By Robert A. McCaughey, Master 1908-09, on the 115th anniversary of the dedication of our first building, June 24th, 1920.
With additional content added in November of 2011 with current information by Timothy A. Pray, Senior Warden, 2011, Past Master, 2012.
At the time the Lodge was instituted, Bristol was a town of less than 1700 inhabitants, but it soon grew to be one of the most important ports on the Atlantic Coast. While no specific account was made of the occupations of the early members yet the frequent reference to the death by drowning and the funerals of the brethren leave no room for doubt that our members were active seafaring men in the principal calling of the day. There were many whose bodies were not recovered.
To quote a few of these incidents: Bro.George W. Devol died suddenly aboard the Brig “Crozimho” in Lat. 28° 14’, Long. 88° 40’. Another brother was shipwrecked in Long Island Sound. Another was buried in Matanzas, Cuba. In all of these cases as in many similar ones the Lodge held funeral services, marched to the residence of the deceased brother, escorted the family to the church where a discourse adapted to the occasion was delivered by the minister, escorted the family to their home and thence returned to the Lodge room.
Our members were also active in the War of 1812 with England and participated in the stirring events of those times. They were interested as owners and officers in fitting out and sailing the armed privateers that hailed from this port. A majority of the shares in the ship “Hiram,” the second of the privateers to sail from Bristol, were owned by the members of St. Alban’s Lodge.
There are many members of St. Alban’s Lodge who by their character and faithful service have been prominently identified with the progress of the Lodge and are entitled to honored remembrance, but to give a complete listing of these men or give a biographical sketch of their lives is beyond the scope of this paper. However, it might be well to mention a few, such as Bishop Alexander Griswold, Barabas Bates, Lorenzo Dow, and Nathaniel Bullock.
Bishop Griswold, a man of intellectual and moral attainments, moved to Bristol in May, 1804 having accepted a call as Rector of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church. He soon showed himself to be a man of more than ordinary powers and he gained much influence in the community. His abilities were recognized by the authorities of the Church and he was advanced to be bishop of the Eastern Diocese in 1810, eventually being elected as presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States. A most interesting account of his life and work is given by Professor Wilfred Munroe in his “History of the Mount Hope Lands.” He was active as a member of the fraternity for many years. He received the degrees in a Connecticut Lodge and upon moving to Bristol became affiliated with St. Alban’s. He soon became active in its affairs and was elected Master in 1804.
We read from the proceedings of the Grand Lodge at the dedication of our old hall he delivered a most excellent discourse, and on many other occasions we find evidence of his interest in Masonic affairs. He was active in Capitular Masonry, and received the Order of Knighthood in St. John’s Encampment. He served as chaplain of the Grand Lodge for ten years. Although professional duties prevented him from holding offices in the various bodies with which he was connected, he was warmly attached to the order and retained his convictions firm to the end not withstanding the excitement prevalent during the later years of his life.
Barnabas, or Barabas Bates, was Master in 1818. At this time he was pastor of the First Baptist Church of this town and was said to have been a remarkably able man. He was one of the first to suggest the establishment of a Sunday school in Bristol. Mr. Bates had strong Unitarian sentiments which were not in harmony with Baptist beliefs and he finally gave up preaching and devoted himself to other pursuits. During the AntiMasonic period he was Collector of the Port, but because of his outspoken advocacy of Freemasonry he was removed from office. He afterward became connected with the New York Post Office and became much interested in postal reform. It was largely through his efforts that a great reduction in the postal rates was made.
Lorenzo Dow, who has been called an eccentric but extraordinary man, was a devoted Christian and a consistent Mason. He was made a mason in St. Alban’s Lodge on Christmas Day, and on the following day he received the 2nd and 3rd degrees. Masonic legend relates that
the Lodge was called in the afternoon at the conclusion of the service at the church at which Brother Dow was preaching. Certain of his parishioners, learning of his intentions, tried to dissuade him from his purpose, some of them going so far as to accompany him to the door of the Lodge room. He refused· to listen to their entreaties, however, and upon arriving at the entrance to the Lodge he paused, surveyed his followers for a moment and then with the words “Whither I go ye cannot follow,” disappearing from their sight.
Brother Dow was a strong temperance advocate and it was through his influence that the Lodge in its early history took a decided stand against the use of ardent spirits and we find the following vote recorded: “That we as a body of Free and Accepted Masons will dispense with the use of ardent spirits on festive occasions.” This was at a period when there were five distilleries in Bristol, some of them making 200 gallons of rum per day and the cause of prohibition had not advanced to its present popularity (circa 1920).
