History of Laurel Wreath Lodge No. 149
I. EARLIEST DAYS
Laurel Wreath Lodge was formed under a dispensation from Most Worshipful Grand Master John Coates on May 21, 1869 and formally chartered in the same year on November 15. The birth of the Lodge preceded by only five months the incorporation of the Town of Laurel on April 4, 1870. Since that time both institutions have been intimately associated, through participation of our Masonic brethren, in a broad range of community affairs.
There were nine men involved in founding of the Lodge, from whom provisional officers were selected on May 21, as follows: Robert Cooper McGinn, Worshipful Master, Alexander Sharpe, Senior Warden, Thomas Davis Bond, Junior Warden, C.C. Casey, Secretary, John D. Latchford, Treasurer, Robert V. Bond, Senior Deacon, William Clark, Jr., Junior Deacon, and Bruce Small, Tyler. The Ninth original participation member was Brother George Keith. Named as a committee to draw up bylaws were Brothers McGinn, T.D. Bond, C.C. Casey and R.V. Bond, with initiation fee set at $30.00 and a committee to procure necessary jewels and furniture consisting of Brothers Sharped, Latchford and Small. Worshipful Master McKinley then exemplified a part of the Master Mason Degree.
Background information on the nine founders as obtained from available records is as follows:
Robert Cooper McGinn was born in Cork, Ireland, moved to America in childhood, settled in Baltimore where he became a school teacher. He was raised in Mystic Circle Lodge #109 and Later became a charter member of Mt. Moriah Lodge #116 of which he served as secretary. His persistence deserves chief credit for success in obtaining the dispensation to organize Laurel Wreath Lodge.
Thomas Davis Bond was a son Albin D. Bond of High Ridge in Howard County which was part of the Snowden family Birmingham Manor tract. Thomas ran an insurance and real estate business in Washington, D.C. where he was a member of Lafayette Lodge #19.
Robert V. Bond, brother of Thomas was a molder, likely having worked in the foundries at Laurel and had been a member of Washington Centennial Lodge #14 in Washington, D.C.
Alexander Sharpe was a United States Marshall and a brother-in-law of President U.S. Grant.
John D Latchford originally a member of Concordia Lodge #13 and subsequently of Corinthian Lodge #93 in Baltimore demitted to become a charter member of Laurel Wreath Lodge. He was operator of a large farm at Muirkirk in the Contee area and also likely of some iron ore mining.
William G. Clark, Jr. was born November 28, 1832. After taking part in the founding of Laurel Wreath Lodges he moved to Morristown Pennsylvania six months later. He died in 1908. Brother Clark was made a life member on March 3, 1902.
Bruce Small came into Laurel Wreath Lodge on a demit from Lafayette Lodge #19 in Washington, D.C. and was our first Tyler and subsequently served as Junior Warden in 1876.
C.C. Casey served as Secretary until June 11, 1869 which marked his last entry in the Lodge minutes.
George Keith served as Secretary Pro Tem, to record the last meeting he is shown as attending on July 9, 1869. No other information remains thereafter except a notation on September 2, 1879 of a gift of $25.00 to his widow.
At our Lodge's second meeting on May 29, 1869, a gift from Lafayette Lodge #19 in Washington, D.C. was presented consisting of 20 linen and two lambskin aprons, a Tyler's sword, three slippers, a Bible, a 24 inch gauge, altar square and compasses and a square, level and plumb set. Petitions were received on that date from James Curley aa merchant tailor, Henry McEwing a blacksmith, Johm Cronmiller a physicians, Robert Pilson a manufacturer, William Latchford a clerk, Dewilton Snowden a physician and Thomas N. Young a clerk.
The first conferral of the Entered Apprentice Degree occurred on June 11, 1869 on Candidates Dewilton Snowden, Robert Pilson and John W. Whiteside. These three were followed on June 18 by John Cronmiller, William Latchford and James Curley and on June 25 by Thomas N. Young. Moving quickly, the early Lodge seemed not to mind working weekly and into July. These seven were given their EA proficiency examination and received their Fellowcraft Degree at successive meetings on July second and ninth. Being proficient in the Fellowcraft Degree on July 23rd, they received the Master Mason Degree on July 30th. In fact on the preceding night July 29th three candidates were given their First Degree - a truly whirlwind performance.
Work continued through August 1869 and in September Laurel Wreath Lodge received first ministerial candidate, the Reverend Dr. James A. Young who completed his Degrees that November. During that time on October 1, 1869 the report of the committee on bylaws was adopted and on November 12, annual dues were set at five dollars.
On December3, 1869 Brother James Bowers of Arcana Lodge #110, Grand Lecturer, visited Laurel Wreath Lodge and presented its charter dated November 15 1869 which he read to the assembled brothern. He then consecrated the new Lodge and proceeded to install interim officers. Then On December 17th the following were elected and appointed for the first six months of 1870: Worshipful Master R.C. McGinn, Senior Warden Thomas D. Bond, Junior Warden John Cronmiller, Secretary Thomas N. Young, Treasurer John D. Latchford, Senior Deacon John W. Whiteside, Junior Deacon William Latchford, and Tyler Charles G. Sheldon. On January 8, 1870 Robert Pilson and James Curley were added as Stewards. Also on that same date demits from other Lodges were recieved from R.C. McGinn, Thomas D. Bond, John D. Latchford, Robert V. Bond, William G. Clark, Bruce Small and Charles S. Duvall who with those brothers raised to the degree of Master Mason (Dewilton Snowden, John W. Whiteside, John Cronmiller, Robert Pilson, William Latchford, James Curley, Thomas N. Young, George W. Waters, Charles G. Sheldon, Young, George W. Waters, Charles G. Sheldon, Reverend James A. Young, Luther Brashears and Mason D. McKnew) became the first official roster of the newly chartered Laurel Wreath Lodge #149.
