Here is a short history of Masonry in the Bronx and the Bronx District. It was taken from the 81st Anniversary Annual Charity Ball Dinner and Dance program, which was held on Sunday, October 24, 1999. Currently, as of 2007, the Bronx District is 89 years old and going strong. Special thanks to the brother(s) that compiled this history.
History does not record when the first Masonic meeting was held in what is known as The Bronx. It is known that after the Duke of York assumed control of New Amsterdam, in 1664, that British forces established garrisons in both the East Bronx (Borough of Westchester) and West Bronx (Annexed Lands). British military units then, as now, often had Military, or Traveling, Lodges accompanying them, and it is possible that such a Lodge “Worked" in the Bronx.
The first Lodge organized in what is now known as the Bronx appeared when a petition was presented to Grand Lodge on March 2, 1796 and a Warrant was ordered issued by Jacob Morton, D.G.M. and DeWitt Clinton, J.G.W. instituting Westchester Lodge, No. 46. The first meeting of that Lodge was held in the home of David Hustice in the Town of Westchester (now Westchester Square). The Lodge’s jurisdiction extended from Long Island Sound and the Connecticut line on the east; to the Hudson River on the west; from the Harlem River on the south to the Putnam County line on the north. Stated meetings of the Lodge were those of the “first full moon of the months of January, April, July, and October." To discourage non-attendance members were fined one to four shillings for absence. On June 24, 1797, the Festival of St. John the Baptist was observed by the Lodge and Masonic Services were held in St. Peter’s Episcopal Church with the Reverend Brother John Ireland officiating.
On December 27, 1797, Westchester Lodge relocated to a more central point in Eastchester and alternately met there and in White Plains until finally locating to New Rochelle, where it continues to work under the name of Huguenot Lodge, No. 46.
From 1797 to 1852, no Lodges regularly operated in what is now known as the Bronx, probably due to its small population and, in part, the anti-Masonic fervor resulting from the “Morgan incident," plus the schism in Grand Lodge. With the end of the “Morgan Era" and the reunification of Grand Lodge by the 1840′s, Masonry enjoyed a rebirth. On December 25, 1852, a Charter was issued to Marion Lodge, No. 278 allowing them to work in the Town of West Farms. Marion Lodge’s original jurisdiction encompassed the Annexed Lands; from the Bronx River on the east to the Hudson River on the west; from the Harlem River on the south to the Yonkers line on the north. Between 1852 and 1918, elevenLodges were Chartered in the area and one Lodge, Hopewell, relocated to the area, from Hopewell Junction.
From the formation of the Grand Lodge of New York, in 1781, Lodges were arranged in Districts according to Lodge number and area; Districts were numbered from 1 through 42. In 1898, the State of New York completed its incorporation of Counties and the creation of the City of Greater New York, thus was formed Bronx County. At the same time, Masonry in New York was growing in ever increasing numbers; this trend continued into the 20th century.
In 1908, R.W. John E. Virden, D.D.G.M. of the 7th Masonic District, first advocated the formation of a new Masonic District to be composed of Lodges locating with the County and Borough of The Bronx. He was supported and joined over the next few years by R.W. S. Harby Plough, R.W. William Y. Jack, R.W. Edward Feih, R.W. John Bell, and R.W. John Lecky, together with the earnest efforts and cooperation of their many colleagues from Lodges meeting in The Bronx. Similar discussions were going on, at the same time, throughout the state.
It was not until 1917 that the movement gained sufficient support to be presented at a Grand Lodge Communication. At the 1918 Annual Communication of Grand Lodge, in May, the plan for redistricting was adopted. It fell to the newly installed Grand Master, M.W. William S. Farmer, to implement the plan. This plan established the new Masonic Districts along county lines, with numbers as necessary, and created 64 Districts, geographically arranged into four Regions. The Bronx District is one of the twenty-two Districts in the Metropolitan Region, which includes the five counties comprising Greater New York City plus Putnam, Westchester, Nassau, and Suffolk Counties (some Districts incorporate more than one county and some counties have more than one District).
The twelve original Lodges of the Bronx District came from the 6th, 7th, 8th, and 42nd Masonic Districts and were:
Azure, No. 868 (42nd District)
Bronx, No. 860 (42nd District)
Gavel, No. 703 (8th District)
Guiding Star, No. 565 (7th District)
Hebron, No. 813 (7th District)
Hopewell, No. 596 (7th District)
Level, No. 914 (42nd District)
Lily, No. 342 (6th District)
Marion, No. 278 (6th District)
Pelham, No. 712 (8th District)
Trowel, No. 860 (42nd District)
Wyoming, No. 492 (7th District)
R.W. S. Harby Plough was appointed as the first District Deputy Grand Master (D.D.G.M.), R.W. Walter McGivney was appointed as the first Staff Officer (Grand Sword Bearer) and W. William Steiger was appointed as the first Assistant Grand Lecturer (A.G.L.) of the Bronx District. Part of the redistricting plan was to encourage the formation of District organizations. Meetings were held in the autumn of 1918 and resulted in the formation of The Masters and Past Masters’ Association, which became operative in January, 1919. W. Arthur A. Barr was elected as its first president.
The Masters and Past Masters’ Association was established to provide a forum for District concerns, to provide for Masonic relief to the Brothers of the District, their widows and orphans, to promote the spirit and unity in the District, and to undertake charitable endeavors. Since 1919, other associations have been established to fulfill these same aims. There have been Wardens’ Associations and Masters’ Associations at various times. The Past District Deputies have an association which continues to function and has the responsibility of recommending appoints to Grand Lodge Offices; there is also a Purple circle made up of past and present Grand Lodge Officers.
Over the past 75 years, members of Bronx District Lodges have served their District and Grand Lodge, with distinction, as District Deputy Grand Masters, Grand Lodge Officers, Grand Chaplains, Grand Representatives, Assistant Grand Lecturers, Presidents of the Masters and Past Masters’ Association, and Masters of their respective Lodges. Some of our Brothers have been called upon to serve Grand Lodge in appointed to elected officers, R.W. James F. Reynolds was appointed as Senior Grand Deacon (1949 – 1950), R.W. Henry W. Emmerson was elected Grand Treasurer (1978 – 1979) and R.W. Robert E. Roeser served as an elected Trustee of the Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library and Museum (since 1986), and R.W. Louis H. Juers was elected Grand Treasurer (1996 – 1998). Other members of District Lodges have served Grand Lodge on standing and special committees.
Masonic Lodges have met in numerous places throughout the Bronx. From private homes to buildings designed for use as Masonic Halls. Seven Masonic Halls or Temples have served the Lodge meeting in the Bronx. Six of these are still standing and two are still in use as Masonic meeting places. The oldest, City Island Masonic Temple, is owned by Pelham Lodge and was originally a mercantile building, which was converted into its present form; it still functions as a Masonic Temple. Westchester Masonic Hall, owned by Wyoming Lodge, was located on Main Street in Westchester (now Williamsbridge Road in Westchester Square) – it was demolished in the 1970′s. Washington Masonic Temple, owned by Guiding Star Lodge, was located on Washington Avenue in Tremont – the building is still standing. Hebron Temple, owned by Hebron Lodge, was located on 216th Street in Gull Hill – the building is still standing. Hopewell Temple, owned by Hopewell Lodge was located on 233rd Street in Woodlawn – the building is still standing. Wyoming Masonic Temple, owned by Wyoming Lodge, is located on East Tremont Avenue in Westchester Square and still functions as a Masonic Temple. Azure Temple, owned by Azure Lodge, originally a church, was located on Boston Road in Morrisania – the building is still standing.