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Gorham-Sabatis Lodge celebrated 150 years with re-dedication of lodge

Officers' staffs form arches at either end of the ceremony area. Corn, wine and oil were symbolically poured over the model representing the lodge during the dedication. Photo by Debra Thornblad. (click for larger version)
September 12, 2012
GORHAM - The Gorham-Sabatis Freemason's Lodge celebrated its 150th anniversary Saturday by hosting a public reception and a re-dedication of their completely remodeled hall on the third floor of the Gorham Town Hall.

Officers from the Grand Lodge of New Hampshire were present to do the re-dedication. The ceremony was open to the public. Refreshments were available and lodge members, both state and local, were on hand to answer questions.

The lodge room is filled with symbols, including two pillars with many Masonic symbols representing two pillars that were supposedly on King Solomon's porch. The Masons date their history back to that time, the tenth century BC. Some historians instead date it back to the time of the guilds in the Middle Ages, according to literature Masons set out at Saturday's event.

On the walls are Trestle Boards, representing the years when master craftsmen would carve on wood what they wanted done. These carvings would go to the enter apprentice, then to the fellow craft and then the master masons. These today are the first three degrees of Masonry, John Loven, who is a 32nd degree Scottish Rite Mason, explained. There are 33 degrees, but the 33rd is by invitation only, he said.

Loven said the Masons are not a secret organization, as depicted in recent books and movies, but an organization that does have some secrets. The books and movies have, however, increased interest in what Freemasonry is and membership in the fraternal organization has increased in recent years, he said.

According to literature available Saturday, Masonry is described as "kindness in the home, honesty in business, courtesy in society, fairness in work, pity and concern for the unfortunate, resistance toward evil, help for the weak, forgiveness for the penitent, love for one another, and above all reverence and love for God."

It was interesting to read New Hampshire has the oldest continuously running Masonic Ledge in the Americas. There are about 7,000 Masons and 70 Lodges in the state.

Saturday's re-dedication ceremony began with the entry, under officers' staffs, of members, some carrying what looked like a cloth covered box up to a table in the front. The "box" was actually a model of a building. It's a representation of the Lodge building, members explained.

The re-dedication was conducted by Most Worshipful Grand Master (Master of the Grand Lodge of NH) Paul M. Leary. He used the same gavel used by Worshipful Master Harry G. Noyes in 1919 to originally dedicated the room. During the ceremony, corn was symbolically poured onto the model building, representing fertilization and nourishment, wine, representing joy and gladness, and oil, as an emblem of peace. After each one, members circled the area containing the Bible and model building and crossed their arms, hand to the shoulders and bowed, once for the corn, twice for the wine and three times for the oil.

Masons explained these three (corn, wine and oil) were used in degree work as well.

Gorham-Sabatis Lodge historian Chris Davies gave a brief synopsis of the Lodge's history.

The Gorham Lodge was formed only 26 years after the town's founding by a group of 10 Masons who had been members of other lodges, particularly the Northstar Lodge in Lancaster. In those days travel was by horse and it was difficult, especially in winter, to make that trip.

On Feb. 7, 1862 the Grand Lodge of N.H. approved the new lodge. The first meeting was held over a store and applications for eight new members came in at that meeting. It was decided meetings would be held Monday of the week of the full moon, making it lighter to travel. The first Worshipful Master of the Lodge was Urban Storey.

By 1889 the Gorham Lodge was up to 144 members. Many were coming from Berlin. They would take the train or trolley down, but if the meeting lasted longer than the latest train, they would have to walk home.

That year a new lodge was formed in Berlin, called the Sabatis Lodge. Membership in the Gorham Lodge dropped some, to 114, where it remained for many years. Membership in the Sabatis Lodge grew, reaching 200 in 1964. They also decided on a Monday the week of the full moon to hold their meetings.

In 1915 the Gorham Lodge decided to move to the new Opera House, the location of the town hall today. Unfortunately on January 15, 1917 the building burned to the ground. Masons met in the Odd Fellows Hall until the new building, the existing one, was built. In 1919 Grand Master Harry B. Noyes dedicated the Gorham Lodge on the third floor.

By the late 1950's, both lodges changed their meeting night to the second Tuesday on the month, darkness no longer being an issue in the advent of the automobile.

Declining membership caused the two lodges to decide to merge in 1987, becoming the Gorham-Sabatis Lodge.

When the town decided to renovate the town hall, the Lodge met in the conference room of the Gorham Library. Degree work was done in Lancaster or Bethel. The Lodge resumed meeting in the town hall in 2009, the first meeting being on June 9, 2009, even though all work wasn't done until 2011. The benches and chairs were re-upholstered by the inmates at the state prison.

The history ended Saturday's re-dedication and Leary handed the gavel back to Gorham-Sabatis Lodge Worshipful Master David Rich.

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