The lodge was started in the late 1940’s by a group of Freemasons who all worked at the International Harvester truck plant in my hometown of Fort Wayne. The group originally started out as a friendly Masonic club called “The Corinthian Club,” and eventually the group decided to form a lodge and requested dispensation from the Grand Lodge of Indiana to form a lodge to work.
In 1948 they received the dispensation they sought and became Three Rivers Lodge UD, named in honor of the three rivers on which which the city of Fort Wayne was established at the head of three rivers: the Saint Joseph, the Saint Mary's and the Maumee Rivers, where the original War of 1812 was established.
In 1949 Three Rivers lodge was presented with their charter by the Grand Master of Masons in the State of Indiana and received by Brother Ward Bailey, Three Rivers lodge’s first Worshipful Master, at a special ceremony in the Fort Wayne Masonic Temple.
Three Rivers was never a prosperous lodge. It never had a large membership but they became well known in northeastern Indiana; every year the lodge would hold a square dance as a fundraiser in the Masonic Temple ballroom. For several decades the dance was well attended, and a good time was always had. The lodge also became well known for performing the Masonic play “A Rose Upon the Altar” and would travel all over the tristate area to perform the play to Masonic audiences.
Our lodge also discovered that a lodge in London, Ontario in Canada had been established by Masons who were employed by the International Harvester company just like the founders of our lodge. In fraternal friendship, the two lodges began to meet each year, one year in the lodge in Canada, the next year at our temple in Fort Wayne. A dinner was held and one of the lodges would perform degree work to exemplify how degrees were performed in that jurisdiction. This happened for several decades.
For many years the lodge was held together by several well respected Past Masters. True Masons in every word. These Brothers would guide the Brethren with sage advice and years of experience, and never in a pushy way. Every sitting Worshipful Master would seek them out and ask their advice on how to proceed on matters. (I know I did)
But sadly, like everything on this earth, time goes by, and these columns of the lodge began to deteriorate crumble. When I joined in 2002, several of these brethren were still able to attend lodge. Even though many of us younger men had assumed roles performing the ritual, these men were still able to assume a role in a pinch.
My first few years were wonderful. Our lodge was always well attended. We would open our lodge, conduct business and then close. Once lodge was closed and all of the lodge paraphernalia was put away, we would all gather in the barroom of the Mizpah Shrine temple. It was a glorious time! We would sit and talk and laugh while eating dinner and enjoying adult beverages. These old columns of the lodge would regale us with stories about lodge events long past. We would laugh until the small hours of the morning. Begrudgingly, we would all begin our journeys home, even though our hearts were still in that little barroom, still spreading the cement of Brotherly love. Again, it was a glorious time, and I still think about these meetings everyday with a smile.
In 2003, Three Rivers began to have a rebirth. We received several new members who, in turn, began to introduce their friends to the lodge. In addition to all these friends we began to receive many unsolicited petitions, mostly because our lodge was forward thinking enough to have the only lodge website in the city. If someone expressed an interest in joining we would mail the person a “Membership kit” containing several pamphlets produced by the Grand Lodge of Indiana and the Masonic Service Association; included in the kit was a petition they could fill out.
It was an amazing time for our little lodge. Nearly every Monday was dedicated to candidate interviews. The first Tuesday of the month we would vote on these petitions at our monthly stated meeting. If the vote on each individual men was favorable, the next Tuesday night we conducted their Entered Apprentice degree. Since Indiana does not require Brethren to do memory work in order to advance to the next degree, they were passed to the degree of Fellowcraft the next week. On the fourth Tuesday of the month they were raised to the sublime degree of a Master Mason. Sometimes we would conduct degrees for as many as five new Brethren at a time. One of the members who was responsible for the large influx of new membership push through the lodge had the idea to write an official mission statement for the lodge; that statement was “To create new Masons”.
This continued for several years. Our lodge was opened every Tuesday evening (Except during the summer months in which we were dark) through 2007. In 2006 we were amazed to discover our little lodge was one of the fastest growing lodges in the state of Indiana. Three Rivers was one of the top 10 lodges for the year. Things on the surface seemed great! Our families would gather for cookouts, birthdays and when a new baby came into our little family. A good time was had by all.
Slowly things began to change. I began to notice only a fraction of the new Brethren continued to attend lodge. The only new members who continued to attend were the group of friends who had all joined. These men not only attended but started to fill all of the leadership positions within the lodge. The little lodge which was started by employees of the Fort Wayne International Harvester plant began to become a clique and a private club for these new members.
As the old columns began to crumble more, it became apparent that most of these old columns were broken and only one or two were still standing. They were not able to carry the weight of the lodge as they once did.