II. MILESTONES AND MEMORABILIA
There has long been speculation as to the location of our first Laurel Wreath meeting place, but it was most likely one of the Laurel mill buildings. Old maps show the mill property extending from the Patuxent River up to Main Street at which is now the northwest corner of Main and Seventh Streets. Seventh Street then not being cut through to the river. This assumption is supported no doubt by a note in the minutes of March 4, 1872 of $50.00 paid on account for rent to Brother Robert Pilson a mill superintendent. Shortly thereafter on April 30, 1872 the original hall was destroyed by fire. The following meetings were held at Talbott Bros. Store and the next on May 20, 1972 at the hall of Patuxent Lodge #45, I.O.O.F which subsequently became the Millard Apartments at 419 Main Street opposite the Methodist Church. Lodge minutes for January 15 through April 15 of that year were lost in the fire and had to be duplicated from notes and from memory.
In the same year before the fire, there were several Laurel Wreath Lodge firsts recorded: purchases of five shares of the Laurel Building Association stock authorized, amendments to the bylaws passed and approved by the Grand Lodge to change meeting dates from the first and third Fridays to the first and third Mondays, a first grave side service performed for our Chaplain, the Reverend James A. Young on September 26, 1870. Other firsts included presentation in 1882 of a Past Master's jewel to William H. Harrison which is now displayed in the Grand Lodge museum in Baltimore, cornerstone laying in May of 1884 for the Centenary Methodist Episcopal Church and attendance at St. John's Day services at Saint Philips Episcopal Church in December 1886.
On December 2, 1889 recommendation was made that the Lodge form a stock company under Maryland State laws, with capital of $5,000 subject to increase to $20,000 to build a new temple. On September 18, 1893 the Building Committee reported that plans had been approved and effort was being made to purchase a lot. Then on November 6, 1893 committee members D.M. Fisher, C.H. Stanley, J.F. Billard, P.P. Castle and F.M. Baker were elected trustees for the proposed property and approval was given for acceptance of a deed from Charles F. Shaffer and wife for a lot at 209 Washington Avenue for a consideration of five shares of Laurel Building Association stock valued at $500 with $12.50 to be paid to C.H. Stanley for costs of having the deed prepared and recorded. This was of course the site where the temple is now located. Construction proceeded forthwith and the cornerstone was laid on September 13, 1894. Minutes then record that on January 7, 1895 the Lodge moved in procession to the new building for a dedication ceremony performed by D.M. Fisher, P.M. and Grand Inspector. An oration was delivered by Brother P.M. Charles H. Stanley and a gift of the emblematic "G" from Brother Richard Stapleton of Howard Lodge #101 was presented. The minutes further stated that "After closing the Brethren descended to the "Supper Room" where the ladies had prepared a bounteous collation".
Ironically the dedication and initial occupancy of the new temple were scarcely out of the way when a fire on the night of October 20, 1896 seriously damaged the new structure.
Minutes of November 2, 1896 show that the Lodge returned to labor, at the invitation of Patuxent Lodge #45, I.O.O.F., to meet for the time being at their hall on Main Street. It was also noted on the same date that the Lodge Trustees had been authorized to settle insurance coverage for the amount of $2,240.70 (1% discount for cash) and according to the minutes of January 4, 1897 to decide whether to proceed with reconstruction of the temple or sell the property. Decision to rebuild was quickly made, a number of donations were received and the Craft were able to return to labor in the building on September 6, 1897.
Subsequently on July 17, 1899 the Lodge gave a rising vote of thanks to Brother Albert L. Harris for the donation of a set of two ashlars to adorn the East. At a fair held in the fall of that year a buggy had been raffled off and on March 19, 1900 no claimant having come forward with the winning ticket, the Worshipful Master was authorized to advertise in the Baltimore Sun and if no winner appeared , to sell the buggy and turn the proceeds over to the Lodge. Later in that same year it is noted that Zeredathah Royal Arch Chapter #35 was to begin work in Laurel Wreath Temple on July 15 at a rental of $2.50 per month. In March 1902 the Lodge created its first Life Member, William G. Clark, then one of only two surviving charter members. In September 1905 use of the temple was authorized to organize a new chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star. On May 4, 1908 purchase of a set of officers' aprons was approved along with $2.00 for cigars. Then on June 15th authority was given to buy six cuspidors and ash receivers. It turns out that the cuspidors lasted just six years, when their replacement and sale of the old ones was authorized September 7, 1914. In November 1910 purchase of coal burning stoves upstairs and down was approved and in September of the following year the Secretary was told to try to collect enough dues to buy electric fans. In April 1912 the Grand Lecturer announced a Lodge of Instruction to be held at Laurel Wreath Temple on the first Friday of each month, with Solomon, and Birmingham Lodges invited. Just before Christmas of 1913 a special communication was held for services and graveside ritual at Saint Philips Episcopal Church for P.M. Charles H. Stanley, in a way the end of an era.
