At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the major activity of colonial days was evolving from commerce to industry stimulated by the Embargo Act of Jefferson’s administration. Small mills were springing up along the rivers and streams and an era of growth was at hand.
The vigor of the Masonic movement in Rhode Island which had given rise to the chartering of four new lodges in Warren, Providence, Wickford, and Bristol respectively also had led to the formation of the first inland or “freshwater” lodge at Chepachet in Glocester at the turn of the century. The lodge that followed next, was Mount Moriah in what was then the Town of Smithfield in a village that had sprung up around the outcroppings of limestone, an essential building material of the time, called Lime Rock. This village was located on the Great Road to Worcester and, until stage travel was made obsolete by the Providence and Worcester Railroad in 1848, was a thriving little community boasting of a fine hostelry, the Mowry Tavern, and later a bank and Post Office. Doubtless finding it difficult to attend Masonic communications in Providence, 23 young men and Masons of this area petitioned the Grand Lodge of RI for a dispensation in the spring of 1804. This dispensation after gaining the recommendations by St. John’s and Mt. Vernon Lodges of Providence was granted by the Grand Lodge, on June 25, 1804, at its annual communication held in Warren.
The petitioners were Ahab Read, William Aldrich, George Hill, Winsor Aldrich, Stephen Thornton, Daniel Jencks, Stephen Clark, Nathaniel Mowry III, Isaac Comstock, Christopher Dexter, Eleazer Whipple, Jesse Whipple, Moses Aldrich, Reuben Mowry, Lewis Dexter, Samue Mann, Isaac Aldrich, David Sayles, Joseph Whipple II, Nathaniel Scott, William Jencks, Thomas Mann, and Nathaniel Mowry.
Among the charter members were many who were active in the community’s affairs. Thomas Mann was President of the Town Council and Representative from Smithfield to the General Assembly and was later Judge of the Court of Common Pleas as well as Town Clerk from 1817 to 1839, and eventually the Moderator of the Town Meeting in 1844. He was also identified with the organization of the Free School Act of R.I. in 1800. His brother, Samuel Mann also had a term as Town Clerk. Furthermore, we find the names of Winsor and William Aldrich and Nathaniel and Reuben Mowry on the rolls of the Town Council, the latter serving as President from 1818 to 1821. Daniel Jenckes and Lewis Dexter served on the committee to establish school districts throughout the town in 1828. The latter’s career of public service then extended to the Civil War period, embracing the posts of councilman, including the presidency, Town Treasurer, and Moderator of the Town Meeting. Ahab Read also served the community, being a Baptist clergyman.
In the Grand Lodge dispensation, in accordance with the petitioners’ wishes, it was provided the lodge would be known as “Mount Moriah Lodge” to be located in Lime Rock. It was also provided that the following men would be its first officers:
- Worshipful Master: Moses Aldrich
- Senior Warden: Ahab Read
- Junior Warden: Christopher Dexter
- Treasurer: David Sayles
- Secretary: Thomas Mann
- Senior Deacon: George Hill
- Junior Deacon: Windsor Aldrich
The dispensation was signed by Most Worshipful Grand Master Moses Seixas, and Right Worshipful Grand Secretary Thomas Handy with the first work of Mt. Moriah Lodge took place on October 12, 1804, when Benjamin Hall, Roger Sheldon, and Stephen Whipple were initiated.
While work was being performed under dispensation, it wasn’t until September 30, 1805, when the Most Worshipful Grand Master Ephraim Bowen held a meeting of the Grand Lodge of Rhode Island in Cumberland that Mt. Moriah Lodge No. 8, F. and A. M. was duly constituted. This was done in the Catholic Baptist Meeting House at Cumberland Hill and the record states that “A procession was then formed and proceeded to the Catholic Baptist Meeting House where the lodge was consecrated and the officers thereof installed in ancient and ample form after which an excellent and pertinent discourse was delivered by Rev. John Pitman.” The procession then re-formed and went to the house of Whipple Lovett Esq., “where they partook, in much harmony, of a sumptuous repast provided for the occasion, after which they proceeded to Mr. Lovett’s when it was voted that Bro, Thomas S. Webb, and John Carlile be a committee to wait upon Rev. Mr. Pitman with the thanks of the lodge for his appropriate discourse.”
The charter granted from the Grand Lodge was signed by Caleb Bowers, Grand Secretary; Ephraim Bowen, Jr., D.G.M.; John Carlile, S. G. W.; and Sylvester Child, J. G. W. carries 33 names indicating a growth of ten members in thirteen months.
