A History of Wyllys Lodge, No. 99
WILLIAM STORER first saw the bright promise of a new Masonic Lodge in the community of West Hartford early in 1865. On April 9th of that eventful year General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to General U. S. Grant thus bringing an end to the Civil War.

It was time to bind the wounds of war and lay the foundations for peace; but it was not to be…. yet; a week later on Good Friday April 14th, President Lincoln was shot and on the following day he passed into history. The news reached West Hartford via the person of John Mason Brace who learned about the tragedy in Hartford and driving his horse at breakneck pace the four long miles to West Hartford he shouted the news that “Lincoln’s been shot!” Leonard Buckland, postmaster, storekeeper and Republican, called Mr. Brace a “liar” for spreading such an “impossible story”. But the truth soon dawned on the community and flags that had been unfurled to celebrate the surrender at Appomattox were lowered to half staff. The townspeople “were seen to have tears in their eyes.”

Mr. Storer had found it difficult to attend Lodge meetings in Hartford. It took a horse and buggy more than an hour to make the journey…. “If it didn’t snow.”

A petition had been presented to St. John’s Lodge in Hartford early in 1866 in which several members sought to establish a Lodge of Masons in West Hartford. The request was granted and Wyllys Lodge No. 99 was born. Its first meeting was held on March 5th 1866. The charter was dated May 17th.

Colonel Samuel Wyllys, for whom the Lodge was named, was a member of a distinguished family in Connecticut history: a graduate of Yale class of 1758, he commanded a regiment at the siege of Boston and served throughout the Revolution. He was the first captain of the First Company of Governor’s Foot Guard when it was formed in 1771 and a Major General of the state militia from 1792 to 1796. He was Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Connecticut during 1795, ‘96 and ‘97. At the time of his death in 1823 he was State Secretary.

The Inaugural meeting of Wyllys Lodge was held in a building located on the northwest section of what is now Bishop’s Corner, then known as Goodman’s Tavern and later as Hurlbut’s Tavern. The officers were: William Storer, W.M., William B. Ely, S.W., Franklin Sisson, J.W., Hezekiah G. Webster, Treasurer, George Giddings, Secretary, Seth Bishop, S.D., Rufus Labar, J.D. and Benejah Gardner, Tyler.

Five candidates were cleared at the first meeting: Luther Hatheway, Joel E. Rood, Lyman Hotchkiss, William H. Seymour and Elmer G. Clark, a nephew of George A. Giddings who became the second Master of Wyllys Lodge.

On April 27th 1866, tragedy again struck the Nation, when the steamer Sultana blew up and sank on the Mississippi River with a loss of 1,450 lives, most of whom were Union Soldiers recently released from Andersonville and Libby Confederate prisons. The explosion of the Sultana was the worst in history. It gave impetus to the establishment of the Hartford Steam Boiler Insurance Company.

The Lodge occupied its first meeting place only two months then moved to the old Academy building on South Main St. east of Goodman Green at a rental of $25.00 a year. In 1896 it moved over to the vacated High School building on North Main Street, which was owned by Mrs. Susie B. Andrews. 24 chairs were bought from Mr. Toony for $24.00 and a lamp for the stairs purchased so the Brothers could find their way to the upper room. The Tyler was paid $22.00 for thirty evenings; his duties included washing the lodge floor, cleaning the yard, and patching the ceiling. The place looked so good that Mrs. Andrews upped the rent to $75.00 a year.

In 1867, William Storer presented a fine Bible to the Lodge which is still used on special occasions. Brother Storer died May 29, 1872, age 74. He was buried with Masonic Honors in New Haven’s Grove Street cemetery. 25 members of Wyllys Lodge participated in the funeral service which was attended by high dignitaries of the Grand Lodge of which Mr. Storer had been an officer.
(The Storer grave was located in 1966 by R.W. George R. Gay, a Grand Tyler of the Grand Lodge and Secretary of Wyllys 99.) 

By 1912 larger quarters were needed, and Henry C. Long, Roy Thomson, Myron Burnham, Charles Abbott and George Porter led an active campaign to raise funds to plan a new building. The George Ellsworth property on South Main St. was bought and then sold when a more desirable property was found and purchased. It adjoined St. James Church on South Main Street where the present Temple now stands.
Amongst the many active fund raisers for the new Temple was the late Timothy B. Beach, P.M. and Louis C. LeMay a Past Master and a member of Wyllys Lodge since 1905. At this writing (1966) Brother LeMay is still active in Lodge affairs.

The cornerstone was placed September 8, 1923 with colorful and impressive services conducted by Most Worshipful Arthur M. Brown, Grand Master of Masons in Connecticut. Officers of the Grand Lodge and numerous members of Wyllys and other Lodges throughout the state participated.