By 1917 our Lodge was beginning to feel the effects of the Word War I activity. In January of that year permission was given to the ladies of the town to hold a dance for troops at Camp Meade, also free use of the lower hall was granted to the American Red Cross as well as to representatives of the National Council of Defense for soldiers' rest and recreation and as a writing room. In 1918 the influx of Masonic brethren at Camp Meade and Camp Laurel (a tent camp where the Laurel Race Course now stands) brought on a flurry of activity in visits and courtesy degree work for candidates from jurisdictions ranging from Texas to Idaho and Maine to Oregon. Grand Master Thomas J. Shryock sent word via Grand Inspector LePage Cronmiller expressing his desire "that members of Laurel Wreath do all in their power towards the entertainment and comfort of the 'men in the service' who may be located nearby, the Grand Lodge being ready and willing to cooperate financially or otherwise." This period marked a peak of activity for our fifty year old Lodge up to that point.
In December 1919 Brother Hugh Fisher Senior Warden, announced that the Maryland Grand Lodge would be issuing identification cards for Blue Lodge use, a move which Laurel Wreath had previously considered. The following year in May death was announced of Brother Robert V. Bond, the oldest and the last surviving charter member of Laurel Wreath Lodge. In June the trustees authorized installation of a toilet connecting to a joints sewer line with the Baptist Church. In January 1922 Brother Ira Lee Reed offered to make new bases for the "three burning tapers" and his handy work is still in use. In April 1922 Past Master LePage Cronmiller advanced the idea of forming a Past Masters' Association for all of Southern Maryland. Our Past Master H.P. Curley served as its president in 1924 as did Past Master Cronmiller in 1927. In December 1924 purchase of a heating plant was authorized. The following year on May 18th Most Worshipful Grand Master Waren E. Seipp made a first Grand Master's visit to Laurel Wreath Lodge. On which occasion he raised Brother DeWitt Donaldson and delivered the Third Degree Lecture to Brothers Donaldson and Calvin R. Hamilton. In January 1926 the Lodge approved a donation of $100 to the Masonic Home Fund. A highlight of 1927 was the April 18th meeting at which Past Master Thomas M. Diven presented the gold-finished emblem of the square, compasses and letter "G" enclosed in a wreath, which we still display. On that night Brother Wilber Chaney Past Master of Adherence #88 in Baltimore raised Brother Henry A. Erickson with a total of 115 Masons present for the event.
At the second meeting in January 1929 a committee was authorized to ascertain the cost of installing a light in the front gable of the temple to illuminate the Masonic emblem displayed there. This is dark again at present and consideration is being given to restoring power to the spotlight. A visit by Most Worshipful Grand Master George Gorsuch and his Grand Line was paid to Laurel Wreath Lodge in February 1931. On which occasion the Grand Lodge entourage conferred the Master Mason Degree on William Everett Marton who quickly advanced to the station of Worshipful Master. In fact , it was only two years later on January 9, 1933 when Brother Marton was installed for his first term as Worshipful Master, repeating in 1943. In 1938 the coal stoves bought in 1910 were voted to be replaced by oil-burning units at a cost of $300 and finally installed in 1941. In 1943 Russell Pierce was appointed by W.M. Marton as our first Tyler. In September of the same year Lodge minutes noted that the lower hall had been cleaned up for use as a polling place for registration and elections. In January of the following year Past Master Walter M. Cole retired from the office of Secretary after 14 years of service. In 1946 the application of Mrs Evelyn Nichols for admission to Bonnie Blink was approved, she being the first guest sponsored by Laurel Wreath Lodge. The following year the building committee was authorized to install a fire escape on the north side of the temple. Also in 1947 Lt. Col. Brother J.K. Stacey of Builders of the Silent Cities Lodge #4948, London, England presented a gift from his lodge of a Masonic stone taken from the House of Parliament, which is still on display. In October 1953 it was agreed that members be circularized on addition to the temple; in March of the following year a loan of $5,000 with a ten year term was negotiated for this purpose and in June a contract awarded to Perry A. Dustin for completion by September. In May 1957 approval was given to recarpet the lodge room floor which was done in red and seating was installed. February 1959 saw creation of a fund for our centennial celebration at $25 per annum for the ensuing ten years plus any contributions received. In the summer of 1960 a new cement floor was poured in the lower hall, tile laid and walls and trim repainted. The minutes of June 5, 1961 note that #300 was withdrawn from the building fund to supplement $345 from the Lodge treasury to pay for the new tile job. A change in our bylaws raising the initiation fee from $60 to $75 was approved by the Grand Lodge in March 1962. Installation night in January 1963 saw Brother Walter E. Kell making his customary annual visit from Ohio, joining a turnout of 56 members and 33 visitors. In June 1963 authorization was given to buy from Beall's Store on Main Street the display case now in the anteroom as a repository for donated Masonic keepsakes. On October 24, 1964 Laurel Wreath Lodge joined Solomon's Lodge #121 for Harvest Home Day at Bonnie Blink, departing by bus at 6 a.m. In June 1966 a handsome plaque made as a casting was presented to the Lodge, the joint effort of our long-time Tyler, Brother Russell U. Pierce and Brother Clarence W. Gifford, with attached nameplates to record our Past Masters. January 1967 was marked by absence of any suspensions for nonpayment of dues.
