates to receive all of the degrees in this lodge. The continued activity of receiving petitions and conferring degrees followed and in one week meetings were held every night except Sunday.

No copy of the by-laws in force in those early years is available, but certain procedures are apparent that seem strange to us now. There seems to have been an "associate membership," with no explanation of its qualifications, requirements or privileges, and Master Masons were admitted to membership "on Motion," with no mention of application or demit. Examinations for proficiency were sometimes dispensed with, the Worshipful Master declaring the existence of an "emergency." Before conferring any degree, the record showed that the Secretary was satisfied." meaning the fee had been paid. On at least one occasion the petition was received, voted on, and the candidate initiated all at one meeting, under suspension of the rules.

The charter from the Grand Lodge, a copy of which precedes this narrative, and which was dated October 9, 1840, was received November 2,1840, and thereafter the lodge was known as Liberty Lodge No. 31.

The altar used in the lodge at its first meeting was a walnut goods box, carried into the court house by one of the members. That same box formed the central section of the altar that was later built around it and was in use at every meeting of the lodge until it was destroyed by fire February 5, 1955, which burned the building and practically all of its contents.

The first election of officers under the charter was held December 26, 1840. This was for a term of six months, and resulted in the election of Alvin Lightburne as Worshipful Master, Isaac P. Frost Senior Warden B. M. Hughes Junior Warden Henry Coleman Treasurer, and Thomas M. Bacon Secretary.

Alvin Lightburne, the first elected Worshipful Master, was probably the most outstanding Freemason of this community in those early days. He served the lodge as Worshipful Master a total of nine years and filled in at any other station or place that the occasion required. He was constant in attendance, faithful in service and liberal in his material contributions toward every effort to advance the cause of Freemasonry. The minutes of the lodge for the first 25 years, record him as being present at nearly every communication. He seems to have exemplified to a high degree the tenets of his profession, and in times of trouble he was always consulted. He died in 1890 and was buried with Masonic honors, having been a Mason 64 years and member of Liberty Lodge No. 3l fifty years.

On January 4, 1841, appeared the record of the first rejection of a petition; and on January 7 of that year there was the first appropriation from the treasury for the relief of distress. On February 4,1841, the lodge endorsed the petition of a member of brethren in Jackson County to the Grand Lodge for a lodge in Independence, and on March 20 the same action was taken for a lodge at Sparta in Buchanan County. At that time the jurisdiction of this lodge extended for many miles on each side and there were frequent requests for endorsement of such petitions. The formation of these new lodges accounts in part for the large number of demits granted in the early years of the history of Liberty Lodge

After the lodge had occupied its rented hall in the Berry Building on East Kansas Street a few months a desire to own its own hall became prevalent, and a committee appointed to investigate the matter reported that the Liberty Insurance Company had offered to build a room over their building at the southwest corner of Main and Franklin Streets for the sum of $500.00. This offer was accepted and on completion of the building a committee was appointed to furnish the hall and prepare it for use. This hall was occupied by the lodge until 1865. The record does not show when the lodge moved to this new building, but it must have been on or before November 20, 1841, for on that date they voted to allow the use of the hall to a Royal Arch Chapter, if and when it should be organized. The Royal Arch Chapter was organized under dispensation from the General Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of the United States of America in 1842,but did not receive its charter until 1844, that being the time of the first meeting of the General Grand Chapter after the General Grand High Priest had granted the dispensation. Liberty Chapter No. 3, R A M, participated in the organization of the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of the State of Missouri, in 1846 and was granted a second charter by that body.

About this time a question arose among the members as to whether the officers appointed by the Grand Lodge for organization had been properly installed, and it was decided to ask the Grand Lodge to issue a new charter, to recognize the officers at that time, and to validate all records of the lodge heretofore made. This was done, and on the authority of the Grand Master, Bros. H. C. Melone and F Garlich duly installed the officers on November 20,184l. These officers were Alvin Lightburne Worshipful Master, J. P. Frost Senior Warden, B. M. Hughes Junior Warden, Henry Coleman Treasurer, P. N. Edwards Secretary, Anderson Dougherty Senior Deacon, John S. Lightburne Junior Deacon, S. O. Berry steward and Tiler.

