Jeff Park Freemasons to mark temple centennial
By BRIAN NADIG
Next month’s 100th anniversary celebration of the Jefferson Masonic Temple, 5418 W. Gale St., will pay tribute to the role its early members played in the development of the community.
“This building will be turned into a museum,” Planning Committee member Bruce Barnes said. “A lot of the founders of the Town of Jefferson were masons.”
The Jefferson Masonic Association’s temple, which is the oldest in the city, will be open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays, Aug. 4 and 11, and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 12. The celebration will feature displays on the history of the temple and the community and free child identification kits, and a pancake breakfast and the rededication of the building’s cornerstone will be held on Sunday.
A group of freemasons met in Jefferson Park during the 1860s, but after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, Wiley Egan Lodge 593 dissolved because its members were busy working to rebuild the city and it was not meeting frequently enough to satisfy rules set by the Grand Lodge of Illinois.
About a year after the fire, a group of residents formed Providence Lodge 711, and it met in various locations in the Jefferson Park area, including a blacksmith shop, until the temple was built at a cost of $17,755. An initial estimate for the construction was for about $15,000, but members decided to spend more for electricity and running water, Barnes said.
The building, which was renovated in 2004, was somewhat unusual for its time because it was constructed with steel trusses, Barnes said.
Serving on the committee which oversaw the construction of the temple was Fred Esdohr, who was the president of Jefferson National Bank at Milwaukee and Lawrence avenues, according to Northwest Chicago Historical Society member Frank Suerth. Esdohr’s father Henry, who also was a mason, was the city clerk for the Town of Jefferson and owned a well that provided water for most area residents, Suerth said.
Another prominent member of the lodge was David Fonda, who was appointed Cook County physician in 1867 and who became the president of the Jefferson Township Board of Trustees in 1874, according to Suerth. In addition, Andrew Dunning, who was a trustee on the school board in Jefferson, was one of the first members of the Providence Lodge.
Over the years several lodges merged with Providence Lodge, and in 2003 the lodge was absorbed by King Oscar Lodge 855, which is one of 11 Masonic organizations that meet at the temple.
Freemasonry, which rose from the guilds of stone masons who built castles during the Middle Ages, is believed to be the largest and oldest fraternal organization in the world, and more than 2 million freemasons live in North America. Members are not allowed to discuss politics and religion at meetings, and while some of masonry’s rituals are supposed to be discussed only among members, it is not “the secret society” that some observers have called it and information about some of the rituals is available on the Internet, Barnes said.
Sheridan Ostrander, who is a past master of King Oscar Lodge, said that a goal of freemasonry is “to make good men better.” Members are required to believe in a supreme being, but they can belong to any religion, Ostrander said.
On Aug. 12 the Masonic association plans to unveil the contents of a time capsule which was placed in the building’s cornerstone. The contents include a Bible and a copy of the Aug. 3, 1912, Jeffersonian newspaper, which has an ad for Edward Hines Lumber, which still operates in the Chicago area.
More information on the history of the temple and its centennial celebration is available at www.jeffersonmasonicassociation.org.