Our Centennial Year 1969 opened on January 6th with installation of Brother Otis A. Mauck as Worshipful Master and at the following meeting Past Master Roland B. Sweitzer announced a firm date on November 15 for a gala dinner and celebration, to be supplemented by other activities during the course of the year. In April the Lodge was recipient of a $1000 bequest from the will of deceased Brother John Allan Kindig, to be used to set up a building fund, to receive all subsequent like donations. On May 19th a program was presented by Past Master Robert A. Hughes in memory of the first Lodge meeting on May 21, 1869 tracing the Masonic background of each of the nine original members. On November 1 the cornerstone was opened via the inside wall to check on its contents but the material was too badly stained to be legible. The big night of the year was the centennial dinner and gala held at the Laurel Volunteer Fire Department emceed by Past Master Roland Sweitzer with music and entertainment by the Singing Cedars conducted by Brother J. Roland Cumberland. Members, wives and guests filled the banquet room and 20 of 23 surviving Past Masters were on hand when pictures were taken for a special feature story in the Laurel News Leader. This issue of the Laurel News Leader is still treasured by those lucky enough to have saved copies of the issue. Further historical data was presented by Past Master Hughes and the ceremonies capped by Secretary Clifford A. Stevens handling the paid-up mortgage on the Temple to Worshipful Master Mauck. The Centennial Year closed with a special communication and pancake breakfast on December 21st followed by the traditional Saint John's Day visit for religious services at Laurel First United Methodist Church.
In 1971 a report from the Secretary indicated that there had been no membership losses in the previous twelve months by death or otherwise. Laurel Wreath Lodge received a Grand Lodge request in February to conduct religious services at Bonnie Blind on April 18th when the service was delivered by Brother Harold B. Norwood and music was furnished by a Laurel Wreath men's chorus with Brother DeWitt Donaldson as a competent tenor voice. In September the Lodge was paid a visit by Past Grand Master Edward R. Saunders and complimented on proficiency in the ritual. On November 1st the Composite Club from Ft. George G. Meade visited and conferred the Master Mason Degree on Brother William Forrest Brumfield. On December 18th the Past Masters Association of Southern Maryland met at Laurel Wreath Temple, having first had dinner at the First United Methodist Church, having been arranged by Past Master G. Glenn Beall the 1971 president. In April of 1972 and again in 1973 Laurel Wreath Lodge conducted services at Bonnie Blind with Broth Harold Norwood repeating in the pulpit, members and wives going on afterword to dinner at Friendly Farms. In November 1973 Senior Warden Lowery Jones was invited by Grand Lecturer Moses Appel to exemplify the Master Mason lecture at the month's session of Grand Lodge. May 1975 saw issuance to Laurel Wreath Lodge of a Third Class bulk mailing permit to ease the cost of distributing the trestleboard. September 1975 brought a notice to the Lodge from the Prince George's County Register of Wills as an interested party in the settlement of the will of deceased member Carlyle Crook. On April 19, 1976 a ceremony was held honoring Brother Russell Pierce in his 33rd year as Tyler. He stated he had worn out two tuxedo suits in that time and was starting on a third. There were fifteen Past Masters present including P.M. Everett Marton who had first appointed Brother Pierce as Tyler in 1943, plus the three proud Pierce sons Don, Del and Gerald. Another item from 1976 was the announcement by Worshipful Master Rodger A. Schmincke of a project to honor the U.S. Bicentennial by inaugurating an annual clean-up day at Ivy Jill Cemetery in remembrance of the many departed Laurel Wreath Lodge brethren interred there. The clean-up would precede Memorial Day, the first being held on April 24, 1976, from 8:30 a.m til 3:30 p.m.
In March 1977 authorization was given to install wood grain paneling, dropped ceiling, inclosed windows and recessed lighting in the Lodge Room, subject to Grand Lodge approval of financing at an approximate cost of $6,500. Approval was forthcoming and the work was completed that summer, it being noted in the minutes that it drew compliments from the Eastern Star. In June remodeling was also authorized to create the Louie T. Reed instruction room and library which was formally dedicated on December 18, 1978. The idea of forming a holding corporation to take title to the Lodge property was discussed at several meetings in 1970 and on May 7th Edward Kraft of Palestine #109, Catonsville paid a visit to Laurel Wreath Lodge to review his Lodge's experience under incorporation. In February 1980 the Worshipful Master named a committee to investigate further the feasibility of incorporation for Laurel Wreath Lodge. In December that year the Temple had a new roof and guttering installed per authorization given in September. In May 1981 a bylaws change was approved setting opening hour of regular communication at 7:30 pm instead of 8 pm. Also that fall, after discussion, a committee was named to report with recommendations how to proceed with the formation of a holding corporation. The resulting proposal was submitted to the Grand Lodge Committee on Bylaws and was approved in a letter from Judge Marvin H. Smith and accepted by the Lodge. A steering committee was named on October 5, 1981 to proceed.
On January 25, 1983 the holding corporation committee held its first formal meeting and on June 6th a resolution was approved to act to create the corporation and file Articles of Incorporation with the State Board of Assessments and Taxation, approval being forthcoming on August 12,1983. Interim officers were chosen forthwith, then directors for the ensuing three years were elected at the annual meeting in February 1985 and transfer of the Lodge property from the trustees to the Holding Corporation was approved on Jun 3, 1985. In August 1984 the newly formed corporation held its first crab feast at the Laurel American Legion and a second followed in August 1985, starting what has been a very successful annual event. It is now held under the auspices of a second corporation formed in February 1988 as the Laurel Pillar Club. This corporation was formed to satisfy Internal Revenue Service non-profit requirements.
Among noteworthy events in 1986 was acceptance of a petition from John B. Thomas, a disabled serviceman. A dispensation from Most Worshipful Grand Master C. David Haacke to confer the Degrees and raise Brother Jack was given on June 2nd of that year. It might be noted that Brother Jack decided he was not going to use the dispensation and under the tutorship of P.M. Brother James Morse exemplified in each degree and was raised the degree of Master Mason. Our well loved Tyler Brother Russell U. Pierce celebrated his 90th birthday on April 27, 1896, on May 18th his 50th anniversary as a Master Mason and his 44th year as Tyler. He was honored at a special communication on May 21 and was presented with his 50 year pin by the Right Worshipful Deputy Grand Master Joseph C. Bryan, III who was a longtime friend. Brother Russell died the next year on September 6th at age 91 having held the post of Tyler well into his 45th year. Brother Jack Thomas subsequently succeed Brother Russell and is currently our Tyler. Worshipful Master Frank Bush, it should also be noted, at his installation, took occasion to thank Junior Past Master Emory Haslup for his gift presented at the last meeting of 1985 of a handsome new set of officers' jewels and collars. This gift was presented in honor of the Jones and Haslup families.
