The Origins of Freemasonry in the Upper Valley
By: Carl N. Porter & Robert L. Welsch
The origins of Freemasonry in the Upper Valley dates back to a November 8, 1781 petition for a lodge in “Cornish, Vermont.” The petition was granted on November 10, 1781 with the location of the lodge being Springfield, VT and the lodge being named Vermont Lodge. Many of the members came from towns as far away as Haverhill, NH to towns closer in Lebanon, Hanover and Lyme. The first meeting of the lodge was held in Charlestown, VT, it being one of the towns that had seceded from New Hampshire in 1781 causing the Vermont Controversy. Vermont Lodge continued to meet at the inn of Abel Walker in Charlestown until August 20, 1788, when the lodge moved to Springfield, VT as the charter stated.
To fill the void left by the removal of Vermont Lodge, the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts chartered Faithful Lodge in Cornish, NH on February 2, 1788. It was at this lodge that many of the early leaders of Franklin Lodge took their degrees. Among the membership of Faithful Lodge was Eleazer Wheelock, James Wheelock, Abel Holden and many others.
On December 18, 1788, the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts chartered the first lodge in Hanover, Dartmouth Lodge. James Wheelock, Eleazer Wheelock and their cousin Bezaleel Woodward were among the names on the petition. This was the last lodge chartered by the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts in the State of New Hampshire. Once the Grand Lodge of New Hampshire was chartered in 1789, many of the lodges originally chartered by the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts dissolved. All of their records disappeared as no Grand Lodge would claim them; as a result, there are no other records of these early lodges.
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The origins of Franklin Lodge No. 6 dates back to April 27, 1796, when the charter was granted by the Grand Lodge of New Hampshire. The lodge was named for Benjamin Franklin, who was both a founding father of the United States and a Freemason.
The members first met in Hanover, at the Mason’s Hall, in one of the original buildings on the property of Dartmouth College. Among the first members of the lodge were James Wheelock and Eleazer Wheelock Jr., sons of the founder of the college. James Wheelock was installed as the first master on May 22, 1796.During this time the Lodge experienced tremendous growth, accepting more than 209 members – 115 of them Dartmouth College students. Unfortunately, not much more is known of the early years of Franklin Lodge. It remained at the college until 1817, when it moved to the Lafayette Hotel in Lebanon, to be more central to the majority of its members.
Franklin Lodge held its first meeting in Lebanon on July 21, 1817 with 25 members present. The lodge met for a time on the upper floor of the Lafayette Hotel on West Park Street, now the site of Citizens Bank in the Bank Block. The lodge continued to grow and prosper with the acceptance of 54 new members – among them many of Lebanon’s more prominent citizens. Active members during the early years included Lafayette Hotel owner Calvin Benton, local architect Ammi Burnham Young, and Samuel Barrows, the owner of the city’s first brickyard. Growth continued well into the 1820’s, until the disappearance of William Morgan in Batavia, N.Y., threatened the very existence of Freemasonry in the United States.
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In 1826, William Morgan was believed to have been murdered by Freemasons, as he had threatened to make their “secrets” public knowledge by publishing a book about Freemasonry. It was a dark time for Franklin Lodge and for all Masons in the United States. The hatred of Masonry spread into every aspect of life: children of Masons were denied entrance into schools, the families of Masons were refused church services and the lives of many Freemasons were threatened. What became known as the William Morgan affair even split families apart, when some men were unwilling to give up being a Mason in the face of such persecution.
In 1827, lodges in New York and other states began closing at a rapid pace because of the anti-Masonic fervor. By 1835, only 41 lodges remained in New York, all of Vermont’s lodges had closed, and many lodges in New Hampshire were forced to do the same. Franklin Lodge was able to hold off the anti-Masonic fervor for a short time, but the Lodge stopped holding meetings in May of 1836. On June 6, 1840, the charter of the Lodge was forfeited to the Grand Lodge of New Hampshire. Many of the furnishings were sold off, the only exception being the first Worshipful Master’s chair, which is still owned by the lodge. Proceeds from the sale were given to the Lebanon Liberal Institute, whose board of directors included Timothy Kenrick, who was also a Mason.
This period ended in June 1854, when 36 Masons in Lebanon petitioned the Grand Lodge of New Hampshire to reinstate the Lodge’s charter and allow meetings to be held again in the town. The request was granted on June 24, 1854.
