After the few informal meetings, during the fall and early winter of 1858-59, seven Brethren of the Masonic Order met on January 21, 1859, at the "white church", a community center at Jimmerson cemetery on Rush Creek, in Navarro County. There they drew a petition to the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Texas for a dispensation to meet at their hall and there discharge the duties of Ancient Craft Masonry.
The seven Brethren were R. M. Phillips, F. M. Martin, B. M. Berry, John Gallimore, D. W. Sherrill, James Ingram and Wm. Stringfellow.
The following day, January 22, 1859, Quitman Lodge No. 122 of Chatfield unanimously endorsed the petition of the Brethren of Rush Creek and certified as to their Masonic standing.
On February 8, 1859, at Houston, Texas, the Grand Master, Henry Simpson, granted a temporary dispensation empowering Relief Lodge ... to "admit, make, pass and raise Free Masons." The dispensation to last until the coming Grand Lodge communication could act upon their request for a warrant or charter.
In June 1859 the Grand Lodge of Texas assembled in Crockett and there directed the officers of the Grand Lodge to issue a Charter authorizing and empowering the petitioners to open and hold a Lode No. 236 and by name Relief at their hall on Rush Creek. The Charter was issued on June 19th 1859.
The "white church" meeting place was about three miles south-east of Rush Creek post office. This post office was at the store of James P. Persons and on the mail route from Corsicana to Tyler.
The first stated meeting of Relief Lodge was held on April 16, 1859. It was presided over by Past Master S. H. Kerr of the Corsicana Lodge. At this meeting the seven original petitioners were present, together with two Brothers who presented demits and asked for membership. They were H. R. Puryear and I. W. Matson. The following officers were elected, appointed and installed: R. M. Phillips, Worshipful Master; B. M. Berry, Senior Warden; D. W. Sherrill, Junior Warden; H. R. Puryear, Treasurer; F. M. Martin Secretary; I. W. Matson, Tiler. On motion the by-laws of Quitman Lodge No. 122 of Chatfield were adopted with the necessary alterations. One T. W. Wade had presented a petition for the First Degree in Masonry. This petition was referred to a committee composed of Brothers D. W. Sherrell, James Ingram and John Gallimore. The following is a footnote to the minutes: "Grand Lodge dues .60 cents Initiation $1.00. Passing $1.00. Raising $1.00."
It is interesting to note that in the early days of the Lodge it was customary to first open an Entered Apprentice Lodge and go from labor to refreshments, then open a Fellowcraft Lodge and go from labor to refreshments and then to open a Master Mason's Lodge in due and ancient form. The closing was in reverse order to the opening.
On August 29, 1861, at the Masonic Hall on Rush Creek an infantry company of one hundred one men were mustered into the services of the Confederate Government. The Lodge Secretary, F. M. Martin, was the Company Commander. The muster roll of the organization contains the names of all but two of the Lodge members. These two members were too old for military service. One of the Brothers, Elis Carroll, had fought under Sam Houston at San Jacinto and had been granted his headright of land in Navarro County for services in the Revolutionary army. All the officers of the Company were Master Masons, either belonging to Relief Lodge or other Texas Lodges.
Captain Martin served both as Company Commander and Lodge Secretary. He made annual Lodge reports for 1862-63 and 64, but did not remit the Grand Lodge dues. There is a letter on file in the archives of the Grand Lodge in Waco that was written by Captain Martin in 1864 requesting information on the Grand Lodge dues and stating that the reason the dues had not been paid was that the men had been in the Confederate army. After the Civil War, the Lodge hall on Rush Creek served as headquarters for a detachment of negro troops sent in by the Union forces during the trying reconstruction days.
In 1862 the post office at Rush Creek was closed and a new post office at Wadeville was opened. The Lodge address was changed but the members continued to meet at the white church.
In 1867 the Lodge purchased three acres of land in the village of Wadeville from Brothers Wade and Sherrill for $25.00. In 1868 a public school district was formed. The trustees were Brothers F. M. Martin, D. W. Sherrill, T. W. Wade, B. M. Berry and S. O. Weldon. The newly elected school trustees were all Masons and together with the Lodge officers agreed to build a dual purpose building to serve the Lodge and school. The building was completed in 1869 and Brother Thomas H. Compere was elected as the first public school teacher in this part of the country.
In 1883 the white church building that had served so many useful purposes was burned, caused by a prairie fire.
In 1881 the Cotton Belt Railway was built from Tyler to Waco. Passing about two miles north of the village of Wadeville the town of Kerens was surveyed and town lots sold. Soon all business, houses and the majority of Wadeville's citizens had moved to the new town. The Lodge building was moved from Wadeville to the town of Kerens in 1883 and placed in what is now a public park. This park is just south of the present Baptist Church. This building continued to serve as school and Lodge until 1900, when it was moved to a newly purchased lot that is now occupied by the First National Bank. In its new location the lower floor was rented first as a warehouse and later as the town's post office. The Lodge minutes of January 9, 1900 read: "the committee has succeeded in buying the school's interest in the building for $162.50."
An exert from the minutes of January 19, 1902, read: "The committee appointed to buy a desk for the Lodge, reported it could buy a good desk for the sum of $25.00. Upon motion it was instructed to purchase same." This is the desk now used by the Lodge.
On April 22, 1899, the Lodge dues were raised from $2.00 to $3.00.
On June 17, 1899, the Lodge voted to ask Dr. R. C. Burleson "to preach a suitable sermon at public installation of the newly elected officers." On June 24, the Lodge met and proceeded in procession to the First Methodist Church, where Bro. R. C. Burleson preached a sermon. The Lodge voted $5.00 to pay Brother Burleson's expenses.
