Star Courier - Western Illinois
Kewanee’s Masonic Temple for sale; meetings moved
Lodge now meets at Boss Center
Dec. 19, 2012
By Dave Clarke
The Kewanee Masonic Temple, 112 S. Chestnut St., will be put up for sale by Kewanee Masonic Lodge 159 AF & AM.
While the building is currently being offered, the Masonic Lodge will remain active and plans to continue its mission at a new location. Kewanee Lodge, along with two other side Masonic organizations, have temporarily relocated to the Boss Community Center, 221 W. First St.
“This move is made with mixed emotions,” said Mark Hepner, chairman of the building committee. “It is a beautiful building that has been the home for Kewanee Masonry for 106 years. However, it is too large for our current needs. The utility and maintenance costs are starting to interfere with our lodge’s primary mission of fraternalism and charity. As much as we love this building, when it became more pressing to have a fundraiser to pay for a power bill than fund a scholarship for Kewanee youth; a change had to be made,” Hepner said.
Kewanee Lodge 159 (Ancient Free & Accepted Masons) was chartered in 1855; just one year after Kewanee was founded. For its first 50 years, the lodge met in various Wethersfield and Kewanee locations, including the current Good’s Furniture complex on Tremont Street.
In 1904-05, the current Kewanee Masonic Temple was constructed and has served as the home for the Masons until now.
The Temple was built in the heyday of American fraternalism, when a very large portion of men belonged to lodges and orders like the Masons, Odd Fellows, Knights of Columbus, Knights of Pythias, Elks, Moose, Eagles, and the Red Men. All of these groups had local lodges in Kewanee. It was not uncommon for men and women to belong to several different lodges and their women’s’ auxiliaries.
The Temple features a large banquet hall, restroom, kitchen on the first floor; sitting rooms, restroom, offices, a library on the second floor; and a game room on the third floor. The heart of the building was the lodge room where meetings and degree work took place.
The lodge room is essentially a small theater with a full balcony and seating for over 250 people. Because many of the Masonic degrees are highly dramatic in which the cast moves about over a wide area, a large lodge room was needed to accommodate a cast of 25 or more.
“During the first half of the 20th Century, many men preferred to attend lodge meetings rather than go to bars or sporting events,” Hepner said. In the case of the Freemasons alone, over 10 percent of the American male population belonged.
In addition to the basic lodge, in which a member received the first three degrees of Masonry, there were numerous side or appendent orders. Kewanee Chapter 47 (Royal Arch Masons) chartered in 1859 conferred degrees 4 through 7. Kewanee Council 43 (Cryptic Masons) conferred degrees 8 through 10. Kewanee Commandery 71 (Knights Templar) chartered in 1906 conferred additional orders based on the Christian faith. Each degree taught a moral lesson through ritual and drama.
In addition to the basic Masonic groups for men, the wives and daughters of Kewanee Masons could join Harmony Chapter 43 (Order of The Eastern Star). Young boys in Kewanee could join the Templar Chapter of the Order of DeMolay while young girls joined the Wanee Assembly of the Order of Rainbow Girls. There were also numerous Masonic clubs that met at the Temple.
“In looking through the records from this period, we found that there was some type of meeting or activity at the Kewanee Masonic Temple every single night of the week except Sunday,” said Hepner. “Each of these Masonic groups had hundreds of members and there was a need for the three-story Temple.” Even on Saturday nights, the Masons would host dances in the banquet hall, sometimes for just their members and other times for the public.
That all changed in the 1960s and 1970s. Social patterns and habits changed a great deal in America and Kewanee. School sporting events became more numerous, placing demands on family time.
“The baby boomers did not want to join the fraternities their fathers and grandfathers belonged to,” Hepner said.
As membership dropped, many lodges and groups closed and activities declined. This happened not just to the Masons, but to all of the fraternal, service, and veterans groups in Kewanee and elsewhere.
Today, the only remaining fraternal groups in Kewanee are the Masons, Odd Fellows, Elks, and Knights of Columbus, all with a fraction of their former numbers as active members.
Many of the Kewanee Masonic groups surrendered their charters over the years, but the Kewanee Lodge, Chapter of Royal Arch Masons, and the Commandery of Knights Templar still continue to be active and meet on a regular basis. However, since these groups only meet monthly, the three-story building stands idle the vast majority of the time and is used only two or three days each month.
“Kewanee Masonry continues to be relevant and active with a stable membership of about 100 members,” said Hepner, who is also a Past Master of the Kewanee Lodge. “However, if we want to remain so, we have to adjust to the realities of the 21st Century. By making this move, it frees up time and financial resources that can be better used to elsewhere.
“We are proud of the fact that Freemasonry donates $1.5 million dollars a day to various local, state, national, and international charities,” Hepner said. “We want to continue that tradition. We are also excited that we currently have prospective members who have petitioned to join our fraternity. By locating to a more efficient and economic location, we can concentrate on what is really important to our fraternity and our community.”
To join the Freemasons, a man must be at least 18 and profess a belief in God.
Hepner is quick to add that even more important than the charity work is the brotherhood and life lessons that are taught through the various Masonic degrees, all of which are still done entirely by memory wearing dramatic costumes and with moving performances.
“It is hoped that once the Temple is sold, the Kewanee Masons can locate to a permanent location and focus what they refer to as ‘The Brotherhood of Man under The Fatherhood of God,’” said Hepner.
Hepner said there has been interest by private individuals to purchase the building. If that does not materialize, the property will be listed with a local realtor, said Hepner.
“It is our hope that whoever does purchase the Temple, will be able to find a good use for it and restore it to its former glory so that it will remain a Kewanee landmark for years to come,” Hepner said.
Those interested in learning more about Freemasonry or the Kewanee Masonic Temple may contact Mark Hepner at 854-7401 or by e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.