The History of
Weymouth United Masonic Lodge AF & AM
by: Wor. Keith Stanley Spain
The official, legal document, known by all Masons as a Charter empowering them to assemble in the Town of Weymouth, Massachusetts, is dated June 9, 1825. That year is also prominent on the Corporate Seal presently utilized by Weymouth United Masonic Lodge. Masons living in Weymouth have a long storied history and have officially worked and practiced the craft of Freemasonry in several buildings around the town and under varying names.
The name of that first lodge, or group of Masons in Weymouth to officially meet in 1825, was Orphan’s Hope Lodge. That’s the year the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts awarded the charter, but Masons living in Weymouth, were practicing the craft well before that. Of course in order to form a Lodge, there has to be enough Masons living in close proximity to each other to make it worthwhile. In the same regard, the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, officially documents the first Freemasons in America as organizing in 1733, but the reality is that there were Masons meeting long before that. It’s safe to say that there have been Masons in Weymouth for over 200 years; possibly earlier, if you consider that the first colonists came here from England, where Freemasonry dates back to the 1600’s. It isn’t a stretch to consider that there were Freemasons on board the first vessels that came to Weymouth and Hingham in 1635 and then later, throughout the 1700’s.
The first officers and founding members of Orphan’s Hope Lodge were from neighboring lodges, mostly Old Colony Lodge in Hingham. Part of the process of forming a recognized Lodge is getting permission from, not only the Grand Lodge, but also the Lodge that may be most impacted by a loss of members. In this case, that Lodge was Old Colony, which granted the Weymouth Masons permission to assemble and thus will forever be known as Weymouth’s “Mother Lodge”.
Weymouth, at the time was populated by less than 3,000 people, but that was beginning to change. The town was changing from a fishing and agricultural village to a community known as the shoe capital of the world. As Weymouth became more industrialized and travel became easier practicing Masons found it more economical to have meetings closer to their homes or work-places. Throughout the 1800’s Weymouth Landing was a thriving center of commerce. It was not only a popular stage coach stop along the Queen Anne’s Turnpike roughly halfway between Boston and Plymouth, but its harbor at the head of the Fore River, was a convenient place to receive goods from around the world and is still called “The Landing”. There was a hotel, The Wales, and the Arnold Tavern across the street frequented by businessmen from all over the southeastern part of Massachusetts and beyond. The first official meetings of Orphan’s Hope Lodge were conducted at the home of Balch Cowing, adjacent to the Wales Hotel. The first Master of Orphans Hope Lodge was John Edson, who lived nearby in Braintree, but spent much time in Weymouth Landing with his business, The Braintree Manufacturing Company, specializing in cotton ginning.
Unfortunately, and quite ironically regarding the Weymouth Lodge in particular, there was a movement in the United States by those opposed to Freemasonry that gained momentum just as the Weymouth Lodge was organizing. The Industrial Revolution, it seems, began to cause a weakening of family and community and thus skepticism toward the government and institutions such the Freemasons. John Quincy Adams, the President at this time would later give the movement some credibility by joining the Anti-Masonic Party and running for Governor of Massachusetts under that party affiliation in 1833. This had dire consequences in Weymouth, where Adams’ mother Abigail was born and was undoubtedly its most famous citizen. She had only passed away a few years prior and her husband, John Quincy’s father and our second President would die in 1826. Sympathy for Adams was widespread, especially in Weymouth and protesters forced Orphans’ Hope to conduct their meetings secretly in an old school house in North Weymouth until their quarters and regalia were vandalized. They reluctantly returned their Charter to the Grand Lodge in 1830 and conducted no official business in Weymouth for the next 25 years. In the end however, the entire Anti-Masonic sentiment had little to do with Masons and more to do with politics and by the late 1830’s was in decline.
Although many members of the Fraternity did not have the courage to weather the storm of negative sentiment toward Freemasonry, there were many others that remained devoted to the Craft. By the 1850’s, the Town of Weymouth was seeing the benefits of Industrialization. What began as a small cluster of shoe cobblers expanded into a shoe industry recognized around the world. It spawned other industries and an increase in population. Roads and bridges were built and better forms of transportation such as street-cars and trains were in the planning stage. With this came a reawakening of Orphan’s Hope Lodge. In 1856, the Masons of Weymouth again began to regularly meet in a building owned by the Odd Fellows organization in East Weymouth’s Jackson Square. Zechariah L. Bicknell, a name well known in the history of Weymouth, became the first Master of the Lodge since 1830. In 1860 Orphans Hope renovated the upper floor of a furniture factory located just down the street on Commercial Street in East Weymouth into a Lodge Room. This was the first space that Masons in Weymouth could call their own.
