The history of Terre Haute Lodge No. 19 is the history of Freemasonry in Vigo County and, to a great extent, the history of Terre Haute and Vigo County themselves. Only the Terre Haute Land Company and Vigo County government predate this Lodge as formal organizations.
The earliest reference to Freemasonry in the area predates the establishment of the village and county. Soldiers who were members of the Craft and helped build and were stationed at old Fort Harrison were said to have convened a military lodge at the fort on more than one occasion. After the Indian campaigns and the War of 1812, several of those men returned to the area to build a life on the Indiana frontier. When the village of Terre Haute was laid out in 1816, Masons were counted among the earliest settlers—men who had joined Masonic lodges in other places and found the same bonds of friendship and brotherly love drawing them together on the banks of the Wabash.
On March 10, 1819, 13 Master Masons residing in the village of Terre Haute met at Curtis Gilbert’s home, the first wooden frame building in the area, which stood at the northwest corner of Ohio and Water streets. Peter B. Allen, John T. Chunn, Lucius H. Scott, Toussaint DuBois, James Hall, Andrew Brooks, Zebina C. Hovey, Demas Deming, Curtis Gilbert, Samuel McQuilkin, Robert Brasher, Thomas H. Clark, and Elihu Hovey signed a Petition for Dispensation from the recently formed Grand Lodge of Indiana, which asked permission to establish a Lodge.
Dispensation was issued by then Grand Master Alexander Meek, and on July 12, 1819, the Lodge was called to labor by Elihu Stout of Vincennes Lodge No. 1, acting as Deputy Grand Master. This first formal meeting of the Lodge, where the officers were installed under the new dispensation, took place at the Eagle and Lion Tavern, owned first by Henry Redford and located on the southeast corner of First Street and Wabash Avenue. The following officers were then installed:
Peter B. Allen, W.M.
Elihu Hovey, S.W.
Lucius H. Scott, J.W.
John Britton, Treas.
Curtis Gilbert, Sec.
Samuel McQuilkin, S.D.
Zebina C. Hovey, J.D.
Andrew Brooks, Steward
Robert Brasher, Tyler
These men, the first installed officers of a Masonic Lodge in the area, served until the receipt of the charter, which was issued by the Grand Lodge of Indiana on September 13, 1821, and which named Demas Deming, W.M., Curtis Gilbert, S.W., and Robert Sturges, J.W. This venerable document is still in use and remains an honored link to the past.
The men whose names appeared on the rolls of the lodge at the date of the charter were:
Peter B. Allen
Thomas H. Blake
John T. Chunn
Thomas H. Clark
Zebina C. Hovey
Joshua M. Martin
Thomas M. Curry
Lemuel C. Curtis
Demas Deming, Sr.
Lucius H. Scott
In those earliest years, Terre Haute Lodge No. 19 met variously in the Eagle and Lion, Francis Cunningham’s tavern at Second and Wabash, and Samuel McQuilkin’s “Light Horse” tavern at Third and Wabash. In 1826 the county commissioners voted to allow the Lodge use of the grand jury room in the new Court House for one year. That same year records of the lodge show a lease with Stephen Collett for use of a second floor room in a home he was then renting at 118 South 2nd Street. It was in the Collett House that the first recorded discussion for building a dedicated Masonic Hall appears. The minutes of a meeting of the Lodge held on September 8, 1827, record that several members were appointed “to make the necessary arrangements and receive proposals from Mr. James Brady, for a Masonic hall.” The next month one of the committee made a report, “Whereupon, the lodge, after considering the proposition made to said committee, resolved not to accede thereto.” Lodge No. 19 would continue to meet at the Collett House until 1828 when it moved to Abner Fuller’s house and woolen mill east of Sixth Street on Cherry.
The Lodge continued meeting at the Fuller property until 1834. It was at this time that anti-Masonic hysteria was sweeping the country. Over the next decade, Terre Haute Lodge No. 19 held only informal meetings at irregular intervals. There are accounts of meetings being held in Elijah Tillotson’s jewelry store on First Street between Poplar and Ohio as well as several private homes during this period, though no official record exists.
