Ansel B. Cook, former mayor Paul E. MacGuffin, and Ralph Buckley. If those names sound familiar, that’s because we’ve probably covered them before in one post or another as they were instrumental in making Libertyville what it is today. However, did you know they were also members of the local Masonic Lodge? Not many institutions last long enough to celebrate their 150th anniversary, but this year the Libertyville Masonic lodge # 492 will belatedly (due to the construction on the new parking garage) be doing just that! So let’s delve into the hidden, and not so hidden, history of Libertyville’s very own Masonic lodge and see who was in it and what they did over their first half-century!
Before we delve into the history of Libertyville Masonic Lodge #492, considering all the misconceptions about Masons, I thought it might be useful to provide a quick overview of just what Freemasonry is.
The origins of Freemasonry are a bit of a mystery, even to Masons themselves. While early 13th century texts refer to “Freemasons”, the generally agreed upon date for the origins of modern Masonry is June 24, 1717 with the first meeting of the Grand Lodge, the body that governs Masonry, at the Goose and Gridiron Ale-house in London (although since no minutes were taken until 1723, even this is hard to confirm). In order to join a lodge, a man has to be of good character, believe in some higher power, and, of course, pay their dues. Over time, initiates can move up the ranks, from lower level positions like Tyler, who was in charge of preparing the lodge before the meeting and making sure only members get in, to Worshipful Master, who organizes with other lodges and presides over rituals. As members gain different ranks, they wear different aprons to signify their position. While the rituals and Biblical symbolism that are interwoven throughout Masonry (and used to instill moral lessons through allegory and symbols) have become the most widely known part of Masonry, in reality their meetings are taken up mostly with paying dues, organizing social and charitable events, or electing new officers.
Fortunately for us, the origins of Lodge #492 are a bit less obscure! In early 1866, a group of men from Waukegan Lodge # 78 made it known that they intended to form their own lodge in Libertyville. A few months later on May 6, 1866, they held the first meeting of the Libertyville Masonic Lodge #492. According to their meeting minutes, among those in attendance were Worshipful Master Louis Pennington, Junior Warden J.S. Gleason, and Tyler C.P. Fisher, among others. The lodge quickly adopted by-laws drafted by the Grand Lodge of Illinois and received its charter on October 18, 1866. The lodge grew quickly, with the minutes for a meeting on December 24, 1869 recording the installation of a number of new officers, including Ansel B. Cook, who was elected as the lodge’s secretary. This was long before the lodge building we know today was built (construction wouldn’t start until 1931) so meetings were held in rented rooms at various locations in Libertyville’s downtown. One of the earliest meeting places I could find records for was on the second floor of a building built in August 1883 by past Master Isaac Heath, which the lodge rented for $75/year ($2,110 today). Due for members was $1.25 ($19.73 today) a year and fees for moving up degrees were $5.00 (or $78.93 today).
Then, in mid-1871, a scandal engulfed the lodge! In a meeting held on May 13, 1871, John M. Price was charged with un-Masonic conduct. During the subsequent trial, Ansel B. Cook gave testimony that on April 1st, while serving as an election judge in the town hall, he had overheard John Price call William Price a “lowdown dirty scoundrel” (Lodge #492 minutes, p. 2)! Worse, the two had been quarreling over political candidates, something strictly forbidden under Masonic bylaws! John Price was found guilty and indefinitely suspended from Masonry. It should have stopped there, but at the lodge’s next meeting, E.B. Messer charged William Price with swearing in public and betting on the speed of horses (serious charges in those days). However, William was not the only one to find himself in trouble that night, as Messer himself was charged with neglecting his duties to notify neighboring lodges of John Price’s suspension. Within a few years both John Price and E.P. Messer would drop out of the lodge, after which one can imagine the amount of drama in the lodge lessened significantly.
The next few decades were a bit less eventful for the lodge, although there were some events of note. At a meeting held on October 20, 1871, members of the lodge received a letter from a past Master reminding them of their duty to assist all “worthy distressed brother master Masons” who had been affected by the great Chicago fire (Lodge #492 minutes, p. 3). As the city rebuilt, members of the lodge helped with the reconstruction efforts where they could. Ansel B. Cook, along with William Price, constructed a number of important buildings including the Bryant Block, now known as the Delaware Building, which one of my co-workers already covered in her excellent post on Mr. Cook. During this time, the lodge was invited, along with other fraternal organizations, to attend a number of cornerstone ceremonies, including one for the new “Government Building” in Chicago in June 1874 and for the County Court House in Waukegan in April 1878. On June 30, 1883, Fremont C. Knight donated a Bible, used in various masonic rituals, that is still in use today.