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Many of Lebanon’s most prominent businessmen were members, including local merchants Timothy Kenrick and Edward Durant, and U.S. Senator Aaron H. Craigin, among many others. The lodge began holding meetings in the hall above Kenrick’s store on South Park Street, near the front lawn of the Congregational Church. The lodge continued to grow and prosper until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. The Civil War affected lodges in many of the same ways that it did their communities. Many of the young men who fought in the war were also Masons. Several soldiers from Lebanon held offices in the lodges, most notably Capt. James B. Perry, who served as Worshipful Master from 1859-1860 and was one of the many casualties of the Battle of Fredricksburg. When the time came for the construction of the Soldier’s Memorial Building in 1886, Ferdinand Davis, a local architect and member of Franklin Lodge, drew up the plans. Today, there is also a Masonic stained glass window upstairs memorializing Perry and his sacrifice. After the Civil War, growth in the lodge made it necessary to find a larger building. The new location of the lodge was made possible by another Mason, Gilman C. Whipple.
In 1858, Whipple was an up-and-coming merchant who opened a new store in the Kenrick building called The New Cash Store. He remained in that location until the early 1870’s, when he relocated to a building next to Hildreth’s Hardware. Over the next decade, Whipple built up his business enough to construct a three-story brick building on the site of the Lafayette Hotel. It was during this time that Whipple became actively involved in Franklin Lodge. Construction began in 1882 and, upon completion of the building in 1884, the lodge was given a new home, where it would reside for more than 80 years. Over the course of that time though, the lodge suffered several trials – two of which were by fire.
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In 1887, a blaze swept through Lebanon, destroying buildings on both sides of the Mascoma River. The lass was total for the shops, mills and factories affected. By good fortune, the fire stopped at the newly constructed Whipple Block, sparing Franklin Lodge. Then, on Jan. 15, 1894, the day of the annual communication, disaster struck again when the interior of the lodge burned, ruining nearly everything. The fire consumed the entire roof, yet left the floor intact. Among the ruins was the Kimball Memorial Window, which was later replaced for the lodge. At 2 p.m., when the lodge was to meet, the members walked up through the ashes, called the meeting to order, and promptly removed themselves to the Old Fellows Hall to complete the meeting. It was here that the lodge resided until 1968, when it was decided to purchase its own building.
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In 1967, the building committee for Franklin Lodge found that the Unitarian Church building in Lebanon was for sale. To the committee, this was an opportune moment. The Unitarian Church was organized in Lebanon in 1808. The Unitarians met in the Old Meeting House until they built a new church on the corner of Elm and Green Streets in 1880. Once the building was completed, it was immediately occupied by the Unitarian Church until declining membership forced the church to close its doors in 1967.
In 1968, the executive committee of Franklin Lodge met with the church leaders to negotiate the sale of the building. As a part of the sale, it was agreed that the lodge would not remove the stained glass windows in the sanctuary. All of the renovations to the building, including the removal of the tops of the steeples, were completed by early 1969. The lodge then moved its stained glass windows to the new building, with the Kimball Memorial window being placed internally in the lodge room to protect it. In April 1969, Franklin Lodge held its first meeting in the new location, and it has been using the building since that day.
On Oct. 12, 2009, the Lebanon Heritage Commission listed the lodge building as a Landmark Property in the City of Lebanon.
- Downs’ History of Lebanon
- Roger Carroll’s History of Lebanon
- Centennial Anniversary book of Franklin Lodge
- Collections of the Lebanon Historical Society
- Collections of Franklin Lodge
Lodge Historical Timeline
1706-01-17 Benjamin Franklin born on Milk Street in Boston, Massachusetts.
1731 Benjamin Franklin initiated into the local Masonic Lodge in Pennsylvania and remained a Freemason for the rest of his life.
1776-06-04 The Declaration of Independence is signed by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 9 of the 56 (16%) who signed were Freemasons, including Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, John Hancock, and John Adams of Massachusetts, and William Whipple, who attended St. John’s Lodge in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
1788-06-21 The U.S. Constitution, supreme law of the United States of America, is ratified in New York City. 13 of the 39 (33%) signatories were Freemasons including Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, George Washington of Virginia, and Nicholas Gilman of St. Johns Lodge No. 1 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
1788-12-18 Establishment of Dartmouth Lodge at Hanover under Massachusetts Authority, Following a petition from Prof. Bezaleel Woodward and a motion from Bro. [Paul] Revere – Voted that a Committee of Five be appointed, Bros. Revere, Scollay, Cabot, Dexter, and Hunt. This was the 5th Lodge in New Hampshire, and the last Lodge Chartered by the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts in New Hampshire, according to Preston on Masonry, edited by George Richards and published in 1804. The Dartmouth Lodge never acknowledged the authority of the Grand Lodge of New Hampshire, and was kept up but for a short time.