On June l, 1842, Bro. Alexander T. Douglas, Grand Visitor, held what seems to have been the first school of instruction. For three and one-half days, morning, afternoon and evening, the lodge worked in the degrees and listened to lectures by the Grand visitor.

At this time attention was called to the resolution of the Grand Lodge for the establishment of a school for the sons and an asylum for the daughters of indigent Masons, and pledges were made by a number of members of the lodge for various amounts, to be paid annually for five years. This movement resulted in the establishment of the Masonic College in Marion County, near Philadelphia, Mo., and when the proposal was made in the Grand Lodge in 1846 to move the college from Marion County, a meeting of Liberty Lodge was held December 4 of that year to start a campaign to have a college located in Liberty. About $2,000.00 was subscribed and offered to the Grand Lodge if the college was located in Liberty. In the event the college was located elsewhere, the money was to be used to build in Liberty "a literary institution under control of this lodge." But the college was moved to Lexington and the subscription money was never used.

The record of January 9, 1847, states that a petition for the degrees wa$ received from Coleman Younger, a farmer." The question might arise if the Secretary was inspired to designate him as "a farmer" to distinguish him from the Coleman Younger, 'bandit," of later years. He was initiated April 13, 1847, but here is no record of his having been passed to the second degree or raised to the third degree. Two years later the minutes show that the committee appointed to investigate charges of un-Masonic conduct against Coleman Younger reported and the report was filed.

In July, 1847, the lodge, together with members of other Masonic lodges in the vicinity participated in a parade and celebration of the return of the Alexander Doniphan company of Missouri volunteers from the Mexican war, when a hearty welcome was given by the entire community. In this same month the lodge laid the cornerstone of the new Baptist church in Liberty, and since then has performed a like service for nearly all of the public buildings erected in Liberty.

The record of the first ten years indicates that at times all was not peace and harmony within the lodge. Gambling, drunkenness and conversation not circumspect were all too prevalent and it was even necessary at one time to appoint a vigilance committee to round up the erring brethren. Many cases of charges and trials were reported, but the conception of discipline seemed to mean correction rather than punishment, and while there were many reprimands and suspensions, there were only three expulsions, one for an unprovoked homicide, one for rape of a colored girl and one for bigamy and embezzlement.

The records of the lodge-from May, 1849 to May, 1854, are missing, so the only information obtainable is from the annual returns in the files of tire Grand Lodge, which show only the officers and changes in membership. During those five years 48 candidates were raised, I6 were received on demits and 34 demits were granted.

In 1854 Bro. H. E. VanOsdell, who was serving as worshipful Master of the lodge at that time" was appointed District Deputy Grand Master of District No. 3. This seemed to displease some of the members, who passed a derogatory resolution about the matter on June 24 and forwarded it to the Grand Master, Most Wor. L. D Cornwall. He considered this an insult to him in his official capacity and ordered the lodge to rescind the resolution and expunge it from the records. This order was not obeyed by the lodge at meeting with barely a quorum present, and the charter was arrested by the Grand Master. After about six months twelve brethren sent the following petition to the Grand Master:

"The undersigned, late members of Liberty Lodge No. 31, would most respectfully state that they are desirous of promoting the cause of Masonry and to this end they ask that the Grand Master will allow us to take the charter of the late Liberty Lodge No. 3l and continue our duties as Masons in a constitutional manner. We also ask the Grand Master to give us the jewels and other effects of said late lodge. If our petition should  be granted we promise on our part to meet all demands against the late lodge and to perform all duties enjoined by the constitution of the Grand Lodge and in all things to adhere to the ancient rules and regulations of the order. November 4, 1854. “Signed: A. Lightburne, A. J. Carhoun, S. R Shrader, J. T. V. Thompson, S. B Simmons, Ellison Higby Mallory Cave Thos. Sublett, Daniel Patton, W W Dougherty, Jno Edwards, Jno. W. Drew.”

The Grand Master granted the petition and instructed Rt. Wor. Bro. H. E. VanOsdell, D. D. G. M.,' to deliver the charter and install the officers. This was done and the unwise rebellion was ended.

1858 a lodge library was started by the purchase of four volumes of Robert Morris, Masonic Library for $25.00, and while other volumes were added later, the library was never a conspicuous success.