A box placed in the cornerstone contains complete lists of members and subscribers to the building fund and a documentative history of Wyllys Lodge. If the scribe who writes about the two hundredth anniversary of our Lodge in 2066 is more alert than this correspondent, he will find a wealth of historical substance contained in the 1923 cornerstone: for by that time, the present building will have been dismantled and a new one erected to take care of the Craft in Connecticut’s largest Lodge of Masons . . . A fine and grateful salute to all those who, with pride in her past and sure of her future, used the working tools of Master Masons to build upon the solid foundation laid by Brother William Storer a century ago.

-Thomas B. Dawson 1966
“Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” 

* This History of Wyllys Lodge Number 99 first appeared in the Wyllys Lodge 100th Anniversary program, June 15, 1966.

A History of Saint John’s Lodge, No. 4 1762 – 1962
Written by Justin Duffy
March 21, 1762: “The Right Worshipful Jeremy Gridley, Esq. Provincial Grand Master of the Ancient and Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Mason in North America, Sendeth Greeting. Whereas, Application hath been made unto us by several Brethren of the Ancient and Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons, now residing in Hartford, aforesaid. That we would be pleased to constitute them into a regular Lodge that Masonry may increase and flourish in these parts:
“Now Know Ye That we have nominated, Ordained, Constituted and Appointed Our Right Worshipful and well beloved Brother, Mr. John Townley to be the first Master of the Lodge… and further that they do annually keep, or cause to be kept, the Feast of St. John the Baptist, and dine together on that day or near that day, as shall be judged most convenient…” Hence was born St. John’s Lodge No. 4.ST.JOHN’S LODGE, HARTFORD, was constituted in the year 1763, by a “Deputation” from R.W. Jeremy Gridley, Esq., of Boston, “Provincial Grand Master of Masons in North America.” The following are the .names of the brethren who signed “the letter craving a deputation for this Lodge” :—John Townley, Wm. Jepson, Samuel Olcott, George Caldwell, Abraham Beach, Thomas Hopkins, Jonathan Wadsworth, John Ellery, James Church, Samuel Flagg, Eleazcr Pomeroy, Thomas Payson.The Lodge was organized immediately upon the receipt of the dispensation, and the subjoined extract is copied from the earliest record to be found:At a Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons, held at Hezekiah Colyer’s, the 19th January, 6763, Rt. W. John Townley read his Deputation from Jeremy Gridley, Esq., Grand Master of America, appointing him Deputy Grand Master of this Lodge; and after the usual ceremonies he nominated aloud, Bro. William Jepson for his Senior Warden, Bro. Samuel Olcott for his Junior Warden, Bro. George Caldwell for his Treasurer, Bro. Abraham Beach for his Secretary; whom the Lodge accepted of, according to the usual manner.

The following is a copy of a letter addressed by order of the Lodge to the Provincial Grand Master, soon after their organization;

HARTFORD, July 27,1763.
Right Worshipful: I am directed by the Master, Wardens and Members of the newly constituted Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons in Hartford, to render you and the other officers of the Grand Lodge in Boston, our sincere acknowledgements for the Constitution you have been pleased, on our request, to grant to this Lodge; and to assure you we shall ever make it our constant endeavor, as we trust it will be our highest pleasure, to square our actions agreeably to the rules of our honorable profession; thereby rendering ourselves worthy the favor you have been pleased to bestow upon us; and in some measure answering the ex¬pectations you might reasonably conceive from a Lodge, the pillars whereof are Wisdom, Strength and Beauty.

We beg leave further, to observe, that by virtue of your deputation, appointing R. W. John Townley Deputy Grand Master of this Lodge, he congregated the brethren together and formed them into a regular Lodge, on the 19th day of January, 5763, and appointed two Wardens and other officers necessary for the due regulation of the same, who served the Lodge in their respective places till the last Aniversary Festival of St. John the Baptist, at which time the members elected their officers at their Lodge Room, at the sign of the Black Horse, in this town, according to the following list of members of the Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons in Hartford:
R. W. WILLIAM JEPSON, Deputy Grand Master.
W. SAMUEL OLCOTT, Senior Warden.
W. JAMES CHURCH, Junior Warden.
Br. ABRAHAM BEACH, Secretary.
Br. WILLIAM ELLERY, Treasurer.
Br. JOHN BUNCE, Tyler.
John Townley, of Hartford, Israel Knapp, of Hartford, George Caldwell, James Tiley, Thomas Hopkins, Alexander Chalker, Jon’th Wadsworth, Samuel Wyllys, John J. Ellery, Andrew Thompson, Samuel Flagg, John Bigelow, Eleazer Pomeroy, John Wynne, Lieut. 46th Reg., Thomas Payson, of Boston
All of whom greet you thrice heartily, and in their name and behalf I beg leave to subscribe myself, Right Worshipful, your affectionate brother and very humble servant,
To the R. W. Jeremiah Gridley, Esq.
Provincial Grand Master of Masons in North America.

This Lodge received a charter from the Grand Lodge of Connecticut, at the May session, 1795, with the name and rank of “St. John’s Lodge, No. 4,” Bro. Ephraim Root being at that time the W. Master.

(More to come)