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Postcards: Masons lodges, prominent membership helped build Ray County

By Linda Emley

Former Masons lodge at the corner of College and West North Main streets.

On Tuesday, July 10, I went to Columbia to visit the Missouri Lodge of Research, which houses the records of all A.F.& A.M Lodges in Missouri. A.F.& A.M. stands for Ancient Free and Accepted Masons.
“Freemasonry” dates to the Biblical days when King Solomon’s temple was being built. The Masons played a role in building many of the cathedrals of Europe and became a fraternal organization in London in 1717.
The father of our country, George Washington, was a member of the Masonic Lodge in Fredericksburg, Va. When he was sworn in as our first President in 1791 in New York City, his hand was resting on a Masonic Bible that had been borrowed from St. John’s Lodge.
Harry Truman, one of our favorite local presidents, was also a Mason. Many presidents and early American patriots were members of a Masonic Lodge.
There have been rumors about the Masons over the years, but they are just a fraternal organization that believes in a Supreme Being who is the “Great Architect of the Universe.” To be a member one must be at least 18 years old and be a man who has good morals and a good reputation. In my book, that means they are good, God-fearing men who are working together for the good of all mankind.
I’ve been researching Freemasonry for many years, so my visit to the Lodge of Research was even better than I had expected. My mission was to find out as much as I could about the Masonic lodges of Ray County. I was the guest of Lloyd Lyon, who is a friend from the Hale Lodge. He was also researching Ray County’s Masonic past because he just finished a story on George Dunn, which covers his personal life and his life as a Mason.
There are currently four Masonic Lodges still active in Ray County. They are Richmond Lodge # 57, Beehive Lodge # 393 in Lawson, Ada Lodge # 444 in Orrick and Ray Lodge # 223 in Camden.
There were a number of lodges in the past that are no longer active, including Camden # 197, King Hiram # 309 in Knoxville, Hardin # 322, Myrtle # 338 in Millville, Harmony # 384 in Vibbard and Unity # 409 in Richmond. I am still collecting info about these lodges so this story is a brief history of Richmond Lodge # 57.
The 1881 Ray County History Book gives the following account: “RICHMOND LODGE, NO. 57, A. F. & A. M. The first meeting, looking to the organization of this lodge, was held July 16, 1842. The date of dispensation, or by whom instituted, was not reported, and we have been unable to ascertain. Its charter is dated October 12, 1842; and the names of the charter members are as follows: Charles R. Morehead, Sinclair Miller, David Bullock, Caleb Tompkins, John Jackson, William Hudgins, James H. Smith, Charles V. Hern, Austin A. King, J. C. Richardson, and Wm. Berry. Of the above named charter members, only the last named are now living.
Among the first officers were the following: Charles R. Morehead, W. M.; David Bullock, S. W.; and Sinclair Miller, J. W. The present officers are: W. A. Holman, W. M.; George W. Trigg, S.W.; William Fitch, J. W.; W. W. Ewing, secretary; S. R. Crispin, treasurer; J. W. Smith, S. D.; W. A. Williams, J. D., and John G. Ballard, tiler. R. B. Kice, of this lodge, is district deputy grand master, and also district lecturer. The members of this lodge owned a well furnished and commodious hall, which, together with all their books, jewels, regalia, furniture, etc., was destroyed by a cyclone, June 1, 1878. Since the organization of Richmond lodge, over 600 persons have become members there.”
Charles R. Morehead was the first Worshipful Master when it was formed in 1842. This title is given to the man in charge of the lodge for each new year.
As the history book told us, the first lodge was destroyed by a tornado. It was located on the third floor of a building on the southwest corner of the square. They then moved to the south of the square, one block west, and this building was destroyed by a fire in 1895. The second lodge was next to the old J.C. Penny building that is now a parking lot. The third lodge was at 116 East North Main St. and was dedicated on Sept. 18, 1925. Lodge #57 moved to its current location on Clark Street and dedicated the new building on Aug 7, 2010.
Since the Richmond lodge records were destroyed in 1878 and 1895, the yearly records submitted to the Missouri Grand Lodge were used to retrace their history. There were no records filed in 1847 and 1849, but the reason for this is not known. During the Civil War, no records were filed from 1861 to 1863. It has been reported that they did not meet during these years due to the war, which was the case with many local churches and other organizations.
Many prominent men of Ray County have been Masons, including Gov. Austin King, David Whitmer, John Shotwell, George Trigg, George Dunn, C.T. Garner, Israel Hendley, Judge Devellblss, Dr. John Baber, Louis McGegade, Robert Sevier, Nelson Hill, George Lavelock and Arthur Littman.
While at the Lodge of Research, I ran across an important local Mason that I didn’t know existed. We have been unable to find any record of Alexander Doniphan being a Mason. Most of his friends were, but he is not mentioned in any of the local records.
I was looking over the lodge file for Platte City, hoping to find something about Doniphan and ran across a letter from Richmond that was sent to Platte City in 1865. It was on the letterhead of the Grand Master, who is the number one Mason in the state, and was signed by John F. Houston.
After a little more research, we found that Houston was the Grand Master in 1864 and 1865. These were important years due to the Civil War. He died at the age of 47 in 1871 and was honored with a large funeral when he was buried in Richmond. After reading his obituary, we now think that John Houston was the man that was being talked about in 1917 when the Richmond Lodge was celebrating the 200th anniversary of the forming of the first Grand Lodge, which was in London. Rev. Aker was quoted as saying “The only man who is not criticized by some individual in Richmond sleeps over yonder on the hill,” he said, pointing in the direction of the cemetery.
More stories of John Houston and Ray’s local lodges will be coming soon, but if you want to learn more about them first hand, you can attend the First Annual House of Hope Fish Fry that is being sponsored by Richmond Masonic Lodge # 57 on Friday, July 20. Lunch will be served from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and dinner will be served from 5 p.m. to whenever they run out of fish and chips. So plan on coming over to the Shrine Club at 400 Wollard Blvd. for food, fun and maybe even some tales of Richmond’s past.

Have a good story for Linda? You can see her in person at Ray County Museum during business hours or send her an e-mail at rayc...@aol.com.

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