Old Nineteen, like so many other lodges, suffered during this dark period. Even the Grand Lodge of Indiana failed to establish a quorum in 1833, and discussions were held about its dissolution. Yet Freemasonry survived. Unsure of the Lodge’s current standing at this delicate time, members of Terre Haute Lodge No. 19 petitioned the Grand Lodge for a new dispensation in 1845. After some initial confusion, Grand Lodge healed the Lodge and restored the original charter at its Annual Communication in 1846.
The Lodge immediately emerged to a season of prosperity and occupied rooms on the north half of Lot No. 38 in the William K. Edwards Building at 23 North Fourth Street between Wabash and Cherry. Membership numbers swelled, quickly propelling No. 19 to the largest lodge in the state. In 1848 the lodge secured meeting space on the third floor of the J. and H. Ross Building at 19 and 21 South Second Street, now part of the site of City Hall. As membership grew, the desire for further Light caused several of the members to help establish Terre Haute Chapter No. 11, Royal Arch Masons in 1849. That same year, a number of members of Old Nineteen petitioned the Grand Lodge to form a new lodge and increase opportunities for Masonic fellowship. Thus, Social Lodge No. 86 was born and received its charter in 1850. Terre Haute Council No. 8, R. & S.M. was chartered in 1856.
The 1860s brought the turmoil of Civil War, and No. 19 sent many from its roll to fight and die in the conflict. In an effort to support the numerous young men arriving in the city to enlist, Nineteen gave its blessing and support to the establishment of two military lodges in regiments mustering from Terre Haute. By the end of the War in 1865, the lodge moved into rooms in the Warren Block at Nos. 18 and 20 South 3rd Street. It was here that the first Scottish Rite bodies were established in Terre Haute the same year, and Terre Haute Commandery No. 16, K.T. was chartered in 1868.
The next decade marked a couple of significant milestones in the Lodge’s history. At the Grand Lodge session in May of 1870, Humboldt Lodge No. 42 (a German-speaking lodge) received its charter and became the second descendant of Nineteen established in the city.
Terre Haute Lodge No. 19 was instrumental in the movement to erect a single Masonic Temple for the bodies meeting in the city. On August 7, 1871, the three existing lodges and three bodies of the Terre Haute York Rite jointly purchased three lots from prominent citizen Chauncey Rose. These lots (#62, #63, and #64 in Rose’s Addition), located at the southwest corner of 8th Street and Wabash Ave, were purchased for a total of $7,500.00, with Old Nineteen putting forward 50% of the funds. At that time, the bodies could not reach an agreement on the details of the plan, and construction never started.
On October 6, 1870, following the stated meeting of the Lodge, the members retired to Dowling Hall to observe the Lodge’s Semi-Centennial Anniversary.
Why the members decided to split the difference between the dispensation and charter dates is unknown, but a considerable amount of planning went into arranging a program for the evening –one complete with special masonic guests, musical entertainment with choir and organist, poetry, and orations.
The Worshipful Master was Robert Van Valzah and Alexander Thomas served as secretary. Past Grand Master Thomas Austin, who led the Grand Lodge through the early years of the Civil War, was in attendance that evening and acted as chaplain. Past Master Richard W. Thompson served as Master of Ceremonies.
The festivities opened with an invocation and choral performance of “We Celebrate This Happy Day” under the direction of Warren Davis with William Zobel on the organ. WBro. Thompson gave an introductory address and turned the program over to MWBro. Austin who read a special poem composed by the Masonic Poet Laureate and Kentucky Past Grand Master Rob Morris specifically for the event. This poem, “Fiftieth Anniversary of a Lodge” appeared in most of his later published volumes.
Col. Thomas Dowling then proceeded with a historical sketch of the Lodge, beginning with references to Masonry’s appearance at Fort Harrison as early as 1812. Former Mayor William K. Edwards continued recounting the progress of the Lodge to the present date. He read letters from charter members Lucius H. Scott and Curtis Gilbert, both still living at that time. Dowling and Edwards both recounted personal reminiscences, including one very unique account concerning a St. John’s Day celebration of the Lodge just after the Morgan affair and Anti-Masonic movement of the 1830s and 1840s:
“The Widow of the celebrated William Morgan resided in Terre Haute. She asked and obtained of Brother Levy, the privilege of seeing the dinner table and decorating it with flowers. She said to Bro. Robert Wharry and others that she respected the Masons, that they were, and had been, her best friends.”
