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Part I: Beginnings – 19th Century

This is how it all began: as early as 1849 brethren from Cleves spoke to Columbia Lodge #44 concerning a request for a dispensation from the Grand Lodge of Ohio. Other elements intervened, however, such as a cholera epidemic and the bitterness which preceded the American Civil War (1861-1865).

It was not until October 14, 1863 that a dispensation was granted by Howard Mathews, Right Worshipful Deputy Grand Master of Masons in Ohio, on petition by J.H. Hunt, J.D. Garrison, Sam’l Wamsley, Jacob M. Young, J.G. McCullough, Joseph Cilley, Caleb RIninger,  James Carlin, H.K.W. Smith and J.D. Brown praying to be congregated into a regular Lodge in the town of Cleves, State of Ohio, County of Hamilton.

A week later, October 21, 1863, the Masons of Cleves and vicinity met for the purpose of organizing a Lodge which at the very beginning was subject to a strong religious influence. Brother John Stuart presided. He was apparently a minister of the Gospel because he is later spoken of as Brother the Reverend John Stuart [Brother Stuart was the minister at Cleves Presbyterian Church – DBB]. The dispensation was read and Worshipful Master J.G. McCullough proceeded to appoint his officers for the ensuing year: Joseph Cilley, Treasurer; B.S. Harrell, Secretary; Sam’l Wamsley, Senior Deacon; Jacob W. Young, Junior Deacon; and Caleb Rininger, Tyler [shortly thereafter James Carlin was elected Senior Warden and Jacob Hunt Junior Warden]. A committee was appointed to prepare laws and regulations for the government of the Lodge. The same month the petition of W.W. Taylor was received and a fee of ten dollars ($10) charged.

The following year, in January, 1864, a Bible was given to the Lodge by Mrs. Lucetta McCullough. The presentation was made by Brother (Reverend) John Stuart. The first stated meetings were held on Monday nights. Later (Feb. 20, 1864) the time for holding stated communications was changed to Wednesday night on or before the full moon each month.

The name North Bend derives from the general region in close proximity to the last great northerly bend of the Ohio River as it proceeds towards its mouth. It also might be remarked that the grace of Howard Mathews, Deputy Grand Master of Masons in Ohio at the time North Bend Lodge had its origin, was long unmarked in Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati, Ohio, until a movement was set afoot by Brother Melvin Pfankuche (Rosendale Lodge #404, Rosendale Missouri), representative from McMillan Chapter to the Cincinnati Masonic Library Association, to mark such noncommemorated graves of Grand Masters and Deputy Grand Masters of Ohio. This was done in October, 1969, by co-operation between Cincinnati Lodge, of which Howard Mathews was a Past Master, and the Grand Lodge of Ohio.

A determination of the early meeting places of the Lodge has been difficult.  The first place of meeting was the Miami Township Hall which was given to the township in the eighteen seventies by veterans of the Civil War and housed the Charles S. Hayes Post of the Grand Army of the Republic; and this is the building to which the Lodge has often repaired for special events where a large crowd might be expected, such as inspections or a particular usage intended even to the very present. The first hall was apparently not too desirable because in 1866 a committee was appointed to solicit contributions for building a hall. The results were nil. The Lodge found a new abode so that in March, 1867, we find it drawing an order in favor of a Mrs. Brown for $60.00 hall rent. The location was not too suitable for in April, 1869, it was moved that we build a hall. The same rental continued until October 24, 1885, when the last rent was paid to Sarah Brown and this order was transferred to Reverend Mr. Wm. Mahon.  The following month, November, 1885, the Lodge rented the new hall over the restaurant in the frame building on Miami Avenue of Capt. George W. Souders. The rental of $4.16 2/3 per month was paid until April 25, 1888, when the Lodge lease a hall on the northwest corner of State Road and Skidmore Alley from Brother Young. Here they continued until the autumn of 1899, later moving into the new building of John Matson and dedicating it February 9, 1900, which is our present home.