1789 The Grand Lodge of New Hampshire was chartered.
1790-06-16 Washington, D. C. was approved as the U. S. Capitol.
1790-04-17 Benjamin Franklin died at his home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
1795-06-04 The cornerstone of the Massachusetts State House was laid by Governor Samuel Adams and officers from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, including M.W. Paul Revere and R.W. William Scollay.
1796-04-03 The first meeting of Franklin Lodge was held at Mason’s Hall in Hanover. On this date George Washington was President and John Adams was Vice President. Before the end of the year the last British troops withdraw from the US. Tennessee is admitted as the 16th U.S. state, including autonomous, secessionist territory, called the State of Franklin. The First Independence Day celebration is held. The US State Department issues 1st American passport. The first US newspapers appear on Sunday. The U.S. Constitution is at Congress Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. George Washington’s farewell address as President coincides with John Adams election as President of the United States.
1796-04-18 Petition to erect Franklin Lodge was received at Grand Lodge.
1796-04-27 Quarterly communication of New Hampshire Grand Lodge grants Charter to Franklin Lodge.
1796-04-29 The Charter of Franklin Lodge was granted, bearing the signatures of the following Grand Officers:
Hall Jackson______________Grand Master
Nathaniel Adams___________Deputy Grand Master
Joseph Bass______________Senior Grand Warden
Moses Woodward__________Junior Grand Warden
Edward St. Loe Livermore___Grand Secretary
Nathaniel Folsom__________Grand Treasurer
Joseph Haven____________Grand Deacon
John Adams______________Grand Deacon
1796-05-22 Franklin Lodge was consecrated and its officers duly installed by the M. W. Grand Lodge of New Hampshire, with the following Grand Officers officiating:
Nathaniel Adams______Deputy Grand Master
Lemuel Hedge________Senior Grand Warden
Abraham Ledge_______Junior Grand Warden
Joseph J. Legonidee___Grand Treasurer
Josiah Dunham_______Grand Secretary
John F. Jennison______Grand Senior Deacon
Jedediah Baldwin______Grand Junior Deacon
Melchior Strohn_______Grand Tiler
1796-1812 At least 115 Dartmouth College Graduate students were received in Franklin Lodge, from a total of 209 Lodge ascensions.
1800-11-17 The US Constitution moves to Washington, D.C. permanently.
1807-01-27 St. Andrews Royal Arch Chapter established at Hanover, the first of its kind in New Hampshire.
1816-06 Petition to Grand Lodge to move Franklin Lodge from Hanover to Lebanon is not approved.
1817-06-23 Petition to move Franklin Lodge approved. Last communication of Franklin Lodge in Hanover.
1817-07-21 First communication of Franklin Lodge in Lebanon.
The Whipple Building Circa: 1930s
1824-1830 Templar Trinity Encampment.
1830 St. Andrews Chapter is authorized to meet annually in Lebanon.
1836-05-29 Last communication of the old Franklin Lodge.
1844 Last representation at Grand Lodge ends the first period of Franklin Lodge.
1854-06-22 Petition to Grand Lodge to revive the old Lodge was granted. The original Charter of Franklin Lodge is restored.
This is a lodge communication pamphlet from our lodge in 1870.
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1894-01-15 The Whipple Building, home of Franklin Lodge experienced a fire which consumed all the tangible property of the Lodge, except the Charter, jewels, and records. At the appointed time and place of its annual communication of that day the Lodge was opened at 2:00 PM among the smoking debris and lingering flames.
1896-05-13 An historical address at Lebanon, N.H., on the occasion of the celebration of the centennial of Franklin Lodge, No. 6, F. and A.M. by Albert Stillman Batchellor. (Original from Columbia University, excerpt following)
1930-04 By-Laws of Franklin Lodge No. 6, A. F. & A. M. of Lebanon, N. H. published and approved by the Grand Lodge of New Hampshire.
1969 Franklin Lodge purchases the old church on Green and Elm Streets.
1996 Franklin Lodge turns 200 years old.
2016-04-03 Franklin Lodge will celebrate its 220th birthday!