Without the old columns there to carry the weight upon their shoulders, the clique continued to create the lodge into what they wanted it to be; instead of a Masonic Lodge, Three Rivers became just a club to pursue this new groups outside interests.
I demitted from my mother lodge in 2010. I honestly doubt if any of the current members even noticed. I lost contact with the lodge after that. A few days ago I heard the last “old column” laid down his working tools at the age of 87. Much like Solomon's Temple, little is left to show this lodge which had such an impact on my life had ever even existed.
It is amazing to think that in the short span of a decade a lodge can go from being one of the top ten lodges in the state to ceasing labor and merging with a lodge which at the same point in history had nearly voted to turn in their charter because of their membership issues.
In my opinion this sad tale proves one thing: Membership numbers aren't the issue. We are constantly told that we need to build membership or our Fraternity will fall upon the ash heap of history. To me this story tells me, that if membership numbers alone made a lodge, Three Rivers #733 would still be standing tall with newly built columns carrying the weight of the lodge. But sadly this wasn't the case.
In the 1960’s Most Worshipful Brother Dwight L Smith, a Past Grand Master of Indiana and lodge time Grand Lodge Secretary wrote in his book “Whither are we traveling?”:
"In all the land there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. The Masonic Gimmick Manufacturing Company, Unlimited, is working overtime to devise stunts to “modernize” Freemasonry, to put it in line with ten thousand other organizations that clamor for the attention of the Tribal American. Among its many products we are urged to try are these:"
- Abandon the “free will and accord” rule which has placed our Craft far above the mine run of societies, and permit outright solicitation.
- Make the service clubs. Get busy on “projects” galore in the best Babbitt fashion.
- Go into the organized do-good business in a big way. Find an area of the human body that has not been exploited. Exploit it. Set a quota, have a kick- off dinner, ring the doorbells.
- Subsidize other organizations right and left, and, in the doing, ignore, neglect and starve the parent body.
- Feminize the Fraternity. Carry “togetherness” to even more ridiculous extremes than we have already.
- Hire press agents to tell the world, like Little Jack Horner, what great boys we are. (“Masonry is not getting its proper share of publicity,” complains one Grand Master.) Never mind actions; concentrate on words.
- Imitate Hollywood. Stage an extravaganza. Bring in all the groups that ever fancied themselves remotely related to Freemasonry. Form the parade, blow the bugle, beat the drums and cheapen the Fraternity.
- Let Freemasonry “take a position” on public issues of the day. Stand up and be counted (assuming, of course, that the position the Craft takes is in line with our own pet prejudices.)
- Go all out for materialism. Raise money; spend it. Build temples, institutions.
- Subsidize; endow. Whatever can be had by writing a check, get it.
- Centralize, centralize, centralize. Pattern Freemasonry after Washington bureaucracy. Let nothing be done modestly by an individual or a Lodge; do everything on state or national level the super-duper way. Make a great to-do about local self-government, but accept no local self-responsibility.
For the most part our lodge bought into most of the above. We did everything except for what Dwight Smith suggested the fraternity should do to put its feet on the proper path which was: “Try Freemasonry”
Practicing Freemasonry works every time it’s tried. A short business meeting to handle the affairs of the lodge followed by an interesting presentation of Masonic education. Not just reading a page from the internet about George Washington written by someone else, but a real well produced presentation with a question and answer period following.
Once lodge is closed, a festive board with good food and drink, complete with toasts. Not just a baloney sandwich on a paper plate with a bag of big box brand potato chips.
Guard the west gate. Make sure all who enter are there for Freemasonry and not mercenary motives and are of good character.
Practice true Masonic charity and not some scheme to get the lodge's name in the papers in hopes of building membership.
Dues that cover the costs of running a lodge, not to quote Smith, “At bargain basement prices” to entice men to join our order. Make fundraising a thing of the past.
There are many more points I could make but I think you get the idea.
I guess what I'm saying is, the Fraternity is kind of like the dog that finally caught the car he was chasing. Now that he has caught the car, the dog is puzzled because he hasn't thought about what he would do with it if the day ever came if he caught it.
We advertise, solicit (sometimes beg) for men to join our order. Once we have his paperwork and the initiation fees we do some quick rituals and there he is, a Master Mason. What do we do with him then? We sit him on the sidelines and move on to the next candidate. After a while he quits coming because he gets tired of sitting in a chair not being used (Or worse yet he is told he ideas were tried in 1949 and they didn't work so we won't be trying that again) and after a while he quits coming.
If we are going to continue to actively search for new members we need to find things for them to do. Add them to committees, teach them ritual or better yet ask them what they want to do! An active member is a happy engaged member.
As much as I hate to see my mother lodge as a victim of our shrinking fraternity, I take some solace knowing that our mistakes may help you and your lodge strengthen your lodges columns.