Several accounts describe the lodge building as originally constructed in 1875 in the small community of Deming’s Bridge. Deming’s Bridge, now known as Hawley, is located three miles northeast of Blessing on the Tres Palacios River. The area was used by local settlers as early as 1850 and in 1854 land was deeded to Tres Palacios Baptist Church for a new church building and cemetery. Deming’s Bridge got its name from a bridge built near the church in 1857 by Edwin A. Deming. A post office was established in 1858 with Deming as postmaster. In about 1865, after serving in the Civil War, Jonathan Edwards Pierce and his brother Abel Head (Shanghai) Pierce moved to the area. Jonathan purchased land adjacent to the Baptist church and built a large house known as Rancho Grande.
Jonathan Pierce established Tres Palacios Masonic Lodge in 1874. Its name would later be changed to Blessing Masonic Lodge. The Grand Lodge of Texas granted a Charter under Dispensation on January 29th, then a full charter and the number 411 on June 8 of 1874. Soon after the Lodge was chartered, the Masons built a new two-story lodge building on the grounds of the church and cemetery, near Pierce’s land. It was completed by at least 1875, since sources say the Tres Palacios Baptist Church building was destroyed in the 1875 hurricane and the congregation met on the first floor of the new Masonic hall until their replacement church was built in 1893.
After the Lodge was formed in 1874, Brother J. A. McIntyre was elected its first Worshipful Master, and Jonathan Pierce became Junior Warden. In the first few months after charter, the Lodge received several petitions for membership and visitors from other Lodges. Pierce became Worshipful Master in 1875, and held the position again in 1879, 1892, and 1903. He also served as Postmaster of the Deming’s Bridge post office in 1876. The settlement of Deming’s Bridge grew, with a population of 300 in 1884 and 500 by 1892, when it had seventeen businesses in addition to the Masonic lodge building and cemetery. In circa 1890 two traditional Masonic bronze pillars, BOAZ and JACHIN, were given to the Tres Palacios Lodge by the Brothers of Indianola Lodge No. 84, who had lost their lodge building in the hurricane of 1886. The pillars still stand in the lodge room today and are used for their original purpose. In 1893 Jonathan Pierce donated land for the construction of a new multidenominational church and for the enlargement of the cemetery. The Masons were active in building projects in the area; in fact, the Tres Palacios Lodge laid the cornerstone of the Matagorda County Courthouse “with Masonic honors” in 1895.
An account in the Victoria Advocate from 1894 describes a grand picnic hosted by the Masons in Deming’s Bridge that year. The article, written by “a spectator,” states:
Upwards of three hundred people were on the grounds; Edna, Matagorda, Colorado River and Caranchua were represented, but the majority were people from the immediate neighborhood. Quite early in the morning the Masons repaired to their lodge from which they emerged later dressed in regalia and marching two by two, the Tyler with drawn sword at their head. The installation took place in the new church. The deep tones of the organ pealing forth a march, greeted their ears as they entered. [. . .] At the close of the address, the assembly with Masons in the van, marched out into the grove, where a magnificent dinner was in waiting. Beef, cooked a la cow driver style, on stakes before the fire, bread, white and light as seafoam, turkeys, chickens, cakes of every size, kind and description with numerous other good things comprised the menu.
Of note in the passage is the differentiation between the lodge (“the Masons repaired to their lodge”) and the church building (“installation took place in the new church”). This further solidifies accounts that the lodge building was in existence at Deming’s Bridge.
Jonathan Pierce, lodge founder, was instrumental to the area’s history. Pierce and his brother Abel Head Pierce (later known as “Shanghai Pierce”) were born in Rhode Island and moved to Indianola, Texas some time between 1853 and 1860. Jonathan worked splitting rails at the Grimes Ranch on the Tres Palacios River, and bunked with Edwin Deming, with whom he would establish the friendship that later led him to Deming’s Bridge. Between 1861 and 1865
Jonathan served with the Confederate Army, then moved to Matagorda County and purchased land near the Deming’s Bridge community. With his brother Abel he established a house and ranching operation called Rancho Grande. In 1874 he established the Tres Palacios Masonic Lodge, and in 1893 donated land for the new church building in Deming’s Bridge. In 1899 Pierce had the name of Deming’s Bridge changed to Hawley by way of thanking his friend Robert Bradley Hawley for securing a position in the Navy for Pierce’s son. In 1903 Jonathan Pierce established the town of Blessing on a portion of his land, then donated a right-of-way to the Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio Railway to ensure that the new settlement would thrive. A grateful Pierce named the town “Blessing” when the US Postal Department denied his original petition for the name “Thank God.” Both Jonathan and Abel Head Pierce are buried at Hawley Cemetery, several yards from where the Masonic lodge building once stood.
The settlement of Hawley declined after the railroad came through Blessing. By 1903 the Hawley Post Office was moved to Blessing, and in 1905 the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico Railway was extended through Blessing to join the existing Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio Railway. The Blessing Hotel was built by D. A. Wheeler soon after, and in September of 1907 the townsite was platted. By 1914 Blessing had 500 inhabitants. Hawley still had a one-room schoolhouse as late as 1904, but the church built in 1893 was torn down in 1937. , Rancho Grande, the Pierce home, burned to the ground in 1902. The bridge over the Tres Palacios River known as Deming’s Bridge was removed around 1930.
