Columbia Masonic Lodge Celebrates Bicentennial
Much has changed during the past 200 years, but the Freemasons of the Columbia Lodge of the Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons are still conducting their meetings as if it were 1815. “The meetings are the same as they were 200, 300, 400 years ago,” says Matthew Sanders, Worshipful Master of the Columbia Lodge, a position equivalent to an organization’s president.
Masons are the largest and oldest fraternal organization in the world. For many people, their only exposure to the organization is through the National Treasure movies. However, while the Masons have rites they keep private, they are open to visitors for the most part.
“We don’t go out and seek people to become members,” Sanders says. “People who want to become a member seek us out.” The idea behind this is that being a Mason requires a certain degree of commitment and if someone is pushed to join, he might not be as committed as someone who wants to join.
The goal of masonry is to create a better person, and thereby, improve the world. According to the Masonic pamphlet, What’s A Mason? “Masonry is deeply involved in helping people—it spends more than $2 million every day in the United States, just to make life a little easier. And the great majority of that help goes to people who are not Masons.” Much of it goes to charitable institutes and programs like children’s hospitals, burn centers and childhood language disorder clinics.
Columbia Lodge No. 58
The Freemasons came to Maryland in 1750, not in Baltimore, but in Leonardtown in Southern Maryland. They weren’t established in Frederick County until just before the Revolutionary War. Not much is known of the early lodges in the county. According to the Columbia Lodge’s history, the first Masonic Lodge in Frederick County met in the home of William Downey near New Market.
During the Revolutionary War, Frederick County had an Army Lodge that included Maryland troops and Frederick County Masons, even though it was chartered by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania. After the war, John Frederick Amelung and George Fearhake formed a lodge near Urbana. Then, in 1799, Hiram Lodge No. 28 of Fredericktown was chartered with 30 members.
All of those lodges are gone now. They either surrendered their charters or were folded into other lodges. Some of the smaller lodges combined to help form the Columbia Lodge No. 58, which was chartered on Nov. 7, 1815.
“The Masons met in a home at the corner of Market [Street] and Second Street,” says Kenneth Wyvill, Grand Master of the Maryland Masons. This combined lodge was large enough to meet the needs of Frederick County Masons for 66 years. However, in its first decade, the Columbia Lodge had no permanent home. It met in five different locations, usually a Mason’s home.
Gen. Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, who was the French hero of the American Revolution, visited Frederick and attended a Masonic meeting on Dec. 29, 1824, in the house of Henry Bantz on West Second Street. LaFayette presented his Masonic apron to Mason William Bear, who in turn donated it to the lodge. The apron is still on display in the lodge museum.
The 1830s saw a period where Masons were persecuted in the country and the Columbia Lodge decided on June 7, 1830, to cease their meetings. “There is no evidence of the existence of any Masonic Lodge during the years 1830 to 1842 in Frederick County,” according to the pamphlet Ceremonies of Cornerstone Laying and Dedication, which was printed for the dedication of the new Masonic Lodge in 1999.
In 1842, a number of Masons in Frederick met in a schoolhouse on the north side of West Church Street where the Evangelical Reformed Church now stands to petition the Grand Lodge of Maryland to reinstate the Columbia Lodge’s charter.
The new charter was approved on Nov. 6, 1842. Although a new charter was issued, the Columbia Lodge still retained its original lodge number (No. 58). This means that it was the 58th lodge ever chartered in Maryland and today it is the 10th oldest lodge in the state, according to Sanders.
“As population centers grew and shifted, Masons would decide to form new lodges,” says Wyvill. The first lodge to break away to form another lodge in a different area of Frederick County was the Acacia Lodge in 1871. It formed in Thurmont to serve northern Frederick County.
The Lynch Lodge, chartered in 1873, was formed not because of a desire to have a lodge closer to home but because the Masons were in danger of violating one of the two taboo subjects that aren’t discussed in a lodge—politics and religion. These subjects tend to create hard feelings between people and the Masons are about brotherhood.
Although the Civil War had ended in 1865, hard feelings still existed between those who supported the Union and those who backed the Confederacy. The two lodges remained separate until 1994 when they merged back into the Columbia Lodge. Currently, there are six Masonic Lodges in Frederick County. The others are in Brunswick, Thurmont, Emmitsburg, Point of Rocks and New Market.
While there is much fellowshipping among the Masons, there is also instruction. Masons learn various speeches, passwords and signs to move through different degrees. Though generally believed to be a Christian group, Masons include many faiths. The one requirement is that Masons must believe in a higher being. Each lodge has a book of faith on its central altar. This can be a Bible, but it could also be the Torah, Quran or more than one. “The only person we won’t accept is an atheist,” Sanders says. Masons are involved in many civic activities and participates in parades and building dedications. They can be identified in full regalia that include tuxedos, top hats and aprons.
The cornerstone for the current lodge hall on Blentlinger Road was laid in 1999. The three-floor brick building has a lodge room, social hall, museum and other rooms. The walls are adorned with pictures and artifacts that tell the story of the Masons in Frederick County. “Everything you see as you walk through here has meaning for us,” Sanders says.