Not long afterward the country became embroiled in the American Civil War. Orphan’s Hope would send over 30 Brethren to fight for the Union Army; in some cases vacating their office in the Lodge in order to serve their country. The war lasted until 1865 when General Lee surrendered and the U.S. President, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated a few days later. The membership dues of those serving in the military were remitted. The Masons’ Lodge Room would afterwards become a meeting place for members of the Grand Army of the Republic which was made up of soldiers who had returned from the American Civil War.
At about the same time as the Civil War was being fought, there were several Brethren from the Weymouth Landing area and Braintree that grew weary of traveling to the Lodge in Jackson Square. After some years of discussion, Orphan’s Hope voted to allow a new Lodge to form in Weymouth Landing, called Delta Lodge, in 1868. Soon afterward, both Lodges participated in the dedication of Weymouth’s Civil War Memorial located in the Old North Cemetery. As the Delta Lodge membership grew over the next 30 years, they would eventually move from Weymouth to Braintree at the turn of the century. The Brethren of Weymouth and Braintree continue to participate together in many charitable and Masonic events to this day.
The town’s population continued to increase and so too did the membership of Orphan’s Hope Lodge. They soon outgrew the space they had been leasing in the furniture factory and in 1884 purchased property on Broad Street near Jackson Square and built a building that was explicitly designed for Masonry. This building, made entirely of wood served them well for 28 years until January 15, 1912, when it was destroyed by a fire. The fire started with a malfunction in the heating system and was aggravated by inadequate fire apparatus. It was a total loss. It was also woefully underinsured but that didn’t stop the Orphan’s Hope membership from immediately going to work to raise funds and build a new facility. With the help of the York Rite Masons that had also been meeting in Weymouth, they were able to raise enough money to build a new Lodge Building.
The South Shore Masonic Association was formed to better address the care and maintenance of the new building. The Masons of Weymouth still meet in the same building today and have made very few changes to it over the years. The cornerstone was laid on Saturday, June 14, 1913 by officers of the Grand Lodge. It was hoped that completion would be that Autumn, but construction delays pushed final completion until early Winter. They were able to have meetings in the building prior to the end of 1913 but the building wasn’t formally dedicated until January 15, 1914, 2 years to the day when the original building was destroyed. The ceremony was attended by 300 people and was performed almost entirely by Grand Lodge officers including the Most Worshipful Melvin Johnson.
Over the ensuing years Orphan’s Hopes membership would continue to steadily expand and they would regularly meet at their Lodge home building. Several times during those years they would have discussions regarding the formation of another Lodge in the southern part of town. Eventually, in 1920, Orphan’s Hope would grant permission to Wessagusset Lodge to formally meet in South Weymouth. This Lodge would initially have meetings in the Wildey Lodge of Odd Fellows building located in Independence Square until they would purchase a building on the present day Mutton Lane.
During the years from 1920 through the 1960’s, the Weymouth Lodges enjoyed a steady growth in membership, as did Freemasonry in general. The Weymouth Lodges boasted over 1500 members of the fraternity in the late 50’s. Their annual blood drives would raise in excess of 300 pints. Their members have fought in all wars from the Civil War to Vietnam. They have participated in Masonic events ranging from entertaining visiting Brethren from Weymouth, England to attending community events such as parades and fundraisers regularly. Their members have had a hand in the building of the Town of Weymouth from street lighting to a water system to the construction of the town’s present Civic Center.
Over the years, the history of the town of Weymouth has become almost synonymous with that of its Masons. The names read from the membership rolls through the years are the same as those that occur in the formation of the town. Names such as Holbrook, Pratt, Torrey, Bicknell, Bates and Tirrell can be found all over Weymouth. The Masons of Weymouth come from all walks of life; shoe factory workers, military men, doctors, lawyers, pilots and judges. Many members have been Masons for well over 60 years. In 1924, Worshipful T. J. Evans stepped down as Secretary of Orphan’s Hope after 52 years of keeping the records of his Lodge. His work is impeccable to this day and he is an example of what all Mason’s strive for, perfection.
After the Vietnam War, membership in benevolent organizations began to decline. In 1994, Wessagusset Lodge and Orphan’s Hope merged, or united, to become Weymouth United Masonic Lodge as it is known today. There are presently about 200 members of Weymouth United committed to working within the community and within Freemasonry to make the world and each other better. Please read throughout this web site about the many opportunities to make a difference, not only in your own life, but in the lives of others and become a part of Weymouth’s history.