History of the Lodge

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Cape Island Lodge:

One Hundred Fifty Years of Betterment of the Craft,

and the Betterment of the Community

by R.E. Heinly

When one reads the history of the United States, freshly illuminated by the light of Masonry and is awed by how many of the leaders of this great nation have been Masonic brethren, one gains a new and deeper appreciation of the Craft. What a privilege to be included as a Masonic Brother with Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Andrew Jackson, William Jennings Bryan, Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, John Philip Sousa, Charles Lindbergh, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Will Rodgers, Douglas MacArthur, Harry Truman and John Glenn. Similarly when one rereads the history of Cape May, be it Stevens (Louis T. Stevens, a Cape Island Lodge Mason) from the 1890’s or Salvini’s or Dorwart’s from the 1990’s, one takes similar pride in noting that so many of the leaders of this area have been members of Cape Island Lodge. Their family names are inextricably interwoven in the history and culture of Cape May. Among the founders of the Lodge were names such as Edmunds, Eldredge, Gregory, Hand, Hildreth, Hughes, Marcy, and Ware. Among its Worshipful Masters are also names such as Church, Essen, Evoy, Hand, Mecray, Perry, Reeves, Rodan, Schellinger, Sheets, Shields, Stevens, Stites, Swain, Townsend, and Utsch. All have helped make Cape May a jewel of the Jersey Shore and Queen of the Seaside Resorts.

Among the founding brothers of our Lodge, a trio must be given special mention. Our first Worshipful Master (W.M.) Israel Hughes served from 1854-57. He was followed by Virgil M.D. Marcy who was in the East from 1858-67 and again in 1870. In addition to being Worshipful Master in 1868, 1869, 1873, 1874, 1875, 1879, 1880 and 1881, Samuel Sites was Secretary for nearly half a century. The Secretary’s desk in the Lodge is dedicated to him in recognition of this. Together these brothers established the firm foundation that Masons especially understand is vital for building something of quality and duration. Two of our founding brothers, Downs Edmunds Jr., and Virgil M.D. Marcy were among the founding incorporators of Sea Grove, which is now Cape May Point. Our other charter members were William Eldredge, Silas Gregory, Alvin Hildreth, Samuel S. March, Waters Miller, Jesse Smith, and Wilmon Ware.

Cape Island Lodge was established by a charter granted by the Grand Lodge of the State of New Jersey on January 11, 1854. It first met on June 8, 1854, the 150th Anniversary of which we celebrate today. The first meeting was on an upper floor of the old Odd Fellows Lodge on Franklin Street. The first separate lodge room was across the street on the third floor of the old wooden Franklin Street School between Washington and Lafayette Streets. Its by-laws were based on those of Camden Lodge No. 15 as slightly and appropriately revised and amended. This Lodge, and Brearly Lodge No. 2 of Bridgeton were of tremendous assistance in the critical first years of the new Cape Island Lodge. As Lodge No. 30, Cape Island is itself the oldest on the Jersey Cape and among the oldest in the state. From its original ten charter members it grew steadily. By December 27, 1859 it was free of all financial debts incurred in its creation and honored the occasion with its first St. John’s Day dinner.

In 1851 the Borough of Cape Island changed its name to the City of Cape Island, then in 1869 it was incorporated as Cape May City. Thus this Lodge’s name reflects the area’s early heritage.

These early years in the life of Cape Island Lodge were momentous ones in the history of both Cape May and the United States. By the 1850’s, which were in the midst of the Victorian Era, Cape May had become internationally famous as “The Queen of the Seaside Resorts.” It was said that everybody who was anybody resorted to Cape May including a parade of famous personages from the business, political, arts and entertainment fields. Its peninsula position made it an ideal destination in an era dominated by maritime travel. For a time, the largest hotel in the world, the Mount Vernon, stood in what is now South Cape May, until a fire destroyed it in 1856.

Since Cape May’s visitors came in almost equal number from the north and south, the Civil War (1861-65) had a devastating effect on its economy. It wasn’t until the advent of the railroad era in the 1870’s that the town regained its former status and prosperity.

The latter decades of the Nineteenth Century, also known as the late Victorian Era, was a golden age for both American Masonry and Cape May. During the years from 1870 to 1900 membership in fraternal organizations was virtually a requirement for a man to be considered a gentleman “of the better sort.” Among these organizations Masonry was considered the foremost. Even more so than previously, the economic, political, and social elite of a community were Masons. The leadership of Cape May and Cape Island Lodge reflected this. The city had regained its prestige and prosperity as a resort especially for the newly created and newly rich Middle Class of an America rapidly rising to world economic and political leadership. Again everybody who was anybody came to Cape May and everybody who was anybody in Cape May was a member of Cape Island Lodge.