Nathaniel Bullock was a member of this Lodge and was treasurer for a number of years. It was customary in the early years to supplement the work by lectures and discourses, and different members were appointed by vote of the Lodge for this purpose. Frequent reference is made in the records to these lectures, but the only one recorded in full was delivered by Brother Bullock in 1815. This discourse was a lengthy one and while it was written to apply to conditions over a hundred years ago it is just as applicable today and could be adapted as a charge and is the equal if not superior to any now contained in the Trestle Board.
Brother Bullock served in the legislature for nine years and was Lt. Governor for one term. To quote from a contemporary, “That in soundness of judgement, in knowledge of his profession, in integrity of character and in genial and social qualities he was the peer of the distinguished men with whom he was so long associated.” It was such men as these that helped to give our institution such a high standing in the community.
The Lodge continued to prosper and increased in numbers and resources until 1829 when the formation and election of the Anti-Masonic Party prevented the further growth for a number of years, as they had made it a misdemeanor to administer an obligation. Most of you are familiar with the history of these troublesome times but little reference is made in our records as to the local aspect of this opposition. Frequent notations are made concerning the question as it affected the state and the fraternity at large. During this period little work was done, but the members maintained their organization and continued to meet in the accustomed place and sustained their reputation for firmness, truth and brotherly love.
The name St. Alban’s was selected by our first members in honor of the Duke of St. Alban’s who was chosen in 1663 as Grand Master of the English Freemasons, who have claimed that Alban, Saint and Martyr, was born in the third century, and was one of the ancient patrons of the art The Arms of the Lodge is an ancient device and is born by St. Alban’s Lodge No. 1294, in England, and earlier by the Saint for whom we were named. The crest denotes his royal descent. The first name proposed for membership in St. Alban’s was George Peck, who was initiated November 24, 1800. At this meeting the receipt of $1.50 for refreshments was noted in the records.
A provision in the bylaws stated that every member and visiting brother who shall be present at or after the opening of the Lodge (except the secretary and those excepted by the Master) shall pay his proportion of expenses, share and share alike, and should any brother quit before the meeting is closed he shall pay his quota to the secretary, and should he fail to do so it shall be demanded of him the next night of his visitation as soon as the Lodge is opened!
The first funeral held by the Lodge was that of Benjamin Smith on May 9, 1801. Brother Smith came to his death by being accidentally blown up by a carriage gun which he survived but a few days. Brother Smith must have been of some standing in the community as his funeral was largely attended. There were present 26 members of St. Alban’s, 22 from Washington Lodge, 6 from Eastern Star Lodge of Massachusetts, 6 other visitors and a representative from the Grand Lodge. Sixty-one would be considered a very good attendance at a funeral in these days.
Our first members early recognized the social benefits of Masonry and frequent reference is made of the celebration of festival occasions. The first strictly social event recorded is that in celebration of the festival of 8t. John the Divine. One part of the program on this occasion was the partaking of a repast in Academy Hall.
The Lodge was constituted and given its charter on October 21st, 1802 by services held under the direction of Grand Master Moses Seixas. The record of this event was taken from the proceedings of the day as follows: “The Grand Lodge of the State and the different Lodges subordinate thereto met at the State House in Bristol at 10 o’clock A. M. and formed the procession from thence to the Congregational Meeting House, where a well adapted discourse was delivered by Rev. Brother Samuel Watson of Barrington after which St. Alban’s Lodge was consecrated and the officers thereof installed in ample form and presented with their Charter signed by the officers of the Grand Lodge after which the procession formed again and proceeded to the Academy Hall where a plentiful dinner was provided and all partook of the same, the procession moved to the State House and the lodge closed and all returned to their several places of abode.”
The Lodge continued to meet in the Court House or as it is frequently referred to in the records, “The State House Chamber,” as the Rhode Island legislature held certain of their sessions at Bristol. This building stood in the middle of State Street about opposite where the Methodist Church now stands. It was afterwards moved to the northwest comer of Bradford and Bourne Streets where it is still used as a dwelling house and store.
As the lodge grew the need of different quarters became apparent and plans were soon started to acquire a home of their own. A committee was appointed to confer with a committee of the Town to devise a plan for a building, the lower floor to be used as a school and the upper part as a Hall or Lodge Room. This joint committee, after some deliberation reported:--recommending “That a building 25 x 50 and 19 feet high be constructed at a cost of $1,400., the Town and the Lodge each to pay one half the expense.” The cost to the Lodge was estimated to be $1,200., $700. for the building and $500. for the finishing of the interior. The lodge had but little money in the treasury at this time and subscriptions were obtained from our members to provide the necessary funds. Work was soon started upon the building and the comer stone was laid in the northeast corner under the direction of St. Alban’s Lodge in October 1804.
