The year was 1717; Benjamin Franklin was 11 years old, inventing the swim fin, and off the coast of Britain’s North American colonies, the notorious pirate, Blackbeard, was raiding cargo ships.
Simultaneously, on June 24, 1717, the Grand Masonic Lodge of England was formed, planting seeds that would grow roots extending over 300 years of history.
To celebrate those years of Masonic tradition, Highland Masonic Lodge 583 will hold an open house at the the John Wildi Masonic Temple, 721 9th St.
“We are interested in showcasing the facility we have here, that we’ve been blessed to have from a donation from the Wildi trust,” said David Hickey, a past Master from the lodge.
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The event will be Saturday, June 24, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Activities of the day include self-guided tours of the lodge and its museum rooms. The brothers will also serve hot dogs, burgers and soft drinks.
A little bit of local history
On June 24, 1717, four London lodges held a joint dinner at the Goose and Gridiron, an alehouse in St. Paul’s Churchyard. Together they elected, or what Hickey calls “gently persuaded,” Anthony Sayer to the chair as the first Grand Master. The Grand Lodge of England was born.
About 150 years later, on July 15, 1867, the Marine, Illinois Masonic Lodge voted to assist the formation of a lodge in Highland. The Highland Masonic Lodge was charterer on Oct. 10, 1868 and will celebrate its 150th anniversary next year.
The lodge has held its meetings at several locations in Highland. Those spots include:
▪ 1867, at the Louis Blatner residence, located at Broadway and Zschokke.
▪ 1868, at the Louis Appel building (Broadway Tavern), located 1013 Broadway.
▪ 1887, at the C. Kinnie building on Main Street at the corner of the Square.
Then, in 1921, the lodge found its permanent home at the John and Louisa Wildi residence at 9th and Walnut streets. The building was built in the 1880s, and after Louisa Wildi died, the home was passed through her will to the Highland Masonic Lodge. When the lodge acquired the home, they built an additional structure on the property.
What it means to be a Freemason
Hickey said the roots of Masonic tradition go back to three words.
“I think you could probably get a variety of definitions from a number of men as to what Masonry is or isn’t,” Hickey said. “But one of the things I like to think about is: faith, hope and charity.”
To become a part of the group, Hickey said there are certain criteria each member has to meet. One, you have to be a man. Two, you have to believe in God. And three, you have to be a good person, who wants to give back. Hickey said there are currently about 60,000 Freemasons in Illinois, all dedicated to giving back to their communities.
“Roughly there is $1 million a day, just in Illinois, going to charitable endeavors,” Hickey said “So, I think as an organization, we strive to do better and to serve the community. So I think it would be a good fit for a lot of men.”
Hickey also said being a Freemason is about looking at the big picture, from outside the box.
“We strive in building leadership. We are about taking risks and doing things differently within the world,” Hickey said. “It kind of sounds a little funny coming from the Masonic institution, because we have this ritualistic history that is over 150 years and has not changed since the time of George Washington to a very large degree. But, I do believe that that tradition melds well for developing things and change in the future.”
Hickey has been involved with the fraternity for about 10 years. Aside from the charitable missions of the organization, he said his interest began with the historical nature of the group, and the deep connection to United States and patriotism. But he began to realize he could also learn many values from his fellow brothers.
“Some of us are at different stages in our lives, and the younger men can use guidance from the older gentlemen,” he said. “There are much older gentlemen in our lodge who are in their 70s, 80s and 90s. They have a lot to share with us young guys, who are 55. I think having those conversations and learning — life is a constant learning experience — what you find is that you can improve off of what was and continue to pass it on.”
Hickey said he would encourage any man who has an interest in serving their community to become engaged with Masonry.
“It’s been a wonderful activity for myself. I can say that for all the other members that we have at our organization here, which is about 150 men in Highland, at this particular lodge,” he said.
Open House At A Glance
Who: Highland Masonic Lodge 583
Where: John Wildi Masonic Temple, 721 9th St.
When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, June 24