The worn red carpet was replaced in 1987 with and attractive blue carpeting an matching upholstery applied to the seats. The old carpet was installed in 1957. By January 1989 dues had advanced progressively to $42, then to $48 to accommodate a Grand Lodge assessment of $6. The following month unhappily saw the final meeting of Laurel Bethel #51 of Job's Daughters which had to forfeit its charter because of lack of candidates and merge with #51 in Bowie. Also following a move by the Maryland Grand Lodge to be more solicitous of members' widows, Worshipful Master Raymond A. Burch set up a special Widows' Night at the Temple on June 5, 1989. The symbolic broken column pins were presented to eligible ladies attending a well received affair and is to be continued annually. Probably the highlight of that year however, was a dinner for members and guests held at the Laurel Holiday Inn on November 19th featuring entertainment by the same Singing Cedars, conducted by Brother J. Roland Cumberland, who entertained at the Centennial celebration in 1969. An attractive program brochure featured Laurel Wreath's Lodge history and notable events thereafter.
The first bulletin of 1990 from Worshipful Master Elect Alexander Oroszi, Sr. noted admission to Bonnie Blink of Mrs. Ethel Fairall, age 91, our first in some time. Brother Alex unhappily ran into an emergency health crisis but with the able help of Senior Warden T. Eugene Wiltison business carried on. Brother Gene as Master has had an unusually busy 1991 so far and saddened by the loss of our well loved Past Master Otis Mauck in March. Brother Gene is creditably exploring new vistas for the Lodge, including a local charitable project at Laurel-Beltsville Hospital, auguring well for a successful year.
III. COMMUNITY TIES
Another venerable Laurel business was the C.F. Shaffer Lumber Company founded by Charles F. Shaffer, Sr.who had been a pattern maker at the Washington Navy Yard until 1866. He opened an undertaking establishment here and then in 1874 bought a local lumber company and operated it for many years at Second and Main Streets. The business was sold in recent times to Laurel Building Supply which still operates it at the same location. His son C.R. Shaffer, Jr., in partnership with Edward Phelps (several time Laurel Mayor) started a department store at Ninth and Montgomery Streets in a building that later housed the Laurel Volunteer Fire Department subsequently Laurel City Hall and Police Department and is now run by the Department of Parks and Recreation as the Harrison-Beard Community Center.
Since discussion of person leads to thoughts of where they lived and did business, it is interesting to remark further on structures still in use and their history, even to note some historical ones now gone, with which Laurel Wreath Lodge brethren had a connection. One business until recently still in operation under ownership of grandson Charles was the firm of Dewilton H. Donaldson at Sixth and Montgomery Streets. The original building on the southeast corner was later replaced by the present brick building across Sixth Street. Ernest R. Harrison the town tax collector and city clerk who started out in partnership with Brother Donaldson later opened a grocery store at Ninth and Montgomery Streets, where there was still until recently a small grocery store.
On Main Street at the northeast corner of Washington Boulevard is the structure with the name Patuxent Bank still on the facade. This building once housed the firm C.H. Stanley, Inc., of Brother Charles H. Stanely, Jr., and at one time the Laurel Post Office. Among our members who have held the office of Postmaster are Brothers Charles F. Shaffer, James Curley and Russell W. Beall. Proceeding up Main Street on the south side at #302 is the Laurel Jewelry Company operated for many years by member Brother Julius Lazerow and his brother Sol now both retired. Across the street in the next block at #317 is the location where Brother Louis F. Sussman's haberdashery used to be in the long ago. Then at 323 Main Street the building housing Knapp's (Keller's) Newstand was the first Laurel residence of our early member Brother Albin M. Bond who subsequently moved into the gingerbread duplex still standing at 312-314 Forth Street. Nest at 357 Main Street is the three story brick structure which once housed the Laurel News Leader long published by Brother G. Bowie McCeney; it also housed the law firm of Brothers G. Bowie and his father, George McCeney. Before the McCeney Days the Leader had also been operated by Past Master James P. Curley. Still on Main Street years back used to be Brother Montgomery Armstrong's grocery and across from Citizens National Bank at Fourth and Main Streets on the opposite corners are the two buildings where Brother Theodore B. Siehler ran the Laurel Furniture Company with assistance of Brother C Warren Pritchard who remains an active member.
Facing Saint Philips Episcopal Church on th north side of Main Street used to be what was known as the Marbury place which was set back toward the river and was originally the home and office of our third Worshipful Master in 1873 of Dr. John Cronmiller. Behind the house was the Little Dam on the Patuxent creating the swimming hole frequented by Laurel youngsters and known as "Backadocs". The Cronmiller house recently burned but was reconstructed and is located at the back of the new Patuxent Place office complex in the 600 block of Main Street as the reminder of a historic site.