The building was completed and the Hall dedicated to Masonic purposes on June 24th, 1805. To quote from the proceedings of the day, “The Lodge formed a procession from the Court House to the new Hall and dedicated it to Masonry in ample form whence the Grand Lodge in procession accompanied by Brethren of different Lodges proceeded to the First Congregational Church where a very pertinent and well adapted discourse was delivered by Brother Alexander V. G. Griswold, after which the whole body proceeded to the Academy Hall where a very SPLENDID dinner was provided by Brother Billings Waldron, from whence the Brethren dispersed in peace and harmony.”
This building was much smaller than we of this generation remember it, for some time after its erection it was greatly enlarged and the entrance to the Lodge Room changed. The old building evidently was enclosed with a board fence as after the alterations the Lodge voted to sell its part of the fence.
This Hall, with alterations, served the Lodge as a meeting place until 1895 when the building was razed to make place for the Walley School.
The lodge left the building that they built on that site in 1896 and for 25 years met at Odd Fellows Hall. In 1920 they purchased the William H. Bell block at the corner of Church and Hope Streets, where they currently meet.
The building was renovated and the lodge room on the third floor was constructed. The second floor has always been used as a meeting area. It had two billiard tables that were used for billiard practice and tournaments by the Doric Club. Over the years, several tenants have rented the first floor. It was divided into two stores and over the years the front of the building has been altered to accommodate new tenants.
The meeting minutes are being reviewed to document the lodge history from 1920 to 2005.
The following is additional content to the Lodge history compiled by Timothy A. Pray, Senior Warden, 2011.
In fall of 2005 a new rubber roof was installed. A week after the installation, a strong rain and wind storm blew the new roof off the building. A second new rubber roof was installed but not until the third floor sustained water damage to the horsehair plaster ceiling. The ceiling settled about 18 inches lower after it dried out which indicated that we should check the supports above. The supports had failed to hold the weight of the ceiling with the water and were broken in several areas. The ceiling was removed, new steel supports for the roof were designed and installed. These installations created plaster work, cracking damages, and much dust and dirt in the lodge room. This work caused the room on the third floor to be unusable for a period of four years.
In the Fall of 2009, the building committee gathered together and created a plan to fix the room with the help of several lodge members. The heavy furniture was moved out of the room and stacked high in the outside rooms. During the work that needed to be accomplished, the furniture was moved several more times. Walls with the curves necessary for good acoustics were recreated and plastered and a ceiling grid was installed to make way for a lighter suspended ceiling. Each weekend several lodge members assisted in small projects to bring the room back to a usable condition. Lodge members installed insulation above the ceiling and in many of the open spaces in the walls. When the plaster work was completed, again, several lodge members gathered on weekends to prime and paint the walls. This was truly a group effort.
During the time the room was being corrected, the fire marshal brought a requirement for a sprinkler and fire alarm system to be installed due to revised state laws. These two projects created a financial burden, but again the building committee gathered together and created a reasonable financial plan to fund a budget that would allow us to accomplish the amount of work necessary to bring the room back into use and make the building safe for its membership.
In October of 2010, the first meeting was held in the partially renovated lodge room even though additional work still needed to be accomplished. After that first meeting in the room the enthusiasm and excitement of being back into our own lodge room continued. Each weekend showed more improvement and eventually by December 2010 the room was complete.
In glancing through the written history of St. Alban’s, it is noted that the lodge has reflected Bristol’s history through good years and bad. Especially the records in our books of several of our brothers being lost at sea as crewmen of Bristol boats. Lodge members owned a majority of shares in the ship “Hiram,” the second Bristol privateer to take part in the War of 1812 against England. And later, members of the lodge were oppressed during the Anti-Masonic period of the 1830’s and 40’s.
During the slave trade era, when Bristol had five distilleries, some producing 200 gallons of rum per day, the lodge saw fit to pass the following motion: “That we as a body of Free and Accepted Masons will dispense with the use of ardent spirits on festive occasions.” Needless to say, that motion was revised not to long after. Among those attending the 200th Anniversary festivities in the year 2000, were the Officers of St. Alban’s including Senior Warden Herbert E. S. Clark, Junior Warden Edward Boyd, Jr., Secretary William Jaycox, and Treasurer Edward Wiacek, Also attending were District and Grand Lodge officials.
St. Alban’s No. 6 has been continuously meeting 10 months per year for 217 years.