Not many local fraternal organizations can trace their beginnings to American Revolutionary times or to a charter signed by Paul Revere.
But that history is part of the legacy of King Hiram Lodge 12, the Masonic lodge in Shelton.
King Hiram Lodge had its start in the 1750s, according to Ted St. Amand, the organization’s past worshipful master and junior warden.
Members would meet in taverns, houses, barns, and rooms across the Valley until the King Hiram Lodge received a charter from the state of Massachusetts and was instituted on Jan. 3, 1783.
In 2008, the Shelton lodge celebrated its 225th anniversary.
“We predate the Grand Lodge of the state of Connecticut,” said Charles deDufour, worshipful master of the King Hiram Lodge, now located at 419 Coram Ave.
Members dedicated the current building, a former church, in 1965.
The tradition of Shelton’s Masonic lodge began in England in the mid-1700s, said St. Amand, when Masonic lodges were formed so members could meet to discuss business and politics.
The lodges were established in line with ancient stonemasons’ groups that had become obsolete when “stone building in Europe was coming to an end,” he said.
Those had been organized to enable the stonemasons to band together and teach apprentices, deDufour said, and to identify themselves as skilled laborers.
Oldest fraternal group in world?
Some claim that freemasonry started 6,000 years ago, St. Amand said, when Solomon’s Temple was built. This would make it the oldest fraternal organization in the world, he said.
Back on these shores as the American colonies evolved, prominent and educated men re-formed the lodges they’d known in England.
“The focus shifted from an operating mason to a speculative mason,” deDufour said, and lodge members were more concerned with self-improvement than stone building.
“The main function of a lodge is to make Masons,” St. Amand said, through a study of rituals, and “to make men to be more in tune with the community.”
The aim is “to take good men and make them better,” deDufour said.
Both men said they were attracted to freemasonry because they’re interested in history, and they learned about the King Hiram Lodge from friends.
“It’s a personal choice and a personal quest for more information,” St. Amand said, through learning and memorizing the history of freemasonry.
Members gather to work the three basic degrees — Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Mason.
DeDufour said the lodge was about to have a degree ceremony. “We’ll raise a brother and initiate him as an entered apprentice,” he said. “He’s been exposed to information that’s rehearsed and he’ll learn it.”
A candidate for membership is progressively taught the meanings of the lodge symbols, such as gauges, trowels, levels, and the square and compasses, and is entrusted with signs and words to signify to other Masons that he has been initiated.
Many of the symbols appear in paintings by Shelton resident Allan Buttrick that hang on the walls of the King Hiram Lodge meeting room.
A place of brotherhood
Signs and symbols notwithstanding, the friendship, camaraderie and service are what impress deDufour. “First and foremost is the brotherhood,” he said.
“When a member needs help, we help,” said St. Amand, whether it’s splitting firewood or repairing a roof.
The lodge has “adopted” local organizations, they said, and donates supplies to Spooner House and works on TEAM Inc.’s Toys 4 Kids drive.
The King Hiram Lodge pays dues to the Grand Lodge and the funds are distributed to a variety of charities, including the Masonicare Health Center in Wallingford.
Meeting a fellow Mason when traveling is “one of the wonderful things about masonry,” deDufour said. “You have a bond quicker than someone else. It’s an enlightening experience.”
Brothers go to lodges in different countries and even if there’s a language barrier, “you’ll recognize the rituals,” St. Amand said.
Membership in the King Hiram Lodge has other benefits. “It’s really great to meet people from all life experiences,” deDufour said. “In masonry, we all feel we’re on the same level.”
Members of the Shelton lodge include teachers, financial planners, salesmen, entrepreneurs, contractors, and engineers. “It’s a good cross section,” deDufour said.
The organization goes through cycles in terms of membership. “Projections show we may run into trouble,” deDufour said.
The lodge has 230 members “on paper,” about 100 active members, and 15 to 20 people who shoulder most of the responsibility. Members have to be 18 to join, and the average age of active members is in the 40s, spanning from the 20s to the 80s.
“You have to come to us to join,” deDufour said. “We don’t solicit. We can’t function without members.”
There are a few requirements to be a potential candidate,” he said, including a belief in a deity or supreme being and taking a secret oath.
Lodge membership includes Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Muslims. “Our lodge is predominantly Christian but not exclusive,” deDufour said.
Historically, African-Americans have separate lodges as part of Prince Hall freemasonry, and one is active in Naugatuck. The idea of merging the King Hiram and Prince Hall lodges could be a future possibility.
No women may join the King Hiram Lodge. “We are the brotherhood of man,” deDufour said.
There are associated organizations, such as the Order of the Amaranth, that accept men and women, and some groups that accept only women.
Youth role, community involvement
The Masons sponsor organizations for children that are similar to scouting groups. Girls may become members of the International Order of the Rainbow and the International Order of Job’s Daughters, and boys man join the Order of DeMolay.
King Hiram Lodge hosts a St. Patrick’s Day dinner that is open to Masons and friends, as well as a steak and brew event, and members march in the Derby-Shelton Memorial Day parade.
The installation of officers also is an open event.
During ceremonies, officers, who are elected by the membership, wear tuxedos and aprons, which are standard symbols of freemasonry.
Officers include worshipful master, senior and junior warden, senior and junior deacons, treasurer, secretary, stewards, a marshal, and a chaplain.
Meetings are conducted on the first and third Thursdays of the month at 7:30 p.m.
Those who want more information about membership may visit kinghiramlodge12.org.