This Sunday, November 1, 1998, marks the 150th anniversary of Laurens Lodge No. 75 of the Free and Associated Masons. Laurens Lodge, the oldest fraternal organization in the county, was chartered on November 1, 1848 during a session of the Grand Lodge of Georgia held in Macon. The number 75 designates that the Lodge was the 75th lodge founded in Georgia.
Freemasonry began nearly twelve hundred years ago in Europe. Any man engaged in the building crafts was known as a mason. The term Freemason was comparable to what we call an architect today. The Freemasons began to organize into a fraternity. There was no central ruler. Members followed the code of the society. Other men became interested in the activities of the freemasons. These men had no particular skill in building and were known as associated Masons. The first Grand Lodge was established in England in 1717. The creeds and doctrines of the Masonic fraternity have always included beliefs in God, family, and country.
While the Masons use secret codes, their existence is anything but secret. The Masons, while seeking to do deeds for the public good, do not seek public acknowledgment of those deeds. The locations of their lodges is not a secret. Their members are known to the public. There is a saying that “Freemasonry is largely invisible.” It cannot be found totally in one place or any one time. It is found within the heart and soul of each individual member. One can not demand membership into the Masons. He must petition the lodge members for their approval to become a Mason.
The Laurens Lodge was temporarily organized on August 17, 1848. The officers of the Lodge were Phillip Ketterer, Worshipful Master; W.R. Steely, Senior Warden; and Jacob Cohen, Junior Warden. One day after the Lodge was chartered, Charles B. Guyton was elected as Senior Warden Pro Tem. Jacob Cohen remained as Junior Warden. T.N. Guyton was elected Secretary of the Lodge. The first regular election was held in December and the following officers were added: Francis Thomas, Treasurer; Freeman H. Rowe, S.D.; John W. Yopp, J.D.; and John M. Dasher, Tyler. Other charter members of the lodge were William R. Steely, B.H. Horn, James M. Shepherd, Thomas G. Westfall, C.J. Horn, T.G. Hudson, J.M. Hall, J.J. Salmons, J.C. Ray, James A. Thomas, C.L. Holmes, and Edward Sheftall. The Lodge was incorporated on March 5, 1856.
The members of the Lodge were among the elite in the government and business community in Dublin. The first Worshipful Master, Phillip Ketterer, came to America from Alsace, France. He fought in the Black Hawk war in Illinois and was educated as a physician. Dr. Ketterer moved to Appling County, became the first postmaster of Baxley, Georgia and had the honor of naming the town. Charles Brutus Guyton, the second Worshipful Master, served in the state legislature for seven years and a term as postmaster of Dublin. The next Worshipful Master, Freeman H. Rowe, was Dublin’s most prominent merchant. Rowe represented the Bank of Savannah and operated a freight boat on the Oconee River. Rowe served as the first Judge of the Court of Ordinary, now known as the Probate Court. In May of 1865, Judge Rowe invited Confederate President Jefferson Davis to dine in his home on Academy Avenue. The next day Rowe misdirected Union cavalry troops who were in pursuit of Davis and his band. Rowe’s home still stands on the lower end of Rowe Street. The home, Dublin’s oldest, was built about the same time the Lodge was established. Ironically, the home stood near the southwest corner of Academy Avenue and Rowe Street, the current location of Laurens Lodge which was established nearly fifty years ago.
In the mid-1850s, the members of the Lodge constructed their first permanent lodge hall. It was a two-story wooden structure and was located in what today is the front parking lot of the Dublin City Hall. The Lodge allowed the children of Dublin to attend school in their lodge. Eventually the lodge building became the City Hall of Dublin. The building was leased to the city in 1892. It remained on the site for ten years until the city built a school on the site. That school still stands but was remodeled to become the City Hall in 1959. It was moved across Church Street to the site of the Dublin-Laurens Museum. The building was moved again in 1904 to the northeast corner of Roosevelt Street and West Gaines Street, where it was used by J.M. Reinhardt as a residence and furniture storage warehouse. The building was demolished, probably in the 1940s. The columns from the home were kept by John C. Pitts and his sons and used to adorn their car
Rowe was succeeded by William B. Moorman, a Methodist Minister and founder of Boiling Springs Methodist Church. Dr. Jacob T. Linder, the owner of a large plantation on the east side of the Oconee River, followed his neighbor, Rev. Moorman. By the beginning of the Civil War, membership had nearly tripled. As one might expect, the activities of Lodge were limited to routine matters, and no substantial activity took place since the lodge members thoughts were hundreds of miles away. Judge John B. Wolfe, one of Dublin’s most respected and admired citizens of the period, served as Worshipful Master during the difficult years following the Civil War. Wolfe was succeeded by a series of former Confederate soldiers like B.B. Linder, J.T. Chappell, and W.E. Duncan.
During the late 1880s and early 1890s, Rev. Whiteford S. Ramsay, a former Confederate colonel, the pastor of First Baptist Church, and founder of the Dublin and Laurens County school systems, served as Worshipful Master. Rev. Ramsay served for eight years, longer than anyone else in the one hundred fifty-year history of the lodge. During this period, new lodges were being formed in the county. The Reedy Springs Lodge was established in 1885. It was followed by the Dexter Lodge in 1890. Eventually, nearly every small town in Laurens County would have its own lodge. It was also during this period when the members of the lodge voted to build a new lodge above the main floor of the Lanier Building on the northeast corner of South Jefferson Street and East Madison Street. Today the site is occupied by Dublin Appliance Company. As Dublin and Laurens County were beginning to grow, so was the membership of the lodge, which reached one hundred in 1902.
By 1919, the membership totaled two hundred thirty two. Membership peeked in 1927 at two hundred ninety three. Around the turn of the century, the Lodge was led by W.A. Wood, W.W. Bush, J.H. Witherington, E.J. Fuller, Capt. W.C. Davis, Ira S. Chappell, W.B. Rogers, and J.Y. Keen, all influential “movers and shakers” of Dublin and Laurens County.
In 1904, the Lodge agreed to accept an offer by C.W. Brantley to furnish the Lodge with a meeting room on the third floor of his new building on the northwest corner of West Jackson and North Lawrence Streets. The Lodge was located on the front right corner of the building which is today known as the “Lovett and Tharpe Building.” At the time, it was Dublin’s tallest building. Despite the fact that the room hasn’t been used as a lodge hall for many years, the Masonic symbols inlaid in gold still remain in the pressed metal ceiling of the hall. During those years, the lodge consisted of J.J. Flanders, Carl Hilbun, W.W. Ward, W.B. Adkins, J.G. Patton, A.H. Grier, C.C. Crockett, M.A. Chapman, Coke Brown, Farrell Chapman, A.T. Duncan, C.I. Hilburn, C.E. Baggett, W.B. Bryans, George Currell, Brigham White, W.W. Walke, R.L. Webb, D.Z. Lindsey, J.W. Long, W.W. Brinson, J.L. Bracewell, E.E. Hansen, R.L. Powell, and T.C. Garner. More details on the history of the Lodge can be found in a book written by George Currell in 1948 and in the two volumes of Laurens County’s History.
The ancient traditions of Masons are still followed. You don’t see it. There is no need to see the actions of the Masons. Masons have served in professional, business, religious, and military capacities. You only need to know that they are there - working toward the betterment of our community - just as they have for the
last one hundred fifty years.