Accounts of the lodge building’s move are described in the minutes of the Tres Palacios Lodge, and summarized in Darron Ross’s in his article “The History of Blessing Lodge No. 411: A Lodge Rich in Heritage, Strong in Character.” After the railroad was extended through Blessing and that town grew, the Masons met to discuss a potential move to Blessing. In June of 1906 a committee was appointed to request permission from the Baptist Church in Hawley to move the Lodge. The church granted permission, and in March of 1907 it was ordered for word to be sent to the District Deputy Grand Master to request permission for the move. A building committee was formed to plan the lodge building’s move, and in June of 1907 the Brothers voted unanimously to move the Lodge and building. A lot in Blessing was donated to the Masons, and the firm of Nelson and Pybus was given the contract to move the building there. The Lodge took out a bank loan to finance the move. According to Darron Ross and the 1907 minutes of the Tres Palacios Lodge, the lodge building was “moved from Tres-Palacios to Blessing using mule teams and large logs for the building to rest and roll on. It is said that Nelson and Pybus carried out the contract during the months of October and November 1907. Contractor Pybus is listed in the minutes as a Brother Mason and member of the Lodge.”
Organizational information of Lodge 411 in the Grand Lodge proceedings states that the Tres Palacios Lodge “met in the woods” prior to the move to Blessing; this has led to assumptions that no lodge building existed in Deming’s Bridge. However, Lodge records clearly document the moving of the Lodge and the building to Blessing in 1907. Darron Ross’s article explains that the misunderstanding is accounted for by a miscommunication between the Tres Palacios Lodge and the Grand Lodge. After the Lodge building was moved to Blessing in 1907, it was discovered that the Grand Master had not granted formal permission for the move. The Grand Lodge was not pleased at this infraction and considered arresting the Charter; since by 1908 the Tres Palacios Lodge no longer had a building at Tres Palacios. However, in the end, Right Worshipful Master Brother L. Peine granted Dispensation and recommended that the name of the Lodge be changed to Blessing Masonic Lodge, since the building was now located there. The Lodge’s Organizational Information on page 95 of the Grand Lodge proceedings states that in 1908 the name was changed from Tres Palacios to Blessing, and on page 15 states “Allowed to move to Blessing on R.R. original location four mield (sic) from Blessing name changed to blessing (sic).”
Shortly after the lodge building was moved to Blessing, it suffered minor damage in a storm. The Organizational Information for the Lodge summarizes page 27 of the 1909 Grand Lodge proceedings: “Some building damage. Damage done by Storm on July 21, 1909. It is unclear what damage was suffered, but building’s integrity is outstanding and so presumably the damage was minimal. In 1909 and 1910 the lodge was used as Blessing’s first school building. In a 1957 interview, Mrs. H.L. Brown, former teacher, states that “the Masonic Hall at that time was used for school, Sunday school, dances, banquets, Medicine Shows on the first floor; and the Masonic Lodge meetings held on the second floor.”
Jonathan Pierce died in on March 29th of 1915. He was active in the Brotherhood for over 41 years and was the last of the original Lodge petitioners. He was laid to rest with Masonic honors in Hawley Cemetery near the original Lodge site. In May of 1915 a Resolution of Respect was presented by the Masons, which began:
Whereas, on the 29th day of March, A.D. 1915, Brother Jonathan Edwards Pierce, one of our most beloved and honored members, answered the call of the Supreme Grand Master of The Universe and closed his long career of usefulness upon earth; whereas, it is fitting for this Lodge to put on record its high appreciation of his exalted worth and character; therefore be it resolved.
The Blessing Masonic Lodge No. 411 and its lodge building have experienced very few changes since the time of Jonathan Pierce. In circa 1920 a door was cut into its east façade to permit easy access from the parking lot to the lower floor community room. In 1947 a hurricane blew the building off its foundation blocks into the street, but the building remained intact and was restored shortly thereafter. In 1961 Hurricane Carla blew the roof off the building but the members were determined to maintain their perfect attendance record and chose to meet by candlelight. The lodge building became a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark in 1965 and received a marker which states, “Hall built 1875 at Deming's Bridge, near Pierce Ranch, by John Pierce and Masonic brothers. First floor used as Baptist church and community hall. Moved about 1903 when town of Blessing was founded.” The marker is incorrect in that the building was moved in 1907, not 1903.
Freemasonry has been present in Texas since the first
immigrants arrived. Stephen F. Austin attempted to organize a Lodge in
1828, but failed after his petition to the Grand Lodge of Mexico was
received with hostility. The first Lodge in Texas was established in
1835 in Brazoria, but this dissolved soon after charter during the Texas
Revolution. Nonetheless, by 1837 three Lodges were chartered in the
Republic of Texas, and President Sam Houston presided over the
organization of the Grand Lodge of the Republic of Texas. The
organization grew steadily until the Civil War, when the Grand Lodge
suffered financial stress and membership took a temporary decline. By
the 1880s, however, membership flourished again. The great majority of
influential early Texans were members of a Masonic Lodge. In the
Republic of Texas, Masons accounted for only 1.5% of the population but
about 80% of public offices. After annexation, Masons continued to be
prominent in the State of Texas, with five of the six governors between
1846 and 1861 members of the fraternity. Matagorda County was one of
Texas’s most prominent immigration points of entry, so some of the
earliest documentation of Masonic activity in Texas is centered in
Matagorda County. Many of the men that came through the county in the
early years were Masons. The first Lodge in Matagorda County was
Matagorda Lodge No. 7 which was formed in 1838.
Courtesy of Darron Ross, Blessing Lodge #411
Copyright 2010 -
Present by Carol Sue Gibbs
Dec. 20, 2010