The lodge met at its present location from its inception. In April 1804, just two months prior to the granting of the original dispensation, a deed for the piece of land the lodge stands on was filed in the land records of Smithfield. This reads in part:
“In consideration of a release of all rights and interest in the old school house lot adjoining the lot herein described:
A certain lot of land on which the grantors and grantees have lately erected a brick school house, the ownership is deeded as follows: to the said Simon Whipple one-fourth part of said lot, to the said Joshua Jenckes one-eighth and one-sixty-fourth part thereof, to the said John Jenckes II one-eighth and one-sixty-fourth part thereof, to the said Samuel Clark one-sixteenth part thereof, to the said Simon Aldrich one-sixteenth part thereof, to the said Jeremiah Whipple one-sixteenth part thereof, to the said Jesse Whipple one-sixteenth part thereof, and reserving one-eighth a one-thirty-second to the grantors (Ahab Mowry and Nathaniel Mowry), the remaining one-sixteenth to be held and owned by the grantors and grantees in the proportions before named.”
The records show that the lodge contracted to add a second floor to the new school then in building. It was customary at that time for lodges to erect a second floor on a public or commercial building and for their part agree “forever to keep the roof in good repair”. A further confirmation appears in the lodge records of April 1805, when the lodge voted to pay John Jenckes, Jr. the note he held for building the hall.
In its original days the building measured only 24 by 28 feet, providing a single room 22 feet square on each floor with the remaining space being taken by halls and the stairway. Window arrangements were typical of the period, with three double hung 12 over 12 windows on each floor in front and back and two on each floor at the west and flanking the chimney. A fireplace in the main room of each floor furnished the heat and light was provided by candles alone. The single front door was the only entrance for both the school and the lodge.
Many items and furnishings still In use today were obtained at this point up through 1820. Notable among these are the Great Lights, the Altar (which however was rebuilt in 1827 & 1861), the officers’ jewels (but not including the collars) down through the deacons (minus the JW’s jewel which was lost in 1925), the pedestals at the three stations, the secretary and treasurer’s desks, the seven black Windsor side chairs, and the long settees.
Mt. Moriah’s attendance was good considering the small membership at the time. Records show Fifty-eight members attended the Meeting in February 1807; 35 in February 1811; and 42 in February 1814.
One consequence of this attendance was a bit of a “parking” problem and in 1810 Brothers John Jenckes and Winsor Aldrich were appointed a committee to build a shed and to fence in the lot; also to superintend the building of a “necessary house.” Approval on March 18, 1813, of bills of $71.58 and $18.35 respectively testify to the completion of these facilities. Somewhat later, on August 17, 1826, it was voted “to partition off the end of the shed for the purpose of keeping therein a hearse for the interment of members.”
During its first 20 years to the eve of the anti-Masonic period the lodge was both vigorous and prosperous holding over 300 regular communications and making approximately 100 Masons, Though from its own records we often times have difficulty in ascertaining its activities with respect to events of the times we know from other records that Mt. Moriah was well represented at the building of the breastwork at Fort Hiram at Fox Point on October 8, 1814.
However, there came a period in the history of the lodge—as in all Masonic bodies—of a bitter struggle for nearly 12 years known as the anti-Masonic period. On November 21, 1828, the records show, a committee reported “that the present excitement is so great as to deter candidates from offering themselves, not one having been initiated during the past year. But while we regret the excitement we have abundant cause to be grateful; that after all its efforts the institution of Masonry has sustained itself with uncommon unanimity and while the institution will finally triumph over all opposition it is not far distant if we quietly observe silence and secrecy.”
Continued strength and determination during this period were demonstrated by a vote in 1834 to pay $25.00 to the Grand Lodge to help pay the expense of trial against the “Anti-Masonic Memorial.” The presentation of this memorial to the General Assembly by the anti-Masons marked the crest of the movement in Rhode Island. Despite the efforts of Grand Lodge counsel, the General Assembly repealed a number of the civil charters previously granted to the various lodges. From 1829 to 1841 no work was done but Mt. Moriah may feel justly proud of Samuel Gardiner and Ephraim Sayles who were masters from 1828 to 1837 and 1837 to 1845, respectively, for their steadfastness to the craft during this period of adversity.
On March 17, 1834, when Grand Lodge surrendered its charter and advised all other lodges to do the same Mt. Moriah followed and turned its property over to Bro. George Olney as trustee, to wit: “the hall of said lodge, being the second story, together with the right and privilege in the yard and shed; 13 shares in the Smithfield-Lime Rock Bank, also all debts, dues and demands, promissory notes, furniture and jewels.”
