Freemasonry in Rocky Hill
COLUMBIA LODGE #25, STEPNEY PARISH, WETHERSFIELD, CT
This is taken from pages 14-15 of History of Connecticut Masonic Lodges
by Robert O. Decker
The origins of Columbia Lodge #25 began in the early federal period of American history in Stepney Parish, then the shipbuilding section of Wethersfield and now the town of Rocky Hill. Stepney Parish had a prosperous population of farmers, artisans, captains and ship owners which included several Freemasons. Ten of the Masons men were charter members of Berlin Lodge #20 when it was organized in 1791. Nearly two years later the Stepney Masons, tired of traveling to Berlin for Masonic meetings, decided to leave Berlin Lodge #20 and form a Wethersfield lodge. They received a charter on May 18, 1793, the same day as Uriel #24 (Merrow, CT), and as the twenty-fifth lodge chartered in Connecticut, became Columbia #25.
There were twelve charter members: Merchant Asa Deming, Benjamin Ames, William Nott, Captain Selah Francis, Oliver Goodrich, Captain Andrew M. Combe, saddler Rodger Riley, Jason Boardman, Captain Richard Riley, Captain Enos Robbins, Jason Robbins, and Captain John Nott.
The Grand Lodge held a meeting at the long building, a tavern, located where the former railroad freight building now stands. Grand Lodge records report that a “Grand Lodge” was held at Stepney, now called Rocky Hill, which is the place mentioned in the charter as the location of the lodge June 26, 1793, for the purpose of constituting, consecrating and installing a lodge of Free and Accepted Masons.
John Nott became the first Worshipful Master. At the second meeting of the lodge at the tavern, Gideon Welles passed to the degree of Fellowcraft.
The meeting place changed from time to time. On December 19, 1793, the lodge began to meet at the home of Selah Francis, the Secretary, for which he was paid one dollar and twenty-five cents for rent and firewood for each meeting. Meetings were adjourned at 4 P.M.
The first annual election was held January I, 1794 and John Nott continued as Worshipful Master and Selah Francis as Secretary. The first Saint John the Baptist Sunday was celebrated on June 25, 1794, at Simeon William’s Tavern which later became the Samuel Shipman Hotel.
Some problems delayed the annual meeting of 1796 until May 4,1796, when Asa Deming became the second Worshipful Master.
July 6, 1796, the lodge left Grimes tavern where the meetings were being held and hired a room at Prudence Bulkely’s house which was the second house north of William’s tavern, just north of T .A. Williams house. At that time the lodge authorized the Steward James to procure the necessary items needed for the meetings and James Ohmsted was voted five dollars on October 23 for copying the records. .
For some reason the lodge left Mrs. Bulkely’s in 1797 and moved to Simon William’s tavern.
January 2, 1799, the lodge began meeting in the hall of Captain John Marsh on Ferry Street (now Glastonbury Avenue). The house stood between the Congregation Church and the Connecticut River. It burned about 1888. Marsh was a leader in the lodge and served as treasurer.
As many new members came from South Glastonbury, a group began to call for a removal of the lodge to that community. They petitioned the Grand Lodge in 1802 for permission to move to Glastonbury. The Grand Lodge took no action at that time. From 1802 until 1814, the sentiment grew to move.
The cutting down of the trees for shipbuilding created a shortage of timber by the War of1812 in the Connecticut River Valley. This coupled with the beginning of the age of steam vessels and the building of iron vessels meant that Stepney’s days as a shipbuilding community were numbered. Many skilled workers moved on and the major number of Columbian Lodge members lived across the Connecticut River from Stepney Parish, Wethersfield.
Finally, on August 3, 1814, the lodge appointed a committee to present a petition to the Grand Lodge for permission to move to South Glastonbury. This was granted in October of 1814. After twenty-one years of meeting in Stepney Parish, Columbia held its November 9, 1814 meeting in its new town. So ended the first Wethersfield Masonic Lodge.