Fork Union Masonic Lodge celebrates 150 years

By Page H. Gifford

For centuries, Freemasons were under scrutiny for their exclusivity and secretive practices. Nowadays, they have transformed themselves into an organization that benefits their communities while they become better and more enlightened men.

“The significance of 150 years in the community is truly noteworthy,” said David Vaughan, the current Worshipful Master. “There is history here that few people realize and they have been living next door to this organization, not knowing of its existence or what positive effect it has had on the community.”

As a member of Fork Union Lodge for 50 years, Vaughan shared what he has experienced by being a member of this fraternity.

“My mother convinced me to consider becoming a Mason because of how proud my father would be if I followed him and my grandfather in this, another step into manhood,” he said adding the common phrase and purpose of all Masons, is to “make good men, better men.” 

“As a young man, I can remember how my father would brag about various men who were Masons and members of his Lodge. There were members from all walks of life. Doctors, lawyers, educators, businessmen, farmers, tradesmen, etc. a lot of whom I had personal knowledge of and respected. I do not regret my decision to join this group of good men.”

Mostly native to England and Scotland and later spreading to other areas of Europe and America, it began in the 13th century when a guild of stone masons came together to build better character by perfecting their craft and eventually forming a fraternal organization through brotherhood. With the decline of cathedral building, society shifted and so did the focus of the Freemasons.

Their roots took hold during the Enlightenment period and their values continued to rest on religious tolerance, learning, and socialization. Well-known Freemasons include George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Winston Churchill, Gerald Ford, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Mozart, Davy Crockett, Henry Ford, Paul Robeson, Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, and Buzz Aldrin.

While not a secret society, which some believe, they observe and preserve secret rituals from the past. 

There was a mystique surrounding Freemasons and assumptions of who they were. Because of the strong religious influence of the medieval era and the symbolic nature of the group, society was led to believe it was something other than what it was. The familiar symbol of the square and compass depicts the builders’ tools joined by a G for God or The Grand Architect of the Universe, all conveying stability, balance, and judgment.

The myth of the Freemasons being some kind of satanic cult was driven by the Catholic church, which forbid any Catholic to join in the early 18th century. Today, the Masons are trying to modernize their organization. 

Membership for men only has remained. In the 1723 constitutions, written under The Grand Lodge of England, women, atheists, and enslaved people were barred from joining. Later in 1850, the women’s affiliated version, The Eastern Star, was established.

In 1872, Lodge #127 was founded in Fork Union and J.J. Ancell became the first Worshipful Master. Members were scrutinized to make sure they were appropriately attired and paid 50 cents for dues and anyone owing three dollars or more was not allowed to hold office. Also, in the 19th century – an era of lengthy speeches – any member was forbidden to speak more than twice on a subject without permission of the Worshipful Master.

The original site of the lodge was situated on a tract that is now occupied by the Fork Union Military Academy. In 1952, the current lodge was built on a tract on Rt. 15 across from FUMA. It cost $50,000 to construct and it has stood for 71 years. It continues to provide a meeting place for modern-day Masons and the Order of the Eastern Star.

“Free Masonry in Fork Union continues due to the effort of a group of men that want to see our heritage survive. The turmoil of the last few decades has dimmed the luster of things that masonry has to offer,” said Vaughan. “Believe me when I say that modern technology is taking its toll. It seems that a lot of younger people are looking for instant gratification. Belonging to an organization such as ours does not provide that. We are not alone in this. The same applies to other civic and religious organizations.” Recent studies by the Joint Economic Committee have shown that organizations like the Masons and Knights of Columbus are struggling to gain members.

“The pandemic had some negative effects, but we are maintaining a solid core group who continues to meet and carry on the business of the Lodge. During the ‘90s and up until about 2012 we enjoyed having 25 to 35 members attending a dinner and meeting every month. Today our numbers are a fraction of that.” He added that they are looking for ways to make their fraternity more attractive to the younger men in the community.

“One question that is often asked of us is, “What do the Masons do? The fraternity and our Lodge have been maintaining a presence in the community. The pandemic put some of our efforts on hold. We sponsored some youth groups and sports teams. In the past, we had a scholarship program and assisted one or two students each year. These students were primarily from Fluvanna County High School. Organizations such as the local food bank and Meals on Wheels have received donations from our organization.”

He said that Lodges throughout the state have been challenged by The Grand Lodge of Virginia to find ways to help those in the communities who may need assistance.

“This could be anything from raking leaves, giving older folks a lift to the doctor, providing food to a hungry family, etc. Anything that we as Masons can do, not for the notoriety, but for the good of the community and our fellow man. In some cases, the person being assisted will not even know that a Mason was involved.”

Vaughan along with other members hope that there will be more celebrations of their history. “We also hope our future will not be cut short by men being in too much of a hurry to enjoy the fellowship that this great fraternity has to offer.”

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