by Dan Holland and Sue Serdinak
Freemasonry was founded in the Middle Ages by stonemasons who traveled from town to town to build lodges. They established rituals and passwords so non-masons could not pass themselves off as experienced stonemasons.
Rituals and secrecy became part of the character of Freemasonry in the following centuries. With titles like Worshipful Master, Grand Master and Brethren, with early “trials” for “un-Masonic” behavior, and with their meeting hall always locked to outsiders, secrecy was part of the Masonic culture.
Masonry and the Catholic Church over several centuries were at odds because of the use of terms like consecrated, temples and altars for the Masonic meeting areas and the religious-type rituals involved in their meetings. The Catholic Church called it conspiratorial and said Masonry placed itself above civil law and Christian teaching. As societies became more sophisticated, Masonry played a lesser role in governing people and the Catholic Church removed its opposition to membership.
Masonry was always a fraternity, with strict rules governing acceptable behavior of its members, referred to as Brethren. Lodge meetings were held under lock and key in a location that had been “consecrated” and only Brethern were admitted. Alcohol has always been forbidden in Masonic lodges.
Freemasonry was introduced in North America in the late seventeenth century and the charter to operate as the Meridan Son Lodge of Freemasonry was granted on Sept. 5, 1823, only 14 years after the founding of Richfield. Archive material shows that the Meridian Son lodge held trials for members that were seen intoxicated or members who exhibited “un-Masonic” character.
Masonry flourished in North America after the Civil War and during World War II when Masonic fraternalism was practiced on the battlefields.
Members today say Masonry transcends religion and politics. It is an exclusively male organization that fosters the common good and calls for brotherly love. Titles and traditions continue, but the focus is on fostering a purposeful and good life for its members.
The Meridian Son Lodge celebrates the 200th anniversary of having a Masonic presence in Richfield this fall. The seal of Grand Lodge #69 was officially affixed in Columbus on Jan. 14, 1824. It was the first lodge organized in what is now Summit County.
The first formal meeting of the lodge took place on Sept. 25, 1823, at the O. M. Oviatt Hall located at 4235 W. Streetsboro Rd. – now a private residence. Charter members included Daniel Green, Abraham Freese, David Jones, Isac Morgan, Salmon Oviatt, Jonathan Sheldon, John Smith, Adoniram Swift and Isac Welton – last names that still sound familiar to many local residents.
A building located at 4666 Streetsboro Rd. was purchased in 1866 from F. E. Ellsworth for $475, and became the second lodge location. In 1926, lodge membership, which at that time numbered around 200, voted to purchase a former elementary school building and property located at 4586 Streetsboro Rd., just south of the Green.
When the Lodge found it cost prohibitive to continue to own and maintain the building, they sold it to Richfield Village in 2009 with the stipulation that the Lodge could continue to be housed in the second floor of the building for the next century, still under lock and key, and not required to share space with other organizations.
Dan Marshall, who has been a charter member of the Lodge for 40 years, and served as a past Worshipful Master, described what the organization is all about. “It’s a fraternal organization, the main purpose of which is to make good men better – the old slogan. We help each other and help the community, establish relationships and work with each other when we need to.”
Members engage in a number of community events each year, he added.
“Every year, we work with the Sons of AMVETS and have the steak dinner with the proceeds going to Revere scholarships,” said Marshall. “We do the highway cleanup, we donate to charities throughout the year, and then we also have internal activities for the lodge members and their families.”
Larry Wilson, who also served as a past Worshipful Master of the Lodge, has been a member for 33 years.
“We’re a charitable organization,” he explained. “We believe in a Supreme Being, and we open every meeting with a non-denominational prayer, but we’re not a religious organization. We do a lot of work with different charities, whether it be making donations or going out and volunteering a couple times a year. Any time the community needs a helping hand, the Lodge is always ready to assist, whether it’s a charitable organization or civic organization.”
Marshall said he is humored by the myriad of conspiracy theories that still exist regarding Freemasonry.
“If you go on the internet, there are always rumors about Freemasonry being part of the Illuminati and trying to take over the world or what have you,” said Marshall. “But the organization is basically here to help one another and help the community; that’s as simple as it gets. There’s never been any kind of conspiracy or grand scheme; it’s just a good place for people to get together and try to do better.”
Marshall, who grew up in Richfield and currently lives in Hudson, said that approximately one-third of the 110 current members live in Richfield. The longevity of the organization speaks for itself, he added.
“At one time – back in the 1940s and 1950s – Masonry membership burgeoned; it was very large, but it has declined over time like many civic organizations,” said Marshall. “But the fact that it’s been a part of Richfield for 200 years impresses me on the longevity and … the entire Masonic concept, especially in a smaller village like Richfield. It’s still part of the history.”
“I think it’s impressive with a small Lodge like ours, that we’ve been able to survive all these years,” Wilson added. “And it’s really a handful of guys who have stepped up and kept things going in our Lodge. That’s pretty commendable considering the multitude of other things there are to do out there these days; that we have enough guys who are still interested enough and care enough about the Lodge to keep it going.”
Mayor Michael Wheeler, who joined the Lodge in 2009, said the organization has been an invaluable asset. “For the community, it’s been a fantastic ride; Masons exist to make men the best they can be,” he said. “And to still have a lodge of Masonry in Richfield means a lot to the men of the Masons and the way they act with charity, hope and faith to the rest of the community.”
Becoming a member
Masonic rule dictates that a member may never invite someone to join Masonry. Such action might cause the excommunication of the member who invites a new member. Someone interested in joining the Masonic fraternity must submit a petition, signed by two people, to join. The petition would be read at a meeting and three people would go to the petitioner’s home to meet his family and ascertain that his family is well cared for.
The petitioner would be given a book to learn about Freemasonry and would have to take an exam. If finally excepted into the group, he would be called a Master Mason.
As a fixture of the Richfield community for 200 years, the organization doesn’t plan on going anywhere, said Wilson. “They need to watch for us this year, because we’re really going to make an effort to be out and about in the community even more with celebrating our 200th year,” he said. “We’ll be trying to make people aware of things we do, how long we’ve been around, and the fact that we don’t plan to go anywhere.” ∞
The 2023 board of the Meridian Sun Lodge as pictured are: (front row, l-r) Timothy Bonar, John Evans Jr., Worshipful Master Michael Zabor, Christopher Titus and James Likely. (Back row) Michael Wheeler, David Ferris, James Turk, Daniel Marshall, Larry Wilson Jr. and Richard Jankura. Photo provided by L. Wilson.
Years of Service Awards are given to Kevin Couch (30 years), Robert Wolfe (50 years) Michael Gates (30 years), Kenneth Blake (35 years), Kenneth Bowmer (30 years) and Larry Wilson (30 years). The Masons’ apron is worn for special events. Photo provided by L. Wilson.
Meridian Son Lodge members that work on the Adopt-A-Highway crew are (front row, l-r) James Likely, David Ferris and Christopher Titus. (Back row) Daniel Marshall, Michael Wheeler, Timothy Bonar, Richard Jankura, James Turk and Larry Wilson Jr. Photo submitted.
On our cover (photo): The Meridian Son Lodge of Freemasonry has been meeting in this former school building since 1926. Today the building is owned by Richfield Village and the Lodge has sole use of the second floor, where their weekly meetings are held. Photo by D. Holland.