In I859 an effort was made to enforce attendance at lodge and a number of brethren were cited for non-attendance, but apparently all were able to give satisfactory excuses. In this year the lodge purchased the north half of Block 19 in Fairview Cemetery, which it still owns, but no use has ever been made of it.

In 1861, after the Masonic College at Lexington had closed, the lodge made a demand on the Grand Lodge for the return of $600.00 the lodge had paid for two scholarships in the college that had not been used. This claim was in dispute for about eight years, but was finally settled by the Grand Lodge paying $359.00 of the claim.

The days of the Civil War brought many serious problems to the lodge. Missouri being a border state, sentiment was somewhat divided, though practically all the members of the lodge were in sympathy with the Confederacy, but it is to the everlasting credit of Freemasonry that Liberty Lodge went forward on an even keel through those troublesome times. During those four years the lodge room was the only place where men from both sided of the conflict could meet peaceably and in a brotherly spirit. Meetings were held regularly, business transacted and candidates initiated, and in the minutes are found the names of visiting brethren from Iowa, Illinois and other Northern states. All was peaceful and quiet within the lodge hall, with no evidence of the storm that raged in the states outside.

An example of the relations existing between the members of this lodge and the Masons in the Federal regiment stationed in Liberty at that time can be found in the minutes of July 14,1862, when an invitation was received and accepted from Rising Sun Lodge No. l3 at Barry, Mo., to join them in a picnic and to invite any Mason of the Federal forces then in Liberty to accompany them, which was accordingly done.

A story frequently told is that when the Federal soldiers were about to take over the building of William Jewell College for barracks, the records and valuables of the college were brought to the lodge hall for safekeeping and remained there until the close of the war, when they were returned to the college.

After several years of dissatisfaction with the lodge room, a committee was appointed in 1865 and instructed to purchase a lot at the northeast corner of Main and Franklin Streets for $475.00, with a view of building on it. On December 18 of that year the lodge voted to occupy the room over the drug store of Bro. William A. Hall, in the middle of the block on the west side of the courthouse square for as long as Bro. Hall had control of the property, the rent to be $200.00 per year. That was the home of the lodge until 1870.

On January 31, 1866, Most Wor. Bro. John F. Houston Grand Master of Missouri, visited the lodge. Bro- William A. Hall had been elected Worshipful Master a short time before that visit, but it appearing to the Grand Master that he had not, prior to his election, served as either Senior Warden or Junior Warden, his election was declared void and Bro. William W. Dougherty was elected in his place. Bro. Hall continued to serve the lodge and later passed through the chairs and served as Worshipful Master two years.

In 1866 the lodge officiated at the re-interment of the body of Wor. Bro. William Thompson who died in Sidney, Iowa, and was buried there. Bro. Thompson was a noted educator and orator, having served as the second president of William Jewell College from 1857 to lg6l, when the school was temporarily closed because of the war. He was also a lawyer, having practiced previously in Illinois. He was Worshipful Master of Liberty Lodge in 1864. In l88l a monument to his memory was erected in New Cemetery in Liberty, to which his remains had been returned, and the lodge was asked by members of his family to select suitable emblems and inscriptions for it.

Liberty Commandery No. 6, Knights Templar, was charted May 2l,l gg6, and since that time has held its conclaves in the hall of Liberty Lodge. Little is found in the minutes about it, but in the final report of the building committee dated August 6, 1870, is the statement that the Commandery donated $100.00 to the building of the new hall.

In September, 1869, a contract was made with Robert H Miller for the erection of a building at the northeast corner of Main and Franklin Streets, the lodge to own the second story and an easement thereto. Other real estate owned by the lodge was sold and in 1870 the lodge moved to this new building, its interest costing $2,984.67, and that was the lodge home for the next sixteen years.

Soon after occupying this new hall, the Tiler was instructed to put a fastening on the trap door, but there is nothing to indicate whether the trap door was an essential part of paraphernalia used in conferring degrees or just an ordinary exit through the ceiling to the roof.

For several years during this period many calls for relief, both within and without the membership, were received, to all of which the lodge responded, while going on quietly, meeting regularly and conferring degrees.

