Bristol Lodge turns 225
By SAMANTHA FREDRICKSON
March 21, 2005
Not much has changed for the Bristol Freemasons over the last 225 years.
They still hold meetings based on the phase of the moon. They still wear tuxedos when they get together. And they still don't let women join their club.
Longstanding traditions are what Freemasonry is about, said Bill Melody, a Levittown resident who has been a member of the Bristol Masonic Lodge for decades.
The group is celebrating its 225th anniversary today. And like all Masonic lodges, it's kept the traditions and ideals it was founded on in 1780.
"It's about family coming first," said Melody. "Then God, then country."
The original masons were cathedral builders in the Middle Ages. Over time, this group of people calling themselves masons expanded into a social, fraternal organization.
The first of these social Masonic Lodges was formed in 1717 in London. The Bristol Masonic Lodge was the 25th lodge built in Pennsylvania and is one of the oldest in America.
Being a Freemason is a lifestyle, said Jack Haworth, a longtime member of the lodge.
"If you see a person that is a mason, he is a good person," Haworth said. "It's about fellowship."
The organization still operates just as it did centuries ago.
Meetings are held the first Saturday on or before the full moon, Haworth explained, because when the lodge was started its members needed to travel either by daylight or moonlight.
The Lodge Room, where the meetings are held, is a large, regal room on the second floor of the Cedar Street building. Pictures of former masons, including George Washington, decorate the walls. A lectern for the master, the man who heads the organization, stands in the east side of the room - all masters of all lodges always stand in the east.
When the meetings are under way, the Lodge Room's doors are locked from the inside. No one but a Freemason can attend the meetings.
The 12 officers don tuxedos with tails. They wear bejeweled aprons with mason symbols on them over the tuxedos. And at the start of each meeting, the master walks over to a corner closet and chooses a top hat to wear.
Bristol's lodge has about 300 members. To become a Freemason, one must get nominated by a member and voted in by the group.
Only men over the age of 18 are allowed behind the locked doors of the lodge.
"The bylaws say women aren't allowed," Haworth said. "In the early days, women didn't do the labor."
A few women have asked to become members over the years, Haworth said. But no one ever challenged it.
He added that the lodge has two Masonic organizations for women. These organizations, however, don't exclude men.
It's all in the tradition, Melody and Haworth said.
For both men, that tradition has extended to their families. Haworth's son and Melody's son-in-law both became members of the organization. Masonry often stays in families, they both said.
"We're just a good bunch of guys," Melody said.
Samantha Fredrickson can be reached at 215-269-5081 or sfredrickson@phillyBurbs.com.