CORNERSTONE OF CHARACTER
By Jeff Tucker The Pueblo Chieftain [http://www.chieftain.com]
Perhaps the most visible example of Masons, aside from the conspiracy theories and Dan Brown novels, is a complicated cornerstone ceremony for public buildings.
That may be because the Masons, who have been around for hundreds of years, do no active recruiting.
"One of the things we say is that to be one, you have to ask one," said Chad Chaddick, the Worshipful Master of Silver State Lodge No. 95, one of three Masonic lodges in Pueblo.
The Masons, as they are known today, have been around for about 300 years. But the fraternity claims to trace its roots back to the construction of King Solomon's temple.
Because of its lengthy history, its connection to world leaders including numerous U.S. presidents and the reclusive nature of the group, many tales have been spun about the Masons. Brian Cotter, who's currently serving as the state's grand master of Masons and is a member of Pueblo Lodge 17, said the mission of the fraternity is a bit more simple.
Photo Mike Sweeney The Chieftain [http://www.chieftain.com]
Alexis Hull, 9, of Colorado Springs has her fingerprint taken at the Masonic Lodge booth at the Colorado State Fair. The Masons fingerprinted 3,500 children at the 2008 Fair and 1,700 more during the first nine days of this year's expo.
"What the fraternity does is teach life lessons to good men," Cotter said. "We make better men out of them and then turn them out into the community."
The group uses the tools of building as metaphors for life lessons.
Masons progress through three levels of these lessons before achieving master Mason status, and the local lodges have counted and continue to count some of the community's leaders as members.
All three of Pueblo's lodges are at least as old as the city itself.
Lodge 17 is the city's oldest. It was started in 1868 by two men who were Masons elsewhere before migrating to Pueblo.
Augustus Bartlett and Cornelius J. Hart met after Bartlett attended a Masonic lodge meeting in Denver. Soon after, five other men had joined in an effort to start a lodge in Pueblo.
Since the lessons and ceremonies of Masons differ slightly from state to state, Cotter said the Grand Lodge of Colorado wasn't certain the two men would be able to practice the Colorado brand of Masonry effectively.
Photo File The Chieftain [http://www.chieftain.com]
Mason Lawrence Fritz sets the cornerstone for the expansion of the Pueblo West Library during a grand opening ceremony in April.
"They didn't know the brethren in Pueblo and didn't trust their work," Cotter said.
For a time, Pueblo Masons would travel by stagecoach to Denver to take lessons, but it was costly.
Soon, Colorado City Dr. J.W. Dickenson began working with the Pueblo men and the Colorado Grand Lodge accepted his work.
In April 1868, Lodge 17 officially was founded.
By 1876, the lodge, like most everything else in Pueblo, was divided by the Arkansas River.
"There were a few members of (Lodge) 17 who went to lodge twice a week and kept getting robbed on their way back across the river," Cotter said.
Floods also were problematic, making river crossings difficult.
Eventually, members petitioned to start South Pueblo Lodge No. 31. Their request was granted in 1876.
The youngest lodge, Pueblo Silver State 95, was chartered in 1892.
From then, Masonry continued to grow in Pueblo.
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Cornelius J. Hart.
There was a large increase during World War I, and membership surged again with World War II.
The late 1950s and early 1960s were the years when the lodges experienced their greatest membership.
Cotter said in 1961, Colorado Masons numbered around 42,000 people.
Lodge 17 had about 856 members.
Lodge 31 had about 883 members and Silver State 95 had about 1,155 members.
While much of the Masons' work is done in secret, the group does more public work than cornerstone ceremonies.
Pueblo's lodges help create identification cards for children.
Statewide, the group awards scholarships to high school students who stay in Colorado for college. There also are spinoff groups, such as the Al Kaly Shriners and the Scottish Right Temple, which take up specific causes within the community.
The Pueblo Masons haven't been immune to a nationwide trend that has affected nearly every fraternal or community organization.
Over the past few years, membership has been in steady decline.
Today, membership in all three lodges combined is less than what Lodge 17 had in its heyday.
Today, Lodge 17 has 98 members, Lodge 31 has 140 and Lodge 95 has 260 members.
But the Masons say they aren't too concerned.
Cotter said there appears to be a movement among younger men who are interested in community service and fraternal organizations.
"Men 18 to 30 are fascinated by fraternal organizations, and they're coming in huge numbers," he said. "Statewide, this year we brought in more preliminary candidates than we had brethren die, and that's not happened in many years."
Jack Woodman, secretary for Lodge 17, said the trend is evident in Pueblo as well.
"We're working on six candidates right now, and not one of them is over 30 years old," said Woodman.
Woodman said about half of the Masons in Pueblo are between 50 and 70 years old, but Cotter noted that the average age for Masons in Colorado is 67, down from 74 a decade ago.
Also, because the Masons are choosy, a decline in numbers isn't as alarming, Chaddick said.
"We want members, but we also want quality," Chaddick said. "We'll take quality over quantity any time."