Back to Washington Boulevard and south to where the venerable Academy of Music once stood was founded by Brother Ormand W. Phair. It used to be Academy Ford car dealership but has long since moved to a location south of Laurel on Route 1.Around the corner from the original Academy site on the south side of Prince George Street and Stanley Place is a remaining part of what was known as the General Hatch Place, the home of member Brother General Everard E. Hatch who was Mayor in 1936. Across from the Hatch Place, at 305 Prince George Street, years back stood the offices and clinic of Brothers Dr. Bryan and John Warren and adjacent still stands the brick building that used to house the hospital the Warrens founded. Returning to Route 1 at Carroll Avenue the Chevrolet dealership known as Mid-City Chevrolet and founded br Brother Jack Tyler went out of fraternal hands on his retirement a few years ago. Also on Carroll where the C&P Telephone Co. is now used to be the old City Water Works with Brother "Uncle Albert" Gosnell as superintendent. In the next block south around the corner from Route 1 on Talbott is the Donaldson Funeral Home founded by our just recently deceased Brother Dewitt Donaldson. Donaldson Funeral Home is still in family hands. Across Talbott Avenue at #320 stands the home for many years of our unforgettable Brother Carlyle Crook and his little dog Bootsie. Over by the B&O Railroad at Laurel Avenue is the fuel oil company operated for many years by Brother Richard J. (Joe) Brown. A block north at Little Montgomery are the buildings that for three generations housed the J.R. Jones Feed and Fuel firm which has recently closed with the retirement of Brother Past Master Lowery Jones.
Among landmarks now gone were two fine Victorian mansions ounce br Past Master Clay Halverson located between Washington Boulevard and Second Street where Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower lived in 1919. Gone also is the old First Baptist Church built in 1892 on the corner of Route 1 and Montgomery Street next to our Laurel Wreath Temple. The Temple roof was damaged when the church burned in 1896. Our Temple at 209 Washington Boulevard was built in 1894 to replace the hall where we originally met. It was built on land owned by Brother C.F. Shaffer and once owned, according to an early atlas map, by Mrs Honora Talbott. At the other end of the block at Prince George Street still stands a tastefully restored structure known as the Linzey Mansion, a name associated in our minds with longtime Laurel Wreath member Joseph E. Linden. We might well fix these historic places in our minds against the day our plans to relocate our Lodge Temple may materialize. Time now to look to the future.
IV. FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION
In our installation ceremony the Charge to the Lodge sentimentally expresses the hope (to paraphrase the words a bit) that our children's children may celebrate with joy and gratitude the heritage we pass along from generation to generation. The list of our Past Masters will testify that we have been realizing the desire in a considerable way, evident more substantially if the whole Lodge rosters over the years and the family interrelationships are considered.
The Snowdens, long connected with early Laurel history, gave a start with Dr. DeWilton Snowden our second Worshipful Master and his sons John and William. Dr. John Cronmiller, third on the list of Past Masters, was followed by Thomas Cronmiller in 1903 and LePage Cronmiller in 1907. Likewise we go from Past Master Edmund Hill in 1883 an 1884 to Past Master E. Roy Hill in 1925 and his son E. Burns Hill. In more recent years Past Master David M. Fisher, Sr. in 1890, Past Master Hugh A. Fisher 1920 and Past Master D.M. Fisher, Jr, in 1926.
This brings us finally to our record string of Past Master, grandfather, son and grandson in John R. Jones in 1909, J. Russell Jones in 1941 and 1942 and Russell Lowery Jones in 1974.
Other father and son continuities include Charles F. Shaffer, Sr. and Jr.; Armstrong, Montgomery and LeRoy; Donaldson, L.C. and DeWitt; McCeney, George P. and G. Bowie; Whitman, E.W. and E.C. Block, Harry and Albert; Brasher, Thomas, Sr. and Jr.; Warren, Bryan Sr., Jr. and Morris; Beall, Glenn, Jack, Mark and Gary; Sweitzer, Roland Sr., Jr. and Gregory; Cook, Carlisle and Robert ; Thomas, Fred Sr., Jr., Joseph and Robert; Morris, Caulder and Ralph; Stevens, Andrew and Clifford; Chamberlin, John and David; Mauck, Otis and Carl; Flester, John and John Jr.; Barton, Robert and Gregory; Phelps, Albert and Herbert; Holden, Carl and Randall; Tharpe, W.C., Sr. and Jr; Vogts, Edward and Arthur; Diffendals, Charles and Michael and Murphy, Edward and Robert. Additional family links can be found among the Curley, Brashear, Fairall, Milstead, McLellan, Donaldson, Whittaker, Pritchard, Harrison, Ricks, Haslup, Fisher, Gray family names plus Gray grandson and cousin E.S. Sagle. Perhaps the most notable link between past and present is in the Bond family; the brothers Thomas D. and Robert V. both charter members and Albin M. admitted shortly thereafter, who were respectively, the great granduncle's and great grandfather of our current Brother John W. Bond, Jr., as well as on the maternal side of Brother James Welsh.
When the list of collateral and maternal family relationships are combined, evidence is that Laurel Wreath Lodge can well take pride in its record of passing the torch of Freemasonry on to succeeding generations.
V. GRAND LODGE HONORS
While Laurel Wreath Lodge has not seen any of its members elevated to the office of Grand Master, it has served the Grand Lodge of Maryland creditably in a number of other capacities. Of our Past Masters, David M. Fisher, Sr., was Junior Grand Warden in 1903 and LePage Cronmiller Senior Grand Warden in 1923. More recently Past Master G. Glenn Beall was appointed Junior Grand Steward in 1969, Past Master James F. Morse was appointed Senior Grand Deacon in 1971, Past Master Russell Lowery Jones was appointed Senior Grand Deacon in 1978 and Past Master Thomas E. Weir was appointed Grand Chaplain from 1985 thru 1988.