In 1904, Cape Island Lodge marked its 50th anniversary. It could look back on a half century of civic activities, which bettered the community and the good men within it. Membership now numbered 132 brethren. Total attendance at the 50th anniversary celebration exceeded 250 which included large groups from other area Lodges and a delegation of 55 from Jefferson Lodge in Lewes, Delaware led by the Grand Master of the State of Delaware, Most Worshipful Charles Mull. After the meeting these brethren moved in procession to what was once Denizot’s Ocean View House (then Arnold’s Café, now Cabana’s) at Beach Drive and Decatur Street for a banquet.

 

Conversely, Cape Island Lodge prospered between its 50th anniversary in 1904 and its 100th anniversary in 1954. Membership grew to a point where a larger lodge hall was needed. In 1924 the move was made to an upper floor of the Focer-Mecray Building at Washington and Ocean Streets (later an Acme Market, now the site of the Victorian Towers). It was here that the centennial of the Lodge was celebrated in 1954 followed by a banquet at the historic Windsor Hotel (now the site of Regency Beach Condominiums). Cape Island Masons were now extending their distinguished service to both the Craft and mankind beyond the Jersey Cape. William P. Sheppard (Worshipful Master in 1892-93) became the Lodge’s first District Deputy Grand Master (D.D.G.M.). Lester A. Rodes (WM, 1926) and William B. Evoy (WM, 1950 & 1971)) also rose to that role. The Worshipful Master of 1954, Charles I. Young, was soon to do so also in 1959. Walter Taylor (WM, 1920) served as Past Grand Sword Bearer in 1926, and Walter Seyfarth (WM, 1927) as Grand Chaplain.

The year 1962 was a pivotal one for both Cape May and Cape Island Lodge. What in the 20/20 crystal clarity of hindsight has proven to be a well-disguised blessing emerged that year in the form of a northeast storm so long, large, and intense it ranked as the storm of the century along the Jersey coast. It devastated much of Cape May, especially its beachfront.     Through its history the Cape May area has also been a center for commercial and recreational fishing. Today it is one of the Atlantic Coast’s top fishing ports. Another dimension of its maritime heritage is that it has since the post World War II era been home once again to the U.S. Coast Guard. Today the U.S.C.G’s only basic training base nationwide is in Cape May. It too has been home to many Cape Island Masons.

The aforementioned storm of 1962 had also severely damaged the Focer-Mecray Building (by then an Acme Market) that housed the Cape Island Lodge. For part of 1964 and 1965, meetings were temporarily moved to Arbutis Lodge No. 170 in Cape May Court House. On June 6, 1965, the Lodge’s 101st anniversary ground was broken for a new lodge building at 1105 Seashore Road in the Cold Spring area of Cape Island. October 11, 1966 saw the first meeting in this new building, which the Lodge still occupies today. By March 22, 1973 the mortgage was retired. Brothers Caldwell Davis, John Hall, Jim MacDonald, and John Nuner each won the prestigious White Apron Award for their leadership roles in these efforts. During the mid-1980’s a new kitchen, secretary’s office and rear deck were added. During the last few years W.B. Bruce Graham, R.W. David Perry, and W.B. Robert Keith have spearheaded interior and exterior upgrades of the building.

Cape Island Masons continue to play influential roles in the craft beyond the local area. Past District Deputy Grand Masters (P.D.G.M.) include William B. Evoy (WM in 1950,1971) in 1974, Samuel J. Kitchen (WM in 1972) from 1979 through 1981, Ernest Utsch III (WM in 1981) from 1986 through 1990, and Dennis H. DeSatnick (WM in 1985) from 1992 through 1998. R.W.B. DeSatnick is the longest serving D.D.G.M. of the 24th Masonic District to date. R.W.B. Utsch has also served the Board of the Masonic Charity Foundation from 1990 through 1997 and was its President in 1994. He has also been a Grand Lodge Trustee from 1998 to date. RW David Perry 2009 through 2012 and RW Bruce Graham 2013 to date. Past Grand Chaplains from Cape Island Lodge have included George F. Munger (WM, 1952) in 1959, Max L. Kurland (WM, 1956) in 1977, James J. Collins (WM, 1983) in 1986, Faber W. Kease, Jr. (WM, 1986) in 1991, John J. Foley (WM, 1978 and 1993) in 1994, Charles C. Schultz (WM, 1982) in 1997, and David Perry (WM, 2002) in 2004.Rw John Williams 1990. In 1986 R.W. Collins received the William McCissock Award. R.W. Utsch received the Louis Parker Medal in 1994 and became the first Cape Island Mason to be coronated to the 33° in 1999. Our Lodge received a Distinguished Service Award in 1979 and an Award of Merit Plaque in 1986. Two Brothers received the White Apron Award recently: John Majka in 2002, and Rev. Daniel C. Hall in 2003. RW Shelton Marsden is serving as District Ritual Instructor from 2013 to date. White Aprons have been awarded to Charles Kirkbride, Robert Polis, William Frank, Jack Brown and William Boucher. At the Grand Communication in 2014 RW Randy Whitt was named Senior Grand Deacon and RW Ron Menear was named Grand Chaplain.