The evening continued with remarks and the reading of letters and the reading of an original poem by Fellow Craft Brother Thomas. B. Long, again composed specifically for the occasion. The festivities concluded with additional songs and musical selections from the choir.
The final milestone of the 1870s was the installation of one of Nineteen’s own as Grand Master of Masons in Indiana. Robert Van Valzah became the first member of this lodge to hold that office, serving 1878-79.
In the decades that followed, Lodge 19 benefited greatly from the “Golden Age” of fraternalism. The roster of members continued to grow, and this Lodge consistently found itself numbered among the largest lodges in the state. By 1880, No. 19 was meeting in rooms in the McKeen Block at 644½ Wabash Avenue and helped establish Terre Haute Chapter No. 43, O.E.S. in 1880 and a third Masonic Lodge in the city, Euclid Lodge No. 573, in 1886.
Terre Haute Lodge No. 19 moved into the new McKeen Block on the northwest corner of 7th Street and Wabash Ave in 1904. In 1906 the Masonic bodies in the city sold their property at 8th and Wabash Ave. and began considering options for a new Temple. By the end of the decade, Zorah Shrine had also been established.
In the spring of 1910, the four city Lodges and the three bodies of the Terre Haute York Rite formed committees to once again investigate the possibility of establishing a single home. Each body selected one representative to serve on a joint committee to discuss the plan. Although most of the membership was amicable to the committee and its ideas, it did meet with opposition. Several members of Terre Haute Lodge No. 19 called for their own Temple and gained enough support to investigate the purchase of their own property. On May 28, 1910, Lodge No. 19 purchased lot number 44 in Rose’s Addition at the southwest corner of 9th Street and Ohio Boulevard from A. M. Higgins for $20,625.00. Opinions changed, and the Lodge would quickly rejoin the combined efforts of the other bodies. The Terre Haute Masonic Temple Association was incorporated on October 11, 1911, and purchased the current property (two lots in the 200 block of North 8th Street) in 1912. The property at 9th and Ohio was transferred to the Temple Association as part of Nineteen’s investment, and construction of the Lodge’s current home began in 1915. The completed Temple was dedicated by the Grand Lodge on July 9, 1917, and Terre Haute Lodge No. 19 had the honor of holding the first meeting in the new building by conferring the Master Mason Degree the next evening.
On Thursday, July 10, 1919, the Lodge would open on the Master Mason degree for the first day of a three-day celebration in honor of the Lodge’s 100th Anniversary. According to the register, 275 Brothers attended the raising of one Louis Seitz in our recently opened Masonic Temple.
July 11’s program began with an open house of the Temple from 2:00-5:00 p.m. The Lodge secretary recorded that at least 1000 people toured the building and viewed the historic records of the Lodge, which were placed on display for the day. After the open house, an evening of entertainment was held for Masons and their families only. A program of music and readings, featuring piano and vocal solos, and an instrumental quintet was enjoyed before punch and soft drinks were served. The remainder of the evening was spent with guests enjoying dancing in the ballroom.
The festivities of Saturday, July 12, 1919, saw the Temple opened for another Open House during the same hours as the previous day. The evening program included additional musical entertainments and a number of speeches and presentations. These included addresses by Charles Orbison, Grand Master, and Calvin W. Prather, Grand Secretary; reminiscences of members by George E. Farrington; and a number of presentations about Masonry from around the world delivered by members who had served in various countries during the Great War. The festivities concluded with music and dancing in the ballroom. All Masons received as a memento, a small 10k gold lapel badge, bearing the name of the Lodge and the dates 1819-1919 suspended from a bar marked “Centennial.”