As the 19th century gave way to the 20th the lodge continued to grow, with 87 dues-paying members in 1900, which by then were $65.25 ($1,797.10) a year. By this time the lodge, which was still in it’s rented second floor hall, was sharing space with a number of other Masonic groups. Among these was the Order of the Eastern Star which, at a meeting in January 1901, was banned from using the hall for banquets after having left a “sizable mess” from their last meeting (they were eventually allowed back, although Warren Heath, son of Isaac Heath who by then was the owner of the building, increased their rent to $100). In a meeting held later that year on September 28, 1901, the lodge formed a committee to look into forming a home for widows and orphans. Two years later in June 1903, the lodge recorded its first phone bill as being $1.65 (or $43.59 today). In 1904, Edward H. Smith, who had been elected as Worshipful Master in 1903, ordered a photo gallery to be created of all past Masters of the lodge. During this time the lodge continued to meet in rented rooms. However, with its membership steadily increasing (by 1910 the lodge had 145 members), the lodge began to look for a permanent meeting place, with the Worshipful Master appointing a committee in July 1910 to look into constructing a Masonic hall of their own in Libertyville.
However, I’m afraid that this is where I will have to leave off (if only because I haven’t had time to go through the lodge’s archives properly). So congratulations to the lodge on its 150th anniversary, and if any of our readers are interested in attending the lodge’s sesquicentennial celebration (which is open to the public), it is starting at 12 pm this Saturday, September 16. Join me next time when I’ll be finishing up my series on the history of Mundelein, and find out how residents weathered the Great Recession and began planning for their town’s future!
Bucey, Wes . “Interview with Wes Bucey.” Interview by author. August 26, 2017.
Cizek, Carl . “American Legion, Libertyville Post #329.” Digital image. Illinois Digital Archives. August 03, 2003. Accessed August 28, 2017. http://www.idaillinois.org/cdm/ref/collection/cookmemo11/id/1272.
“Cornerstone of Masonic Temple laid Wednesday.” Independent Register (Libertyville), October 22, 1931. Microform.
Grand Lodge of A.F. & A.M. of the State of Illinois. Who are the Masons? And what do they do? Springfield, IL.
Hamann , Spencer. “Masonic Lodge #492 background.” Interview by author. April 25, 2016.
E. C. Kropp Co. “The New Masonic Temple, Libertyville, Ill.” Digital image. Illinois Digital Archives. December 2, 2005. Accessed August 28, 2017. http://www.idaillinois.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/cookmemo11/id/874/rec/2.
Lawrence J. Gutter Collection of Chicagoana (University of Illinois at Chicago). The programme : containing the arrangements for the demonstration in connection with laying the cornerstone of the government buildings June 24, 1874, together with a full directory of the city lodges of the Masons, Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias, and other societies. Chicago, IL, 1874. Accessed August 25, 2017. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/100700608.
Libertyville Masonic Lodge #492 minutes. Vol. 1-5. Libertyville, IL.
“Libertyville [Lake Co.] July 1897.” Map. In Digital Sanborn Maps. IL, 1897. Accessed August 25, 2017. http://sanborn.umi.com/il/1973/dateid-000001.htm?CCSI=277n.
“Masonic temple to be erected in Libertyville.” Independent Register (Libertyville), February 08, 1923. Microform.
Photos courtesey of the Cook Memorial Public Library District, the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society, and Masonic lodge #492.
“Starts laying walls of Masonic Temple.” Independent Register (Libertyville), October 8, 1931. Microform.
“What is Freemasonry.” Accessed August 14, 2017. http://www.mhebf.com/freemasonry.html.
“Work started on Masonic Temple Monday morning.” Independent Register (Libertyville), September 17, 1931. Microform.
“Libertyville July 1897.” Map. Accessed September 6, 2017. http://sanborn.umi.com/il/1973/dateid-000001.htm?CCSI=277n.