 

 

In this year of its 150th Anniversary, 2004, Cape Island Lodge had 214 members. The officers were:

Worshipful Master – Edward M. McGuire

Senior Warden – Rocco L. DeNote

Junior Warden – Thomas M. Perry

Treasurer – Robert E. Heinly

Secretary – WB Bruce S. Graham

Chaplain – Rev. Daniel C. Hall

Marshall – David P. Brown, Jr.

Senior Deacon – Charles Prendergast

Junior Deacon – Ronald N. Menear

Senior Master of Ceremonies – Randy L. Whitt

Junior Master of Ceremonies – Joseph Marchina, Jr.

Senior Steward – Charles E. Kirkbride

Junior Steward – John J. Angier

Historian – Robert E. Heinly

Tyler – WB Vincent Colasanti

 

The Trustees were:

 

WB Frank E. Baker, WB Vincent Colasanti, WB Bruce S. Graham, Rev. Daniel C. Hall, WB Robert Keith, WB David P. Perry, and RW Dennis H. DeSatnick, PDDGM

 

Cape Island Lodge’s 150th Anniversary year was marked by a dinner at the West Cape May Fire Hall followed by ceremonies at the Lodge Hall ¼ mile beyond on Seashore Road. Over 200 attended these events. As part of the dinner, a living history interpreter representing Brother John Philip Sousa, a frequent visitor to Victorian Cape May, entertained the assemblage with tales of Sousa’s life and his connections with the Craft and Cape May. The March King also played a few of his famed marches including one written for Cape May’s Congress Hall and one entitled “Nobles of the Mystic Shrine.” Highlights of the program at the Lodge Hall included Worshipful Master Edward McGuire’s welcome to all in attendance, Historian Robert E. Heinly’s review of the history of Cape Island Lodge, and gracious, complimentary, and insightful remarks by Most Worshipful Daniel M. Wilson, Grand Master of Mason’s for the State of New Jersey. A large delegation from Grand Lodge accompanied him. Also attending were delegations and Worshipful Masters from the other Lodges of the 24th Masonic District.

 

In the year 2008 Hereford Lodge # 177 merged with Cape Island. It took its name from early settlers who had named their new land Hereford Island after their birthplace in Herfordshire, England. The lodge was instituted April 1902 and Charles A. Jules Johnson was the First Worshipful Master. In 1950 the Hereford Lodge Temple Association purchased property in Wildwood Crest and erected the new Temple in July 1960. The cornerstone laying was held October 8, 1960, the cornerstone had been presented to Hereford Lodge in 1937. It was quarried, squared and polished in Hereford, England and shipped via the Ocean Liner Queen Mary by the Viscount Hereford a brother Mason. The First meeting in the new Temple was held April 20,1961

 

 

Today Cape Island Lodge continues its historic commitment to making its fine community even better, including many charitable and community service efforts as well as scholarship awards. Similarly, it continues to make good men even better.

Upon the occasion of Cape Island Lodge’s 100th anniversary in 1954, WM Charles Young wrote of Masons as builders of better men and better communities, of “an unbroken continuity of service to the Craft and the community.” He then wrote “with the guidance of the Grand Architect of the Universe, may Cape Island Lodge continue to progress throughout this next century, accepting good and true men imbued with high Masonic ideals, with a result that they too will discover in it inexhaustible interest, lifelong in appeal; a power in their lives to enrich, to enable, and to inspire.” Fifty years later we find that it indeed has, and we are dedicated to the continuation of our labors toward those same goals which Masons have shared for 150 years in Cape Island Lodge, resulting in the betterment of themselves and the greater Cape May community. So mote it continue to be!

Brother Robert E. Heinly

Historian, 2002-present