A portion of the minutes of December 4, 1886, read: "Brother Murry's bid was as follows. We agree to strengthen the school house as well as can be done, re-nail all weather-boarding where needed, put sufficient foundation under the house, brace the building as needed, rough seal the walls upstairs with 1 x 12 plank, run a partition from corner of Lodge room making an anteroom, remove the bell tower and shingle over the same, furnish material and do the work in good workmanship manner for the sum of $125.00. Or will leave the ceiling off the side walls out of upstairs and do the balance as mentioned for $100.00. The Committee on building, thinking the responsibility resting upon them too heavy, asked that the Worshipful Master, Senior Warden, Junior Warden and also Bro. J. Y. Carroll be added to the committee." The request was granted. On April 5, 1890, the school trustees and the Lodge officers agreed to have the entire building painted for the sum of $86.30.
On August 27, 1898, Brothers G. R. Washburn, E. C. Jones and E. F. Ousley were appointed as a committee to look out for a suitable site upon which to build a new Lodge hall. On February 25, 1899, the Lodge approved the recommendation of its committee and purchased for $150.00 the lot upon which the present First National Bank stands. The annual dues were raised from $2.00 to $3.00.
On May 24, 1907, a committee composed of Brothers W. B. Parker, G. R. Washburn and W. H. Anderson was named to see if the second floor of the then First National Bank and the Williamson building could be purchased and to ascertain the cost and advisability of such a move. On June the 22, 1907, the committee reported that the property could not be purchased at a satisfactory price.
On July 8, 1911, "the Lodge laid the cornerstone of the Kerens Independent School building. Brother R. S. Neblet of Corsicana Lodge represented the Grand Master and delivered the principal address." The Lodges represented were: Halbert Lodge (Frost) No. 641; Corsicana Lodge No. 174; Malakoff Lodge No. 759; Barry Lodge No. 839; Cooper Lodge No. 707; Brookhaven Lodge (Mississippi) No 241; Winkler Lodge No. 826; Rice Lodge No. 577 and Fort Worth Lodge No. 908.
On January 1917, a motion was made and carried that the building committee (composed of Brothers W. T. Stockton, G. R. Washburn and J. E. Simmons) be empowered to borrow money, make contracts, or do any other thing necessary to further the construction of a new Lodge building upon the newly purchased lot. On February the 3rd the Lodge instructed Brother G. R. Washburn to obtain an abstract to the newly purchased lot. The Lodge dues were raised to $6.00.
On April 7, the Lodge approved a resolution to accept $4,000.00 for the lost upon which the then wooden Lodge building stood.
The cornerstone to the present Lodge hall was laid and dedicated on August 14, 1917. The first stated meeting was held in the new building on January 21, 1918.
The old wooden building, erected in Wadeville in 1869 and later moved to Kerens in 1883, had served as the Lodge's home for forty-eight years. In the Lodge's one hundred-year history three building have served Relief Lodge as its home. The "white church" for ten years, the combination Lodge and school building for forty-eight years and the present building for forty-two years.
In its one hundred-year history fifty-three Brothers have served as Worshipful Master. George R. Washburn ten years; Wayne F. Coates nine years; Beverly M. Berry seven years; William Allen Smith six years; John R. Inmon and Jesse E. Simmons four years each; W. Brink Parker, Dr. J. C. Blair and W. T. Stockton three years each; and the following name Brothers two years each: Wm. A. Gage, Elmer J. Smith, J. Thomas Collins, Wooster Jennings, James J Pendricks and Vernon D. Bruner.
The justification for the existence of any organized group is measured by what is stands for. In this respect Relief Lodge No. 236 points with pride to its many achievements. From its very beginning it has espoused the cause of education and consistently supported every movement that would advance the educational standards of the community. In its one hundred years of existence so far as can be ascertained, every local school board has had one or more members on it.
The minutes reveal that hardly a year has passed that some distressed Brother or his family have not been the recipient of the generosity of the Lodge. Upon three occasions its funds have been entirely depleted and the Lodge borrowed money to help an unfortunate Brother.
The members have played an active roll in the development of the community. Every worth-while movement has been actively supported and probably initiated by a Brother Mason or group of Masons. Many of the hardy pioneers who formed and guided our organization through the stormy days of the Civil War and the turbulent days of reconstruction were not only our leading citizens, but members of our Fraternity.
The roster of officers, for the first half century of the Lodge's existence, contain the names of men of sterling character and fearless in the performance of duty and they were responsible for the peace and prosperity that prevailed in our area.
In preparing this short history of Relief Lodge, the writer has with great care collected and filed all the old records available. Also, the Lodge's records in the Grand Lodge archives have been included and searched for historical items of interest. Some of the information came from the State's archives in Austin. Some from the histories of Navarro County. The writer's parents furnished some important data as they had grown up in the Wadeville area and were intimately acquainted with settlers of the day. My mother was a student in the Lodge building that was erected in 1869 and what schooling the writer had in Kerens was in the same building after its removal to Kerens. T. S. Daniel, the writer's father, was the Lodge's Secretary in the 70's and 80's [1870's and 1880's], and after his three sons became members of the Craft he related the histories of the early-day Masons and many incidents of historical interest.
Unfortunately the minutes of the Lodge's meetings from its Organization until 1882 are missing. Many demits, letters and applications of early days are of record and have furnished some valuable clues as to background of the early members.
Joe M. Daniel
In searching and filing the records of Relief Lodge, the writer uncovered many interesting documents. The following is an example of the usual procedure in gaining admittance into the lodge.
The first is the application of Dr. W. F. Seale for affiliation. It is undated but his name appears first on the returns of the Lodge for 1874.
To the Worshipful Master. Wardens and brothers of Relief Lodge No. 235. The undersigned is desirous of affiliating with your lodge if found worthy. W. F. Seal.