A number of our members have served as Grand Inspectors: Brothers D.B. McLeod, Charles H. Stanley, Sr., D.M. Fisher, Sr., James P. Curley, LePage Cronmiller, L.C. Donaldson, Edward W. Whitman, Roland B. Sweitzer, Frank D. Bush, Robert A. Hughes and at present Ritchie Seigel and Clifford A. Stevens. Also after some 19 years as Grand Inspector, Brother Beall was Vice President of the Board of Grand Inspectors from 1967 thru 1978 and President in 1979 for the state area. In addition, Past Master Russell L. Jones was Deputy Grand Lecturer for this district from 1982 thru 1986. This is truly a significant contribution to the Grand Lodge.
VI. LAUREL WREATH LODGE AND THE CLERGY
Our Masonic credo is that Freemasonry should be open to good men of all faiths founded upon belief in an omnipotent Supreme Being regardless of particular religious creed. In this respect we welcome ministers of the gospel along with devout laymen and have been blessed by having men of the cloth as members since the Lodge's earliest days. In 1869 we received the Reverend James A. Young, in 1870 the Reverends Luther Brashears, William E. Bird and C.H. Mytinger, in 1884 the Reverend James Nichols, in 1894 the Reverends L.A. Thirkeld and Howard F. Downs and in 1895 the Reverend John R. Fizer.
Ministerial additions to the Lodge roster continued. In 1911 the Reverends Doctors Richard C. Harley, Thomas Watts Byerly and William Franklin Taylor, in 1912 the Reverend John H. Jeffries, in 1921 Reverends Raymond Solt Hittinger and Charles D. Parker, in 1926 Reverend Carlos Dunegan, in 1941 Reverend Harvey E. Whitcomb, in 1951 Reverend William A. Schafer and more recently in 1963 Reverend Charles Sraver. At present we have with us Reverend Thomas E. Weir, Past Master who served from 1985 thru 1988 as Maryland Grand Chaplain. Brethren, by these men we have been honored and blessed.
VII. LAW AND ORDER
Many of us may be aware that Laurel Wreath Lodge has long been involved in the field of local, county and state law enforcement through membership of their officers in our Lodge. This connection started in 1943 when Roland B. Sweitzer, Sr., then unmarried, and his now deceased friend Boyd A. Hamilton of the Prince George's County Police Department were raised by Past Master Lafayette Clinton Donaldson (DeWitt's father). Brother Sweitzer subsequently rose to the position of Chief of Police for Prince George's County before retire in 1975. His successor Brother John W. Rhodes, now retired, is also a Laurel Wreath Lodge member. At present there are nine members from the Prince George's County Police Department.
In addition Brothers Martin M. (Mat) Puncke and Charles Diffendal put in long service on the Maryland State Police. Mat, now deceased, rose to Major. Also two of our brothern have been Laurel Police Officers, one who is on the force at the present time and the other is now a member of the Baltimore City Police. A pretty impressive record!
VIII. TRESTLEBOARD HISTORY
The Lodge bulletin which, in accordance with Masonic practice we call our Laurel Wreath Lodge Trestleboard was first produced by Past Master W. Everett Marton in 1933 is issued and sent monthly. A complete set for that year is shown in our display case in the Lodge anteroom. Since that time the sitting Master has used this means to give brethren notice of meetings, plans and degree work. Trestleboards were sent bimonthly through year 1964 but in 1965 went to a monthly publication excluding July and August.
A collection of trestleboards has thus become a useful historical resource and the Lodge Librarian is fortunate in having assembled a set starting with Past Master Marton's for the year 1933, intermittently to 1959 and complete and unbroken to the date of this writing.
The year 1965 also marked the end of territorial jurisdiction in Maryland. Also the restriction against printing the names, addresses and occupations of petitioners was removed.
IX. SAINT JOHN'S DAYS
It has long been the custom of Mason's to observe the festivals of Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist by attendance in a body at divine services on Sundays near to their calendar dates. This observance is strongly recommended by the Maryland Grand Lodge. Laurel Wreath Lodge has traditionally gone to church service on Saint's John Day. The selection of the church has been the Worshipful Masters choice. When Laurel was a small town the Master, in top hat and regalia led the white aproned brethren in procession from the Lodge to the church. The first Saint John's Day celebration for our Lodge was held at Saint Philip's Protestant Episcopal Church in the year 1886. In 1965 a pancake breakfast was held before proceeding to church which was again Saint Philip's. The pancake breakfast has continued ever since. Wives, family and friends are now invited. The recipe for the hotcakes has shown up in Eastern Star and Methodist cookbooks and designated as "Saint John's Day Pancakes. Solomon's Lodge in Savage early joined us in these observances and now, in what has become a pleasant custom, reciprocates by hosting Laurel Wreath Lodge in June to match ours in December.
The principal in these observances has never been to favor any particular church or sect, but to testify to one of Freemasonry's fundamental tenets: belief in an all wise Supreme Being and the right of each Mason to worship according to the dictates of his own conscience. We are taught that tolerance in this respect os essential to maintaining a healthy harmony among our Brethren. In this regard, a "first" occurred when Laurel Wreath members visited Saint Nicholas Roman Catholic Church on Contee Road in South Laurel on December 17, 1989 at their 11:30 Mass. The Brethren proceeded to the church after the Saint Nicholas parishioner who made the arrangements for the visit was welcomed at our traditional pancake breakfast.
