Saving history, one building at a time

Masonic Hall Ren­o­va­tion Goes For­ward on Danville Green

By Sharon Lakey

The Masonic Hall graces the Green in Danville.

The Masonic Hall graces the Green in Danville.

It takes a com­mit­ment to keep a town’s his­tory alive, and Danville’s Masons of Wash­burn Lodge #92 appear to be in it for the long haul. The big, brick build­ing on the Green has been their home since 1894, but it has been a grace­ful pres­ence there since 1831.

At first glance, the build­ing looks like a church, so it makes sense when one learns that the Calvin­ist Bap­tists, who formed in 1792, built it for their con­gre­ga­tion at a cost of $3,100. One of the found­ing mem­bers in the Calvin­ist Bap­tist Church in Danville was Charles Sias, the first cap­tain of the first mil­i­tary com­pany in town. In our Society’s his­tor­i­cal records, a note reads that in the church a “revival took place from 1833 to 1836” but also relates “the church dis­ap­pears from the min­utes of the Danville Asso­ci­a­tion in 1852.” The build­ing stood empty until the Wash­burn Lodge pur­chased it as their new home in 1894.

The Masons, of course, have their own inter­est­ing his­tory that dove­tails with the build­ing. Just before the Bap­tists built their church on the Green, Danville became the hotbed of the Anti-Masonic move­ment, and the old North Star led the charge. Danville’s William Palmer, the first and only gov­er­nor in the nation to run on the Anti-Masonic ticket, was elected Gov­er­nor of Ver­mont in 1831, the same year the church was built.

The move­ment was so strong that by 1834 almost every Masonic lodge in Ver­mont had rescinded their char­ters, and Danville was no excep­tion. Hav­ing been granted their orig­i­nal char­ter as Har­mony Lodge #14 in 1797, they sur­ren­dered it in 1829 and were declared extinct in 1849. But 20 years later, the Anti-Masonic move­ment for­got­ten, they reformed as Wash­burn Lodge #92 and met on the top floor of the present Balivet house on the Green. Seek­ing a more per­ma­nent home, they pur­chased the aban­doned church on the Green at pub­lic auc­tion for $285. The broth­ers com­pleted exten­sive ren­o­va­tions in the late 1890s, replac­ing the win­dows with stained glass and adding a domed ceil­ing in the main hall. There they enjoyed many years of activity.

But, as all home­own­ers and orga­ni­za­tions know, it takes a strong com­mit­ment to keep both alive. Den­nis Larrabee of Walden and Buck White of Bar­net, both present mem­bers of the Wash­burn Lodge #92, met to dis­cuss the past and present plans for the Lodge. “At one time, the Masons in St. Johns­bury had 500 mem­bers. They’re down to around 40 now,” said Den­nis. “At one point, we were down to around 70, too. We had to con­sider whether keep­ing such a large build­ing was practical.

The build­ing com­mit­tee looked at all the options,” shared Den­nis. “There are a num­ber of builders among the broth­ers, and we con­sid­ered build­ing new or join­ing with the St. Johns­bury Lodge. But in the end, we decided to stay on the Green, our home.” In a newslet­ter pub­lished by the Wash­burn Lodge in 2007, a writer explains the rea­son­ing behind the deci­sion: “What is our Lodge build­ing to us? It is our PRESENCE in Danville…We have been given a gift by the Broth­ers who came before us. We have a wholly owned, archi­tec­turally unique brick build­ing in very good repair located On the town green.”

Accord­ing to Den­nis, who is a retired con­struc­tion ana­lyst, there had been a minor upgrade in the 1960s when it was voted to put a cement floor in the base­ment and build a new kitchen. But in 2007, the Lodge began in earnest to ren­o­vate and upgrade the build­ing. “We planned this in three stages,” he said. “The first stage was to ren­o­vate the base­ment, replac­ing the old kitchen with com­mer­cial grade fix­tures. We also poured a new floor with an inte­grated heat­ing sys­tem, so the base­ment kitchen and din­ing could be heated all win­ter. Also included in stage one were plumb­ing and elec­tri­cal repair.

The cost of these improve­ments was a big com­mit­ment for the Lodge—they took out a $90,000 loan to com­plete the work. Forty thou­sand still remains on that loan, but they are mak­ing their pay­ments every year. “We have a great team of cooks,” explains Den­nis. “Last year we catered a large wed­ding out at the Cur­tis Vance Memo­r­ial Orchard.” We also cater ban­quets, wed­dings and host Bingo every week from 5:30–9:00, along with a light sup­per. Bingo saved us,” said Dennis.

