History of Laurel Wreath Lodge No. 149


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.