On January 7,1884, Bro. James M Miller presented to the lodge a gavel bearing this inscription. "A chip from the ship Constitution, presented by Lieut. James M. Miller U. S. N., to Liberty Lodge No. 31, A. F. & A. M." Bro. Miller later attained the rank of Rear Admiral in the Navy, and served with distinction in the Spanish-American War. He was made a Mason in this lodge in June, 1873, and was also a member of Liberty Chapter No. 3 R. A. M. He died on November 11, 1908, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D. C. The gavel is highly prized by the members and is used on special occasions.

In 1886 dissatisfaction with the lodge hall was again manifested and a desire for something better was expressed. Arrangements were made to purchase the second story of a building being erected by Bro. Thomas F. Messick on the north side of the public square, and the interest in the old building at the northeast corner of Main and Franklin Streets was sold to Robert H. Miller for $1,000.00. The new building at l0 East Franklin Street cost $1,500.00, and that has been the location of the lodge home since that time. The first meeting here was August 2, 1886, and it was dedicated December 27, 1886. A dining room adjoining was enlarged and improved at a cost of $360.00 and accepted by the lodge May 8, 1895.

The minutes of January 25, 1897, show that "A motion was made to buy a new stove," and this same motion came up many times in the following 27 years. Whenever interest lagged and the members had nothing better to do, someone could be depended on to make this motion, and then the fight was on. The old stove, that had heated the hall so long that the memory of the oldest member of the lodge could not fix the time of its installation, had its enemies, but its friends were loyal and managed to delay its replacement until October 27, 1924, when it was voted to install a modern heating unit. And thus the old stove that had become a symbol of the good old days to so many members was relegated to obscurity.

News of the death of Bro. James R. Eaton was received in Liberty March 25,1897. Dr. Eaton was the head of the Science department of William Jewell College from l87l until 1897, and while not a member of Liberty Lodge, he had visited the lodge during his residence in Liberty. He had finished his college work earlier than usual in 1897 and was on a trip to the Holy Land when he became ill and died in Cairo, Egypt, and was buried in the Presbyterian cemetery there. In the settlement of his estate, some legal matters were entrusted to Judge F. H. Trimble, a member of this lodge, and, among other correspondence, he received a letter from the Presbyterian minister in Cairo who had conducted the funeral service at Dr. Eaton's burial. He told of an incident during the service that he and others present did not understand but which Judge Trimble might explain. Two Arab Sheiks in their characteristic dress were among those present at the service, and as the body was lowered into the grave they stepped forward, dropped sprigs of evergreen into the grave, uttered some words in Arabic and made certain signs that were not understood by those present. It is not known how they ascertained that Dr. Eaton was a Mason, but a member of the fraternity would have known that they were giving a portion of the Masonic burial service, and the incident is an example of the universality of Freemasonry.

The first war casualty of World War I among the members of this lodge was Bro. Seldon Murray, attached to Base Hospital Unit No. 10, A. E. F., who died of influenza in Rouen, France, in November, 1918. He was a son of Bro. C. S. Murray, who was Worshipful Master in 1895.

A very substantial increase in membership was noted during the days of World War I, as was the case with most of the lodges in this country, when so many young men called to military service expressed their interest in Freemasonry and knocked at our door for admission. This was true also during the period of World War II. The names of many members were placed on rolls of honor when called to service and the gold stars indicated casualties became more and more frequent.

Appropriate celebrations were held to celebrate the 50th, 75th, 80th, 85th, and 90th anniversaries of the lodge and on October 9 and 10, 1940, an extensive celebration of the centennial marked a high spot in the lodge's history. Many distinguished Freemasons attended and took part in the programs and proper tribute was paid to the brethren who had worked and served during the first century of the lodge's existence and given to Freemasonry in this community the reputation that enabled all to be proud of it. At this celebration Wor. Bro. Arthur M. Tutt, a past Master, who had been requested to chronicle events of the first 100 years, closed as follows:

"When Liberty Lodge No. 3l came into existence 100 years ago its tangible assets were ten members, a birth certificate, a borrowed hall and a far horizon. But the intangible things of life are ever the more important. The beautiful system of morals with its cardinal virtues, temperance, fortitude, prudence and justice; its tenets of brotherly love, relief and truth; its unfeigned belief in the one living and true God, which we call Freemasonry was an asset of the lodge far surpassing size of membership, imposing temples or stocks and bonds. And so we measure the achievements of the first 100 years in deeds of charity, in the healing of quarrels between brethren, in acts of patriotism and in participation of every enterprise that makes for civic righteousness. The record of the lodge in these things constitutes a glorious heritage for us. . . Once more the lodge is facing the far horizon. It beckons us as it did our fathers 100 years ago. It challenges us to make a better record than they have made."