The sec­ond stage in the ren­o­va­tion began ear­lier last sum­mer. When the paving was being com­pleted around the Green, Den­nis was asked for input and he was able to get the pavers to include some nice park­ing near the build­ing. They also put in a hand­i­cap ramp at the front entrance. Both front doors were taken down to wood and repainted by one of the broth­ers. “This spring we are sched­uled to replace the metal roof, com­plete masonry repairs, add new gran­ite stone for the win­dow sills and paint the bell tower, sills and roof trim,” explains Larrabee.

Con­tin­u­ing this phase of the ren­o­va­tion, the Lodge is seek­ing, and has received, his­toric preser­va­tion grants. The Free­man Foun­da­tion and Preser­va­tion Trust of Ver­mont awarded the project $30,000. Another $1,000 was awarded by the Pleas­ants Fund in Greens­boro, VT, which will go towards the paint­ing of the tower. A grant under review for $2,000 would pro­vide funds for the labor of paint­ing the tower and roof trim. Larrabee’s Build­ing and Sup­ply will fur­nish all the paint for the project, but that is high work on the tower and will require a pro­fes­sional painter.

In stage three the win­dows will be addressed as well as the pos­si­bil­ity of get­ting the vaulted ceil­ing back into the sec­ond floor hall where Lodge meet­ings are held. Accord­ing to Buck White, “the ceil­ing is still there, but it is cov­ered over,” not­ing there has been some water dam­age. He has been in the bel­fry area, pho­tograph­ing the struc­ture of exposed beams and join­ery that was part of America’s early 19 cen­tury architecture.

In a cen­ten­nial printed pro­gram held on Sat­ur­day, June 21, 1969, Wor­ship­ful Mas­ter, Everett H. McReynolds wrote, “It is with great broth­erly friend­ship that we gather on this day to cel­e­brate our 100th year of Masonry.” In read­ing over the list of past Mas­ters printed in the pro­gram, one sees names that are strongly con­nected to Danville’s his­tor­i­cal past as well as those com­ing for­ward into the present. Because Masonry is a fra­ter­nal soci­ety, and one that keeps its rites secret, it is no won­der that it would raise a few eye­brows, but Buck points out, “The Masons are not clothed in dark­ness, and it isn’t a cult. My dad never asked me to join. Instead, he waited for me to tell him I was inter­ested. When I did, he was pleased to intro­duce me. I had to ask for a peti­tion to join, and that is how I became a Mason. As far as I know, we’ve never black­balled any­body.” To be viable now and in the future, the orga­ni­za­tion con­tin­ues to reach out to the com­mu­nity. Eigh­teen local orga­ni­za­tions were sup­ported with either mon­e­tary dona­tions or use of the Lodge facil­i­ties and equip­ment last year.

On Sun­day, April 7,  Wash­burn Lodge #92 extended a pub­lic invi­ta­tion to all cit­i­zens to see the work that has been done on the build­ing, includ­ing details about what is to come. Early vis­i­tors enjoyed cof­fee and dough­nuts; a light lunch was served around noon. There were guided tours, led by the broth­ers, who took vis­i­tors through the build­ing and answered questions.

To view a photo album of the build­ing and the intended projects, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One Response to Saving history, one building at a time

  1. DR. LAWRIE BYRON MORRISON (OF PEACHAM, VT.), MARRIED FANNIE STELLA ROWE (CORINTH, VT.). LAWRIE AND SEVERAL OF HIS MALE VT. RELATIVES BUILT THE LOG CABIN ON COWHILL, PEACHAM, VT. THEIR SON AND MY FATHER, DR. HARVEY ROWE MORRISON AND WIFE (LESLIE SMITH) HAD IT ENLARGED AND BEGAN OCCUPYING THE VACATION RESIDENCE IN 1929. I WAS THERE AS A 6-MONTH-OLD BABY IN DECEMBER OF 1937. WE SPENT SPRING/SUMMER/VACATION-TIME IN OUR CABIN WITH THE FAMILY, UNTIL THE SCHOENFELDS PURCHASED IT IN 2007…MY FATHER, HRM, TOOK MOVIES OF SEVERAL DANVILLE FAIRS.

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    JUDITH MORRISON GENTRY 9766 PICKET DRIVE, EDEN PRAIRIE, MN 55347
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