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King Hiram Lodge Derby-Shelton Chartered March 5, 1783
This historical overview of our Lodge is taken from the book, Thank You Mr. Edwards, A Bicentennial History of the Grand Lodge of Connecticut. This book was written by James Royal Case and Merie P. Tapley.
LAUNCHED IN A SEA PORT
Two Full Centuries for King Hiram Lodge
A rather surprising total of twenty-seven Masons signed the petition for a charter to hold a regular lodge in the sea-port town of Derby in late 1782. Many of them were sea-faring men of sojourners, as is apparent from the fact that one-third of those whose names were on the petition never appeared in Lodge or on the minutes.
Derby was a sea=port at the time, and in addition to coast-wise traffic in farms produce and trading goods, exports of house frames, lumbers and staves were to be carried to the West Indies in exchange for sugar and molasses. King Hiram of Tyre had sent his vessels to carry cedar timber to Joppa, to be hauled up to Jerusalem for use in the Temple. Perhaps the co-incidence was the inspiration for the name chosen for King Hiram Lodge.
Many of the petitioners had been made in King Solomon’s Lodge at Woodbury, a center for inland trade, and with the recommendation of that Lodge, Reverend Brother Ashbel Baldwin went to Boston and presented the application in person to a special communication of the Massachusetts Grand Lodge on January 3, 1783. The charter was signed, sealed and delivered before the day was over. Baldwin was deputized to institute the Lodge and install the officers, and that was done two months later, with the Master of King Solomon’s Lodge acting as Marshal. The charter was to remain in force until a Grand Lodge was formed in Connecticut, actually then being considered. This was the earliest formal organization of a Connecticut lodge of which a report has come to us.
The first Master was Charles Whittlesey (1745-1783) made in King Solomon’s Lodge ten years earlier, an officer in the Connecticut army, and raised in American Union Lodge. He was the local School Master and died before his term of office ended, being succeeded by men who were leaders in the business community. The Lodge flourished working the Mark Degree occasionally until King Solomon Charter of Royal Arch Masons was convoked, drawing their membership from miles around.
Grand Master William Judd and General Secretary Ephraim Kirby made an official visit in 1793, soon after they took office, after which the Entered Apprentice was required to pass an examination before being advanced. In 1795 a Lodge Hall was erected, the corner-stone being placed ceremoniously. So was the corner-stone of St. Paul’s church in Hunnington a few years later. A Lodge Library was started with an initial $100 contributed.
At the time of the Centennial of 1883 a fine history of the Lodge was compiled by John H. Barlow, Past Master and later Grand Master. The book contains a complete roster of all members up until that time. A devastating fire on January 12, 1879 caused the loss of Charter, Jewels, furniture and part of the records, and the sword of Col. E.S. Kellogg, killed at Cold Harbor. The Chapter and Council also suffered great losses. This prevents enlargements of many interesting references in the early development of the Lodge, and extension of the personal records. Lodge historians have added to the original book in later printed by-laws and rosters. One fine feature is a record of photographs of meeting places of the Lodge for many years back. A single volume history of the second 100 years is much desired.
It is interesting and sometimes irritating, to find references to men who came from out of the unknown and disappeared the same way. An example is George R. Marshall, who was elected Master at the very first meeting where is name appears on the minutes. He served for five years and then just mysteriously disappeared. It has not been ascertained from whence he came, or whither he went, although there is some indication he traveled due north to Vermont.
Sea-borne traffic was halted during the War of 1812 when Long Island Sound was blockaded, the Housatonic River silted in, a bridge was built in Stratford and business went elsewhere. Yankee ingenuity came into play, upstream water power was exploited, and a variety of metal products were fabricated, making Derby at one time known far and wide for tacks, pins and novelties. Masonry had spread out from Derby into Monroe, Woodbridge, Oxford, Milford and up river into the mill villages developed. The lodge moved about as the railroad brought population shifts, finally coming to rest in Shelton, still within the greater urban area.
King Hiram Lodge is one of the few in the state which tiled with such extreme caution they survived the anti-Mason frenzy. Every year the lodge was represented or made returns at Grand Lodge sessions. During the dark days of the 1830’s members added to the roll of honor. There were fifty-six staunch Masons who signed the Declaration of Principles in 1832.
For one short period in 1855-56 abuse of the ballot box causes the suspension of King Hiram’s charter, and formation of the Friendship Lodge UD by a few who had the welfare of the fraternity at heart. A reconciliation took place within a year or two and Friendship Lodge never matured.
King Hiram has seen two of its members attain the chair of Grand Master, John H. Barlow and Henry K. Plumb. There were other notables, especially Ralph C. Naramore, Founder of the Masonic Veterans Association in 1870 and it’s Venerable Master for 9 years.