Albeit for this period, Mt. Moriah still found time to participate in the advancement of Masonry, evidenced by its recommending charters for Morning Star, Evening Star, and Lafayette Lodges respectively. In fact, support of Evening Star Lodge even took the form of allowing this lodge to meet in the quarters of Mt. Moriah in 1839-1841 but the effort was without avail as Evening Star Lodge, as well as Lafayette Lodge, failed to have enough vigor to revive after the anti-Masonic period, finally surrendering their charters in 1849.
While the initial agreement with the schoolhouse started strong, the joint tenancy started to strain after 20 years, in fact on August 17, 1826, it was voted “that Bro. Nathaniel Mowry be a committee to direct the schoolmaster to prevent the scholars from committing depredations on the lodge’s premises.” After the feeling of the Anti-Masonic period had subsided, this situation had evidently worsened, for we find that in April of 1850, it was voted, “that Steven Smith be a committee to ascertain what suitable room can be procured for the use of the lodge. It was also voted that Ephraim Sayles be a Committee to ascertain what this lodge can get for their part of the building.” However, in December 1851, it was voted to continue in the ownership of the present building which two years later ceased to be used as a school, and immediately thereafter committees were appointed repeatedly to buy the property in full. Finally, on August 24, 1866, money was appropriated and the lodge acquired full title to the property which was then extended to its present size in 1871. After the extension, the lodge room fireplace was upgraded with a stove near the secretary’s desk with its pipe extended up and over to the chimney above the master’s station. A stove was also installed in the second-floor hall. By 1884, lighting was still done by oil lamps; four bracket lamps on the wall and a ceiling chandelier holding four oil lamps. Around this time, additional land was bought at the rear of the building and a carriage shed, 18 feet wide by 72 feet long, was built in 1890, at a cost of $418.90 One end was closed in for storage and outside conveniences. Alas, this is not The Shed that many members of and visitors to Mt. Moriah have come to enjoy as this building was unfortunately lost in the 1938 hurricane.
Just when things seemed to be gaining momentum after the Anti-Masonic period, the year 1863 saw an unfortunate conflict between Mt. Moriah and the Grand Lodge of RI. The rugged individualists of Mt. Moriah were reluctant to follow the new forms of work, especially the ruling of the Grand Lodge that all business be transacted in the master’s degree instead of the entered apprentice degree. It must be remembered that during the Anti-Masonic period, The Grand Lodge was somewhat hampered in its contact with subordinate lodges, and upon resumption of activities a certain amount of standardization was needed. Other opposition appeared but none carried to the point of open defiance. From the records, the fault of Mt. Moriah is clear but the undertones indicate that the original fault was perhaps not so great as the clash of personalities. The fact remains however that the charter was arrested and the master, wardens, and brethren suspended. An apology was finally made to the Grand Lodge for the error committed and the members regained the benefits and privileges of Freemasonry of which they had been deprived, The final reinstatement was made on February 7, 1866. At this time Grand Master Thomas A. Doyle, Grand Secretary James: Hutchinson, and others met the brethren in the hall of Mt. Moriah Lodge, returned the charter, and installed the officers-elect. The Grand Master on May 21, 1866, told the Grand Lodge of RI, “We were gladly welcomed by the members of Mt. Moriah Lodge, and at once proceeded to the formal business of the day, a record of which in full is spread upon their records. After the closing of the lodge, a bountiful collation was provided, and an hour of social intercourse followed, which brought back many a memory of former times, and reminded us of the hospitality for which this old Lodge was so long famous.” The Grand Master also recommended that all members of the lodge, save one, should be restored to their Masonic rights. This was done in the next year, and somewhat later the brother first excepted was restored to membership.
The years after the Civil War saw a steady growth of the lodge interrupted somewhat by the depression of 1878. Lime Rock had remained about as it was 70 years before but the bank had been moved to Providence in 1847 and the stages no longer went through. The lodge membership represented a cross-section of the community and of widespread occupations. The annual return to Grand Lodge in 1875 shows 102 members, including 11 past masters.
On June 24, 1904, the Lodge observed its 100th anniversary in ample form, Of the 118 members 65 signed the register joined by 57 visitors. Mt. Moriah Lodge had completed its first century with a solid record of strength if not of brilliance. A tradition of friendliness and good fellowship had become its mark and Masons from miles around made it a point to attend special occasions. We must remember that for the next two decades, this involved more than driving up to the door, but required walking or hiring a hack from the Ashton station, or a little later—around 1910—from the electric cars.