The greatest calamity to befall Liberty Lodge was a fire that destroyed the building and its contents on the night of February 5, 1955. While the essential records had been safely deposited and were saved, many historical documents, books and relics were lost. Only a few years before more than $10,000.00 had been spent in making improvements in the lodge property, adding a new, modern dining room, new chairs, carpet and other conveniences, as well as various items of paraphernalia.

Arrangements were made and permission received to meet in the Odd Fellows hall until a new building could be erected. The Liberty Masonic Building Association, that now holds title to the property; soon had the site cleared, plans drawn and a contract let for a new building on the same site. The cornerstone of the new building was laid February 11, 1956, by Most Wor. Bro. William J. Craig, Grand Master and other Grand Lodge officers, and the lodge room was consecrated and dedicated and the first communication held in it February 27, 1956. A business firm occupies the first floor at a substantial rental, and the lodge quarters on the second floor are larger, more modem and more commodious than the former lodge room, with an auxiliary hall, dining room, kitchen and appropriate ante rooms.

Liberal contributions toward the construction of the new building were made by the lodge, by Liberty Chapter No. 3, R. A. M., Liberty Council No. 50, R. & S. M., which had occupied the hall since its organization in 1950; Liberty Commandery No. 6, K. T., Jewell Chapter, O. E. S., and Liberty Assembly of the Social Order of Beauceant, all of which had managed their financial affairs prudently, and the financing of the new edifice was easily arranged. Many articles of equipment and paraphernalia were contributed by members of the various organizations. Notable among these were the beautiful mahogany alter and officers' pedestals constructed and donated by Wor. Bro. Edward J. Milliman and Bro. David W. Landis. Inside the lid of the new altar is a frame containing articles salvaged after the fire, including the old square and compasses and a portion of the charred wood and covering of the historic old altar used at the first meeting in 1840 and in use continuously until it was destroyed by the fire. A tiler's desk and other substantial articles were made and donated by Rt. Wor. Emerson O. Boggess and marble tops for officer’s pedestals were contributed by Wor. Bro. Homer B. Brown and Bro. Rolly Johnson, Jr., while the refurnishing of chairs and tables was the contribution of Bro. Earl M. Summers. An altar Bible was presented by Alpha Lodge No. 659 of North Kansas City, Mo., and other lodges in the vicinity exhibited the spirit of Freemasonry by furnishing articles necessary for carrying on the work of the lodge.

During the 119 years of its existence Liberty Lodge has prospered, declined and prospered again as the community prospered, declined and prospered, and has joined with the citizens of Liberty in the promotion of every worthy cause proposed. It has been fortunate in having among its members many of the most distinguished and influential citizens of the community, who have never deemed it derogatory to their dignity to level themselves with the fraternity, and have given of their time and means to promote the cause of Freemasonry. The number of them is too great to enumerate them individually. Many honors have come to members of the lodge from the Grand Lodge of Missouri and from other affiliated organizations and the list of those thus honored at this time is a long one.

Like all human institutions, a few gained admission who were not worthy of the honors of the fraternity, but the lodge did not hesitate to "clean house" when the occasion demanded it, and the honor, glory and reputation of the fraternity have been kept high.

Increased interest in the fraternity and substantial progress have marked the history in recent years, with constantly increasing membership. In August, 1955, Wor. Bro. Gilbert Pence, who has served as historian in recent years, keeping the record of all members up to date, stated that he had enumerated a total of 1193 members since the organization, and that number soon passed 1200.

Our history and traditions are commendable and worthy of pride. Our past is honorable and deserving of emulation. Our present is favorable and full of promise. Our future is bright with opportunities. Our principles and our teachings are worthy of our best efforts, and on this 119th anniversary of our organization--- October 9, 1959---- we can look forward with confidence to the work of building more glorious temples in human lives.

History taken from By-laws and Historical sketch printed December 28- 1959

Retyped August, 1999 by RW Brother George A. Morgan Secretary

Retyped March 2012 by Bro. Franklin Bruce Needhammer for publication on internet.

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