Part history, part ritual, part service, part leadership – that combination has now served the members of Andover’s St. Matthew’s Masonic Lodge for 200 years.
The practice of “Freemasonry” is believed to have been formed within the stonemason guilds in the Middle Ages. Language and symbols used in the fraternity’s rituals come from this time.
The first Grand Lodge of England was formed in 1717 and within 30 years the practice had reached the colonies. Its popularity was reflected in the country’s leaders who included Masons George Washington, Ben Franklin, Paul Revere and John Hancock.
Efforts to establish an Andover lodge began in 1818 with a formal charter granted on December 11, 1822. Sixty-nine men signed applications for membership
Meetings were first held at Widow Mary Parker’s House, a tavern in what is today North Andover. In 1826, permission was granted to relocate the Lodge to the South Parish. Members of the Lodge erected the Union Bank Building on Main Street. In 1843 when the Masons sold that building, meetings were held in various locations around town.
When founded, the club was an association of Master Masons, established “for the promotion of social intercourse, for furthering educational and literary pursuits, for providing facilities for entertainment, and for charitable and benevolent purposes.”
In the late 1820s, an anti-Masonic sentiment swept the country, perhaps due to the secrecy of its rituals, and membership waned. Being cautious, St. Matthew’s Lodge kept a low profile during this period. Presiding Master Merrill Pettingill, a blacksmith in Andover, preserved the club’s charter by burying it in his cellar on Punchard Avenue.
By 1843, having weathered the scrutiny, members came together to reorganize and reactivate the group. In 1845, Nathan Frye was elected Master.
Frye’s term saw its own internal challenges, and members considered whether to disband. A group of 13 voted to maintain the charter and membership remained stable. A surge of applications occurred after the Civil War.
Finding its footing, on May 31, 1890, St. Matthew’s celebrated the opening of a Lodge hall in the newly constructed National Bank building (site of today’s Bank of America building). The Masons occupied the entire third floor. Amidst the “handsome frescoed walls, stained glass and heavy oak furniture” was the focus of the space – an elegant pipe organ given to the Lodge by one of its members.
When the bank business expanded, Lodge meetings moved to the local GAR Hall.
One of its past Masters, John Flint, owned a “mansion” at the corner of Elm and High Streets. With Flint’s death in 1922 and at his bequest, his heirs turned over the property to the Lodge as a “social club.” Opening in 1923, space included a “reading room, card room and billiard hall.”
It should be noted that member Masons once held considerable political influence in town.
In the history of the Town’s Selectmen, over 30% have held memberships in Masonic Lodges. The Square and Compass Club – as St. Matthew’s is also known – when it was at the Flint location, was particularly active. Long-time Moderator Jim Doherty shared a once popularly-held belief: “Decisions on town government were made Saturday night at the Square and Compass Club, finalized at South Church the next morning, and executed at the Selectmen’s meeting Monday night.”
Today, town decisions are much more open, but Andover’s Masons continue to be active and to serve. Selling the club building in 1963, a more modest building was built at 7 High Street. Here is the hub of many Masonic charitable endeavors. From the Angel Fund – providing school children with needed items – to volunteering for community events, including Habitat for Humanity, the Andover Food Pantry and Ironstone Farm, Andover’s Masons can be proud of its 200-year history!