A decade of steady growth took place to the outbreak of the First World War the membership being 158 in 1915. The next year was marked by the visitation of M. W. Grand Master Wilbur A. Scott and his suite on September 16. He being the first member of Mt. Moriah to attain this signal honor the brethren presented him with a French mahogany clock and a pair of mahogany candlesticks in token of their esteem. Even with this joyous occasion, it was clear that the impact of the war was becoming ever closer as on March 4, 1917, the lodge sent a resolution Presented by William Scott to President Wilson, from which a gracious reply was received on June 1, 1917. When the time came, Fifteen brethren respond to the call to the colors, and the lodge recognized their services by a suitable Honor Roll—also rescinding their dues.
The membership steadily increased in spite of the war and the return of peace saw a program of major improvements to the building. A committee had been appointed in 1912 to investigate the addition of an extension on the easterly end of the building, but nothing came of it at the time and it seems to have been lost in the shuffle of postwar improvements. The slate roof was laid in 1919, and during the next two years, the hall was painted and decorated inside and out, and finally wired for electric lights, a much-needed improvement as the chandelier of 1884 had fallen down during degree work in 1907 and had not been replaced. Additionally, the paneling at the officers’ stations was installed and new officers’ chairs were purchased in 1928. This arrangement had been made possible by the elimination of the clutter and muss of the heating stoves some ten years before when the old hot air furnace was installed. This furnace though still quite serviceable had its drawbacks and was retired in favor of the present oil burner in 1947 which for the first time made possible the installation of continuous water service in the building.
We note a steady rise in membership during the twenties but falling off during the depression years of the early thirties. In 1929 a brief observance of the 125th anniversary was held and in 1932 a special communication was held in Union Hall, Pawtucket.
The advent of the Second World War again saw many of the brethren put aside the working tools of the craft for the sword. For those whose role it was to produce for victory the support of the Masonic Service efforts was a duty borne lightly in view of the sacrifice of others.
With the coming of better times just prior to the war, and again after the war, the membership burgeoned. Association with members at different places of employment has resulted in many applications from candidates outside the jurisdiction thus giving the lodge somewhat of a metropolitan aspect though it still holds fast to its simplicity and friendliness of old.
Additional centennial celebrations were held in the following years, the Sesquicentennial in 1954 under W. Lester D. Kay and the Bicentennial under W. Roger N. Lepiere which each had well-attended and enjoyable events of the brethren and their guests.
In 2016 Mt. Moriah had another first as it elected the youngest Worshipful Master in RI history, W. Rowan A Gottschalk at the age of 23. This was possible with the RI Grand Lodge reducing the age a man could join RI Freemasonry to 18 a few years before.
In the spring of 2020, the COVID-19 Pandemic which had ravaged the globe and made its way to Rhode Island. MWGMs Kenneth Poyton and Gary Kaufman, to the best of their ability, while working within State and Federal guidelines issued by the CDC and RIDOH, led us through this dark and dangerous time. Granting permission for logs to meet virtually, which Mt. Moriah led by the Worshipful Master, Matthew Cerullo, did several times, including a few hybrid meetings where brethren were able to tune in virtually or attend in person wearing a face mask for protection. Unfortunately, hybrid meetings were short lived as the cases of COVID-19 started to rise as we entered the colder months and the Annual Meeting and Instillation of Officers in November of 2021 had to be fully virtual. It was at that annual meeting, where the top three officers, (WM Br. Matthew Cerullo, P.M., SW Br. J. Ryan McNelis, and JW Br. Rowan Gottschalk, P.M.) all retained their stations through the 2020-2021 term to help ensure a more solidified officer line coming out of this global health crisis.
By the spring of 2021, COVID cases were on the decline thanks to a mass vaccine rollout and adoption by the masses, which was very fortunate as the Most Worshipful Robert B. Ellston, the second Past Master from Mt. Moriah had made his ascent into the Grand East as our 166th Most Worshipful Grand Master for the Grand Lodge of RI. In attendance for the ceremonies on that morning were a number of Brothers, Officers, and Past Masters of Mt. Moriah Lodge to show their support for an incredibly worthy and well-qualified brother. One of MW Ellston’s first decrees, in accordance with the then-current CDC and RIDOH guidelines, was to open Lodges back to full working order (with the restriction of protective face masks still being worn by brothers who haven’t received their COVID-19 vaccinations). Knowing this, the brothers of Mt. Moriah began to work hard to support their Grand Master however they could.