Soldiers returning from service in World War I caused another marked gain in membership over the next few years. At the conferral of a Master Mason degree on March 25, 1926, No. 19 hosted the largest attended lodge meeting in its history with 389 members and visitors in attendance. Another new Lodge was established in the city with the assistance of several members of Nineteen. William Penn Lodge No. 727 (named after one of 19’s Past Masters) received its charted in 1928. The Lodge survived the depression of the 1930s and entered the 1940s in a comfortable position. With the end of World War II in 1945, the final great membership boom began. The lodges in Terre Haute were conferring the degrees on multiple candidates at a time and sometimes meeting more than once a week. At its peak in 1952, membership in Terre Haute Lodge No. 19 totaled 1602 Master Masons.
Masonry continued on comfortably through the next two decades. Old Nineteen began a tradition of trading visits with Lodges in out-of-state jurisdictions during this time. Visiting or hosting visits from Maywood Lodge No. 869 in Maywood, Illinois, and Plain City Lodge No. 449 in Paducah, Kentucky, became annual occurrences.
On Saturday, September 28, 1969, an “All Degree Day” was held to mark the occasion of the Lodge’s Sesquicentennial Anniversary. Registration for the degree and guests began at 12:30 p.m. The officers opened a Lodge of Entered Apprentices at 1:00 p.m. and conferred the first degree. After a short break, the Lodge was opened on the Fellow Craft Degree at 3:00 p.m.
Following the conferral of the Fellow Craft Degree, the members and visitors retired to the banquet hall for an early dinner and the presentation of Grand Lodge Fifty Year Awards of Gold to thirteen recipients. At the conclusion of the meal and presentations, the group returned to the lodge room where a Lodge of Master Masons was opened in form at 7:30 p.m., with the second section being conferred by a cast comprised only of Past Masters of No. 19. As a memento, attendees received a commemorative coin struck specifically for the event.
Throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, Old Nineteen continued comfortably along, bringing in new members and continuing to spread the ideals of Freemasonry to the people of the Wabash Valley. One notable event occurred in 1976 when the officers and members of No. 19 planted and dedicated a tulip tree at the Paul Dresser House in honor of the Bicentennial of the United States.
The 2000s brought a few changes to the lodge. The last visitations between Nineteen and Plain City Lodge No. 449 took place in 2001 and 2002. On November 18, 2005, Terre Haute Lodge No. 19 welcomed one of its descendants back home when the members of Euclid Lodge No. 573 voted to surrender their charter. In addition, the Lodge has made a concerted effort to deepen its fraternal bonds with the members of Prince Hall Lodge No. 4, which was chartered by the MW Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Indiana. Over the last decade, visitations and communications have increased, and the members of Nineteen look forward to this continued relationship.
In 2016, the Lodge hosted its first annual Burns Night supper to honor the first poet laureate of Freemasonry. With several officers and members fully embracing their Scottish heritage, Terre Haute Lodge No. 19 is now the only Masonic lodge in Indiana with its own tartan certified with the Scottish Register of Tartans.
On Saturday, November 18, 2017, the Terre Haute Masonic Temple Association hosted the Grand Lodge of Indiana and the six surviving share-holding bodies for the 100th Anniversary Rededication of the building. Terre Haute Lodge No. 19 played an integral role by opening a Lodge of Master Masons for the ceremony to be performed under its charter. Over 175 Masons and their guests witnessed the ceremony and attended the banquet, making this event one of the most successful of the Grand Lodge’s year.
For two hundred years, Terre Haute Lodge No. 19 has survived. A total of 18 lodges in Vigo County, several lodges in surrounding counties, and countless appendant and affiliated organizations have been able to trace descent from Old Nineteen. Three men have served as Grand Master of Indiana while claiming membership in this Lodge: Robert Van Valzah (1878-79); Thomas B. Long (1889-90); and John R. Hunter (1939-40). One of our charter members, Lucius H. Scott, returned to his home state of Pennsylvania and served as Grand Master there from 1865-66. No less than eight other members have served as officers in the Grand Lodge of Indiana, with many members rising to prominence in other organizations within our Fraternity and in the community.
As the Lodge begins its third century of service, we look back upon our rich history and the solid foundation erected by our forebears upon which new generations of members will build and continue the work of Freemasonry.
- For a list of Past Masters of Terre Haute Lodge, No. 19, click here.
- For a list of some prominent members of our Lodge, click here.
- For a full list of Past Masters of former Euclid Lodge No. 573, click here.