Phoenix Lodge No. 663

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
RWB Michael H. Shirley


One of the things I’ve learned in my short time in Masonry is how dependent lodges are on the actions and attitudes of their members. A single new Mason can revitalize a moribund lodge; likewise, a Brother’s poor choices can spread, and result in a once prosperous lodge falling apart. In both cases, it’s hard to predict the results. The case of Phoenix Lodge No. 663, of Mapleton, Illinois, is instructive.

Phoenix Lodge was chartered on October 3, 1871, in Kingston Mines, Illinois, a small village in Peoria County. It moved to Mapleton, a smaller village some four miles away, in 1885. The Right Worshipful District Deputy Grand Master for the Fourteenth District reported the next year of his visit to install Phoenix Lodge’s officers on New Year’s Eve, 1885: 

This lodge had but recently been moved from Kingston Mines. The installation was public, and though the brethren had not got fairly settled in their new quarters, everything passed off in a pleasant manner. There was a large number of ladies present; a good representation from Lancaster Lodge, No. 106, at Glasford, accompanied by the Glasford band, which discoursed music for us during the evening; a sumptuous repast was spread, and a very enjoyable time was had. I predict a bright future for Phoenix Lodge.

The following year he reported that,

In March I visited Phoenix Lodge, No. 663, at Mapleton, on invitation of the Worshipful Master, and conferred the third degree. There was present a large delegation from Lancaster Lodge, No. 106, at Glasford. Phoenix Lodge is in a prosperous condition. Their room is neatly and comfortably furnished; supplied with an organ, and with several good players and singers among their number, the brethren of Phoenix Lodge make their meetings one of pleasure as well as profit.

There’s no record of what happened at Phoenix Lodge over the next several years, but apparently they did not live up to their projected bright future. Indeed, they did not survive two months past the turn of the new century. The Grand Master’s report in 1901 went on at some length about Phoenix Lodge: 

Early in the year, I was apprised of some irregularities on the part of some of the members of Phoenix Lodge No. 663 at Mapleton, Illinois. It was reported to me that on evenings of lodge meetings, buckets of beer were taken to the lodge room. Further, that for more than a year, it had been known to members of the lodge, that one of their members was implicated in a very serious and unmasonic offense. I wrote to the Worshipful Master, stating the nature of the reports and requested an explanation. 

In response, the Worshipful Master called on me. He denied the beer story, but admitted the truth of the report concerning the member. On further investigation, I found that not only one but two and possibly three, were implicated. The condition of morals was at so low an ebb in that lodge, that it was a stain and blot upon the whole Masonic fraternity. 

I instructed R.W. Bro. G. O. Friedrich to visit Phoenix Lodge and make an investigation and unless the charges were cleared to arrest the charter.  R.W. Bro. Friedrich instructed the Master to notify his lodge that he would visit them officially February 12, which he did. After opening the lodge, R.W. Bro. Friedrich stated his reasons for being present and requested the members to make their explanations. No explanation wa, made or attempted. He then, agreeable to my instructions, arrested the charter, records and seal, closed the lodge, placed the furniture in the custody of the Master and delivered the charter and records to me. 

They are now in the custody of the Grand Secretary. I, without hesitation, recommend that the name and number of Phoenix Lodge No. 663 be erased from the roll of constituent lodges.

And so it was. Phoenix Lodge No. 663 ceased to exist, barely thirty years from the date of its charter. 

The District Deputy Grand Master, who had predicted such a bright future for the lodge, was doubtless chagrined at the necessity of the Grand Master’s action, and perhaps rued his own certainty. That did not stop him from acting in the best interests of the Craft. Charles F. Hitchcock, Most Worshipful Grand Master of Masons in Illinois, who ordered Phoenix Lodge’s charter to be arrested, had been District Deputy of the Fourteenth District when he had waxed rhapsodic about the lodge’s future. 

We can learn a lesson from Phoenix Lodge’s fate and from Most Worshipful Brother Hitchcock’s actions. Just as it only takes a few good men to make a lodge thrive by their leadership, so can the misdeeds of a few men, when they are ignored by their Brethren, kill a lodge. We must, if we would be Masons, take the right actions in all circumstances, even when it’s painful to do so, for the action we ignore is the standard we accept. MW Brother Hitchcock knew that, and acted accordingly. So may we all.

~MHS

R.W.B. Michael H. Shirley serves the Grand Lodge of Illinois, A.F. & A.M, as Leadership Development Chairman and Assistant Area Deputy Grand Master of the Eastern Area. A Certified Lodge Instructor, he is a Past Master and Life Member of Tuscola Lodge No. 332 and a plural member of Island City Lodge No. 330, F & AM, in Minocqua, Wisconsin. He is Past Most Wise Master of the George E. Burow Chapter of Rose Croix in the Valley of Danville, IL; he is also a member of the Illinois Lodge of Research, the York Rite, Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees, Eastern Star, Illini High Twelve, and the Tall Cedars of Lebanon.The author of several article on British and American history, he teaches at Eastern Illinois University.You can contact him at: m.h.shirley@gmail.com


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