X. OTHER MASONIC BODIES
Laurel Wreath Lodge has long been home to a number of Masonic appendant bodies and, in fact, our Laurel Brothern have been involved in the founding most local chapters. Those of longest standing are the York Rite's Zeredathah Royal Arch Chapter #35, Royal Arch Masons and the Laurel Council #22, Royal and Select Masters which were founded respectively on November 13, 1900 and December 12, 1951. Subsequently Laurel Chapter #75, Order of the Eastern Star was chartered on November 21, 1925 and has ever since worked closely to the mutual advantage with Laurel Wreath Lodge. To the foregoing were added Bethel 51, International Order of Jobs Daughters on January 25, 1958 and the White Shrine of Jerusalem #1 on April 21, 1972. Bethel 51 unhappily had to lapse just recently and merge with Bethel 59 in Bowie. Besides being members resident bodies many Laurel Wreath Lodge Masons belong to St. Elmo Commandery Knights Templar York Rite, Albert Pike Consistory Scottish Rite, Bouni Shrine Temple and Almas Shrine Temple and their affiliated clubs and units.
XI. WE DON'T TALK POLITICS
We don't talk politics but it is told that Maryland Governor Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin once sat in the East in Laurel Wreath Lodge on a friendly visit. The proceedings were of course entirely fraternal and politics were not considered. Does any body remember the date of the Governor's visit? Where are you Brother Carlyle Crook, who had a fabulous memory, when we need you back with us?*
This might be a good place to pay our everlasting respects to Brother Carlyle who was a character unique among the Brothern and a man devoted to this Lodge. He had a remarkable memory, could call off more birthdays and historical dates than anyone in town, recite long passages of favorite verse and scriptures and of course the Masonic ritual. His prayers are remembered with awe.
Brother Crook rose to the station of Senior Warden. He was elected in December 1930 to serve in 1931 with Worshipful Master Edgar W. Whitman but declined to accept the Worshipful Master's station because he found the stress of presiding too much for his gentle soul. He was in truth overly naive and trusting. Brother DeWitt Donaldson used to delight in telling how he got Carlyle to hear the ghost on the stairs in the old house DeWitt used to live in on lower Main Street. Final evidence of Brother Crook's devotion to this Lodge lay in the fact that he left his home on Talbott Avenue jointly to his faithful housekeeper Hattie Burley and to the Laurel Wreath Lodge. A generous and lasting tribute.
*Our minutes record that Brother and then Maryland Governor McKeldin, member of Tuscan Lodge # 202, Baltimore City, paid a visit to Laurel Wreath on December 20, 1954 and gave an interesting talk about a trip he had made to the Holy Land. Quite an occasion - 44 members and 34 visitors were present.
XII. PAST MASTER'S JEWELS
An agreeable custom has come about. The wives or family members of Laurel Wreath Lodge Past Masters' have presented to the Lodge the jewel of deceased Brothers. The body of the jewel is reused and given to a Past Master and the nameplate scroll is then mounted under the picture of our deceased Past Master next to the year of his service. Because of the increasing cost of gold, this permits an appreciable saving over purchasing a complete new one while honoring the Brother and his family by the display of the original nameplate.
Quite a number of jewels have been donated to date for this treatment and have drawn admiring regard and favorable comment for memorializing the gift and honoring the Brother in whose name it was given. Such donations to date include jewels of Past Master's E. Roy Hill, E.W. and E.C. Whitman, Albin J. Fairall, Russell Jones, Louie T. Reed, C.E. Morrell, and A. Roy Donaldson.
To arrange such a gift please consult the Laurel Wreath Secretary so that the jewel can be place in the Lodge safe deposit box until needed.
XIII. THE FORGET-ME-NOT
Laurel being located adjacent to Fort George G. Meade, has attracted personnel as residents pro tem and many as permanent residents after release from service. Laurel Wreath Lodge has benefitted from that situation by frequently conferring courtesy Degrees on Masons who had started their fraternal journey abroad or by receiving petitions while the petitioner was stationed at Fort Meade or becoming Laurel residents.
It was in this way that our Brothern became familiar with the little blue German forget-me-not lapel pin by which Masons, underground during the time of Hitler, recognized each other as Brothers. Das Vergissmeinnicht became a part of the presentations to a newly raised Brother. When Laurel Wreath Lodge did a courtesy Third Degree for one of the Canadian-American Lodges operating under the Grand Lodge of Germany after World War II, we made acquaintance with the little blue lapel pin. A pleasant introduction and a reminder of Freemasonry's international character.
As related in the chapter EARLIEST DAYS, Laurel Wreath Lodge started in May 1869 with a group of nine dedicated and determined Masons. By the charter date in November of that year membership had increased to nineteen. That figure increased to fifty by 1887, eighty by 1915, one hundred ten by 1946, two hundred twenty one by 1966 and in 1991 is approaching three hundred. Growth not meteoric but sturdy.
While our venerable old Temple has been adequate to our members' needs, the location in the last few years has gone increasingly commercial, with parking at a premium. Thoughts of seeking a new Lodge site was broached as long ago as 1960 by Past Master Zacharias and recommended again more recently by Past Master Mauck. No proposal considered to date has gotten off the ground.
At present the remainder of the block on both sides of our building location belongs to the real estate company and it has been long known that the owner would like to acquire our premises. The commercial value of our property is reasonably well known and represents a substantial nucleus of what we might need to finance a new Temple. With our corporate structure and nonprofit status assured and building fund accumulated to date, we should neglect no advantageous opportunity to relocate whether by a new building conversion of an existing structure. One-story with ground level entrance for the handicapped and elderly and with adequate parking. Brethren, let's look judiciously to the future. Selah.
Website hosting courtesy of Brother Keith Schaffer PhD and One Two Freedom LLC.