Throughout the minutes there is an indication of the development of attitudes or curstoms in the North Bend Lodge. The Sons of Temperance sought to use the hall. A committee was appointed which reported against the letting (1865). The Odd Fellows, on the other hand were permitted to meet in the Lodge Hall and a local dramatic and literary group was extended the privileges. Money was returned (1864) to an applicant for membership disabled from taking the degrees by accident. The Lodge paid its respect to a deceased brother (Nov. 25, 1867) by paying the funeral bill of $38.00 to Brother Sleets (Slete) of Snow Lodge in Harrison, Ohio. This was too much for them as for the next one to die they merely saw that he was decently interred; and it was not until March 7, 1884, fifteen years later, that the ventured to pay William Argo $40.00 in a similar case. The first regular observation of funeral services as we know them was in July, 1884, when the brethren marched to North Bend and returned to the Cleves Presbyterian Church for the ceremonies attendant upon the death of Joseph D. Garrison.

The funeral details might be macabre, but the financial condition of the Lodge was even worse. Money was really hard to get. The dues were $2.00 per year. Members were constantly in arrears even though they could “square” with the Lodge in installments of 25 cents per month (Feb. 1, 1871). Members were suspended or expelled including some of the patriarchs of the Lodge. Finally by June 24, 1885, the minutes read that the Lodge was considering surrendering its charter or annexing itself to some other Lodge, but the members who remained in good standing, as the minutes relate, “concluded to hold the fort” and here we are. The Lodge had been dark for approximately six months, since December 31, 1884. Three years later the Lodge was so prosperous that Brother Fred Grossman was authorized to buy six spittoons for the hall.  Incidentally, he was the janitor, a doctor of medicine who took care of the hall for 50 cents a night (Oct. 17, 1888). The Lodge also had some furnishings which it deemed prudent to insure with Dr. Royal Struble, another physician, the premium being $4.00 (Dr. Struble, not a Mason, was father of Judge Stanley Struble, past Secretary and Brother of North Bend Lodge). Trustees were also appointed that same year (Dec. 12, 1888).

The day of St. John, the Evangelist, was noted as early as December, 1868, but there was no particular observance except the installation of officers. St. John’s Day, as we have continued to commemorate it, was first celebrated at the Cleves Presbyterian Church on June 24, 1888, with W.S. Pryse, the minister, conducting the services, who later became a member of the Lodge. Connersville, Indiana, however, had communicated with North Bend Lodge as early as May, 1874, concerning St. John the Baptist’s Day. In December of the same year North Bend Lodge conducted a public installation of officers, mentioned as a success.

The Grand Lodge of Ohio from the very beginning was watchful of North Bend Lodge. The dispensation given to North Bend Lodge was only to last until October 18, 1864. Time ran out. The Lodge continued to operate without procuring a charter. Work was done; but Thomas M. Sparrow, Grand Master of Masons in Ohio, was soon upon it, almost before it could begin any illicit activity.  North Bend Lodge complied and since whatever was done was done in good faith, it was made legal. When certain Lodges were in rebellion against the Grand Lodge of Ohio (March 13, 1889), North Bend Lodge remained steadfast.

The military history pertaining to North Bend Lodge of this period is so meagre it would satisfy the most belligerent dove of our time of the most ardent copperhead of the Civil Was years. Captain James Carlin, one of the charter members of the Lodge and later Master, was a veteran of the Civil War. He gains little attention in the records of the Lodge for his service in the army, but his sword still adorns our Tyler’s station [Note: the Carlin sword was later lost or stolen from the Lodge – DBB]. However, a young man leaves abruptly for his regiment and the Lodge is all hot and bothered. The soldier was M.L. Best, who had just passed his Entered Apprentice examination. The degree of Fellow Craft was given him and it was agreed to confer his Master Mason degree two days later. This was ultimately consented to by unanimous vote of the Lodge. The two different aspects of the argument were that cases of emergency were strictly forbidden by the Grand Lodge, and in opposition, that this is false because the Grand Lodge of Ohio gave Lafayette Lodge of Cincinnati “permission to give the 1st, 2nd and 3rd degrees to Kossuth all in three days and such cases were numerous during the war” (Sept. 14, 1884). Brother Best lived to return to the Lodge and became a member of one of the numerous committees which were forever going to build a hall or raise funds for one.

