Open House at the Masonic Lodge in Athol

  • Left to right — District Deputy Grand Master  Donald J. McKinnon, Right Worshipful Bryan Ward and Worshipful Master Niles Larson.  Submitted Photo

  • Building: Masonic Lodge on Main Street, Athol. Submitted Photo

  • Installment of officers from 2017. Left to right, front row — Michael Gustave, Axel Larson, William Kessler, Niles Larson, Jason Granai, and Bryan Ward. Back row— John Rowe, Phil Cameron Jr., Jared Robinson, Gary Lochhead, Kevin Connor, Chip Jones. Submitted Photo

Published: 10/20/2018 1:10:05 AM
Modified: 10/20/2018 1:10:20 AM

The public has a rare opportunity this weekend to learn first-hand about Freemasonry (or simply, the Masons), the well-known fraternal organization that does much of its work without publicity.

North Quabbin Masonic Lodge is having an open house Saturday, Oct. 20, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in its historic building, 336 Main St., Athol. This is part of a program promoted by the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, with open houses across the state the same day.

Members will be serving a pancake breakfast from 7 -11 a.m. ($6 for adults, $3 for children, free for kids under 5).

Visitors will have an opportunity to tour the building as members explain freemasonry and describe some of their rituals. Questions are welcomed. Included also is a museum where the original 1855 charter of the Orange Masons is displayed.

Niles Larson of New Salem, Worshipful Master, explained, “We are a charitable organization that finds good men and makes them better. Through our teachings and rituals, members strive to make one another better men. We don’t look down on anybody and we don’t discriminate because of color of skin, age or religion.”

According to Wikipedia, “Freemasonry or Masonry consists of fraternal organizations that trace their origins to the local fraternities of stonemasons, which from the end of the 14th century regulated the qualifications of stonemasons and their interaction with authorities and clients.”

The state Masonic website offers this: “Freemasonry is the world's oldest and largest fraternity. It is comprised of adult men (18+) of good character from every country, religion, race, age, income, education, and opinion. Its body of knowledge and system of ethics is based on the belief that each man has a responsibility to improve himself while being devoted to his family, his faith, his country, and his fraternity.”

The local Masonic website states, “There have been active Freemasons in Athol for more than 200 years. Our current home at 336 Main St. was dedicated on Sunday, October 11, 1969.”

Reflecting its origin in the building crafts, the Masonic emblem features two useful tools --  a compass and square – often with the letter “G” which, Masons declare, stands for God and “reminds us that our every act is done in the sight of the Great Architect of the Universe.” They also say that the “G” stands for geometry, “which is the mathematical science upon which Architecture and Masonry were founded.”

The Masonic order does not admit women, though there is an affiliated organization, the Order of the Eastern Star, primarily for women (while men may also join). Masons are required to be “of good character and to believe in a supreme being,”

While some have called the Masons a secret society, the local website notes, “It can be better described as a society with secrets. A trip to any good public library will reveal that there have been volumes written about this ancient fraternity. Its only true secrets are part of the ritual and certain means of recognition that are utilized between members. The members certainly don't hide their identity. Most of them proudly wear a ring or lapel pin bearing the well known emblem of the fraternity.”

Local Masons adopted the name North Quabbin Lodge in 2007. This included the former Orange and Star Athol entities. There used to be a Harris Lodge located on Pleasant Street and chartered in 1802. There are currently about 100 members.

“We raise money by selling Christmas trees for our angel fund,” Niles said, adding: “That fund provides a way of making anonymous donations to local organizations and needy individuals. Money has gone to Valuing Our Children and Greater Athol Area Advocates for Families with Special Needs (GAAAFSN). There are occasions when a principal of an elementary school might contact us to ask for a winter coat or shoes for a child in need.”

Niles noted that there is a membership committee that helps new members become active and a service committee to check on the welfare of members, widows and other brothers who may be at the Overlook Home in Charlton.

He stated that the North Quabbin lodge is within the 26th Masonic District, which includes lodges in Greenfield, Montague City, Sunderland, and Shelburne Falls. The entire district works on the Franklin County Relay for Life.

The building itself, sometimes called a temple, has an interesting history, having served as a post office from 1913 to 1961. The website states that the current post office, at 236 Main St., was constructed on the site of the former home of Arthur H. Starrett (grandfather of Douglas A. Starrett, who now heads the tool manufacturing enterprise).

For many years, Athol Masons met in the Starrett Block, further east on Main Street, and frequently discussed owning their own place. Finally, they obtained the old post office, which required major renovation. The firm of Marshall M. Day & Son was general contractor, while much of the labor was provided by lodge members, especially retirees.

As someone who appreciates historic preservation, I agree with this observation on the  website: “The Masons that have contributed their time, money and muscle to this project should be proud that they have not only provided a permanent home for the Masonic bodies of Athol, but have also preserved one of the fine landmarks of the town for future generations to enjoy.”

More information can be found at massfreemasonry.org and northquabbinlodge.org. Men interested in joining North Quabbin Lodge are advised to call 978-249-8972.

The final words in today’s column come from former Athol Daily News reporter Jared Robinson, whom I asked about his attraction to the Masons: “Since joining I have met many men, each one being kind and well mannered and easy to get along with. One thing I like about the Masons is the emphasis on the concept that it doesn't matter who you are outside, inside the Lodge we are all equals, be you the CEO of a large company or a machinist in a factory. And now that I am a member, should I meet another Mason in my day to day life I can already know that they are someone who can be called friendly, approachable and trustworthy.” 


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