WALNUT’S MASONIC LODGE
BY JIM HANSEN
During the summer and fall months of 1898, the Masons living in Walnut and vicinity were actively at work completing the organization of a lodge for Walnut. On November 11, 1898, Grand Master Crom Bowen of Des Moines signed and granted a dispensation to open and hold a lodge in Walnut. The requirements were finally completed and the first meeting was held on November 24th under the dispensation of the Grand Lodge. They started out with a membership of sixteen, most of whom had been members of the order for several years and with but one or two whose membership dated back less than one year. The order would be named Morro Lodge, A. F. and A. M. and would hold regular communications on the last Thursday of each month in the I.O.O.F. hall (The Opera House). The first officers were: J. F. Rogers, W. M.; J. F. Ronna, S. W.; W. C. Sievers, J. W.; F. R. LaFeber, Secretary; O. Mosher, Treasurer; Otto Ronna, S. D.; and J. G. Thompson, J. D. The lodge, during its infancy, was very much indebted to Brothers L. S. Allen and E. E. Squires of Grove Lodge No. 492 of Marne, and Brother Dr. Spaulding and others of Mt. Nebo Lodge of Avoca.
Walnut Bureau, July 7, 1899 – Morro Lodge U. D., A. F. and A. M. was organized under charter from the Grand Lodge last Thursday night, Deputy Grand Master, G. A. Spaulding, of Avoca, acting as master of ceremonies in organizing the lodge and installing the officers. The lodge has been working under a dispensation for the past six months, and this is the final step towards a permanent organization. The officers installed were the same as the original with the additions of: F. M. Allee, S. S., Chas. Neff, J. S. and M. B. Frisbie, Tyler. Visiting members were: A. C. Meizen, H. V. Battey and F. A. True of Avoca.
Although the organization was secretive, the initiation of candidates was heard on the streets of Walnut during the evening hours of March 8, 1900. The following was printed in the next issue of the Walnut Bureau: “The shrill piping of a fife, the wild music of bagpipes, mingled with the noisy rat-a-tat of an oriental drum and the mournful beating of a tom-tom caused people last night to stop and look wonderingly at the upper floors of the opera house block. What sort of combination could this be which produced sounds of such a miscellaneous character? One man said he heard the noise of a war whoop from the top floor and at intervals there would be moaning, and women said that somebody was being killed. The crowd was increasing, when the marshal, who had been called several times by excited persons, explained that a lodge initiation was taking place.
A class of candidates was being conducted into the mysteries of the Ancient Phoenician Order of Noblemen of Tyre, a newly organized supplementary degree of the Ancient Order of United Workmen, similar in character to the Ancient Arabic Order, Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, of the Masons. The ceremonies of initiation and the installation of the new order was under the direct charge of Will M. Narvis, S. I. M., of Muscatine, assisted by a corps of well-trained Orientals.
At the conclusion of the ceremonies a sumptuous banquet was served in the dining room of the hall, from which the assembled hosts departed their various ways to their homes, each thinking to himself and wondering just how he could explain the cause of his enjoyment to his better half.”
A NEW BUILDING
Membership had grown to 64 members in the eleven years since the Walnut lodge’s beginning. During the summer of 1910, considerable interest was manifested in erecting a Temple. Finally, at the regular meeting in December, a committee consisting of S. R. Comer, Wm. Hill, Dr. W. F. Brandt, J. G. Thompson and August Ketelsen was appointed to investigate their options. In early 1911, the Masonic Temple Association was formed and incorporated.
Stock was sold and enough money was raised to purchase the lot just to the north of the German Bank Building. There was enough money to assure the success of the undertaking, so accordingly, Brothers S. R. Comer, Dr. Moore, J. G. Thompson and Otto Ronna were elected by the Association with Soren Olesen, representative of the Lodge, constituting the new building committee. They went to work immediately and secured architect Peter Wind of Council Bluffs to draw plans, etc. for the new temple. The lot was purchased from the German Bank. Bids were asked for on the new building, and Bigelow and Backus of this place secured the contract, with Brother Fred Bigelow as superintendent of the work. Excavation was commenced in August and the work was completed by the middle of December 1911. The second story was to be used as the Masonic hall, the west part of the first story for a banquet room and the east part of the first floor for offices. Dr. Moore and Dr. Brandt would be using the front offices. Brothers J. W. Forbes, Dr. Moore, Wm. Hill, L. M. Madsen and L. J. Neff were appointed to purchase the furniture. The furniture and furnishings were valued at $1000 while the 30 ft. x 70 ft. x 28 ft. high building was valued at $10,000.
The dedication of the new Masonic Temple was held on December 27, 1911. About 200 from communities as far away as Cedar Rapids responded to invitations sent out, to only members of the Order and Order of Eastern Star. After a few minutes of social and fraternal greetings, the doors of the banquet hall were thrown open by the Order of Eastern Star and from 5 to 7, they displayed their art and spice in entertaining the multitude with the best in the land. The banquet was certainly great, as the tables were loaded with all the good things to tickle the appetites. Choice cut flowers and decorations adorned the tables and hung above, making such a tempting place to be that many were caught going back a second time. Thanks went to the ladies of the Order of Eastern Star. During the banquet, excellent music was rendered by Bigelow’s Orchestra. After the program, a pleasant hour was spent in a social way and all left, very glad they had been present.
After nearly 92 years in Walnut, Morro Lodge #559 decided to consolidate with Grove Lodge of Marne. The building was sold to The Walnut Creek Historical Society for a token amount of $1.00 in September of 1990.
The 105-year-old Masonic Lodge building at 304 Antique City Drive now serves as The Walnut Creek Historical Museum.