North Bend Lodge also had troubles in matters of jurisdiction. A typical example is illustrated when Vattier Lodge accepted an applicant who resided practically within its very shadow. He lived in the big red brick house with center hall and masard  roof which formerly stood on the knoll overlooking Miami Avenue near the bottom of North Bend hill in Cleves. The house has since fallen victim to the bulldozer, but then it was in its heyday with carriage house, stables and all the dress of Victorian luxury. Report had it that warm meals for the family were regularly brought from Cincinnati via the “rapid transit of the day”. North Bend Lodge had previously waived its privileges in this respect for other Lodges. Vattier, however, had brazenly invaded its sacred precincts. Some of the local brethren may have been barefoot, but this was not to be tolerated! They protested and demanded the initiation fee of Vattier which amounted to $30.00. Vattier came across. Ten dollars was later returned. North Bend was going to meet all Lodges on the level. Approximately fourteen years later, North Bend was to be forgiving and co-operate with Vattier in the funeral service for the deceased brother, for which they were sincerely thanked.

Throughout the early minutes there are interesting bits of information as to the physical characteristics of the Lodge. The amenities of the Lodge room as we now enjoy them were scant. The Tyler must have had warm red flannels and felt boots to keep warm outside the Lodge room. The only notable furnishing was the altar given by Brother T.H. Bonham, March 5, 1868, with the already acquired Bible, and it might be remarked that this altar was used until the present one given by Brother Edward Schultz shortly after our building was last renovated. The Trustees of the hall, not as we know them today, were asked to procure a stove and coal. North Bend Lodge had only the most scant necessities during the eighteen sixties. The Secretary, nevertheless, was order to obtain a Lodge seal on January 11,1865.

The next two decades brought both social and material improvements. A bit of canvas, a chart was bought. Lights and lamps were secured for the hall (Sept. 7, 1881), probably being our three candlesticks near the altar. The term “lights” seems to be particularly used. The word “lamps” was customarily employed when making such purchases. The cost of lamps and lights was $2.60. Eight lamps were bought at another time and the bill was $1.50. The Master made a report of his attendance at the Grand Lodge, most likely the first one, October 26, 1887. Sam Wamsley earlier had been a delegate to the Grand Body, November, 1876.  J.H. Stone was elected the first honorary member (July, 1883). Carpet was acquired from Otte & Co. (August 15, 1888). Trustees as we now know them were appointed December 12th of the same year.

It might be well to pause and consider our relationship with the Grand Lodge before entering the 1890’s and the new century. Communication had not been too good in the early days of North Bend Lodge. It was located in quite a remote spot for the time. Letters were exchanged. A vote was to be taken in North Bend Lodge (February 3, 1868) on the question of whether the Wardens were to be “blotted out” as representatives to the Grand Lodge and the local vote was “Nay”. Circulars concerning the formation of a Masonic Widows’ and Orphans’ Home were filed as early as February 1, 1871; again in May, 1890, communications on the same subject were received. The Grand Lodge seemed to give little attention to the instruction of the individual brother of North Bend Lodge. This was left to the Lodge, and the records point to instructions. Nothing was noted of the lectures. However, at the stated meeting of April, 1889, a message was read from District Lecturer L.E. Werthheimer requesting time convenient for inspecting North Bend Lodge, probably the first time this term was used in respect to our Lodge. District Lecturer Brother Joseph Kirkup again made similar contact with the Lodge in June, 1903, and was present at the conferring of the Master Mason Degree on brother Edward Schultz, June 14, 1903, with all of which he was well pleased. The Lodge minutes then state quite regularly that the lectures for the degrees were given in full. The only reflection that the reader of the record could have is that the brethren of that period certainly could stand the heat considering the season when inspections were held.