History of Bethel Lodge
134 A. F. & A.M.
By Leroy Byers
On June 3, 1853, the Most Worshipful Grand Master of Masons in Texas granted a Dispensation to G. J. McLemon, W. C. Walker, A. H. Lowrie, J. C. Dillingham, Henry Wall, M. R. Howeth, Geo. W. Dunbar, S. M. Dillingham, Henry Wall, M. R. Howeth, Geo W. Dunbar, S. M. Dillingham and John Landon, all residing at Gordon's Stand in Hunt County, Texas. The officers functioning under the Dispensation were Wesley C. Walker, W. M.; J. C. Dillingham, S. W.; and J. Landon, J.W.
When the 17th annual communication of the Grand Lodge of Texas convened at Rusk, Texas, a charter was granted to Bethel Lodge No. 134. officers attending were W. C. Walker, W.M.; A. H. Lowrie, Sec.; I. O. Humphries, S. D.; H. F. Wall, Tiler; and John Briscoe, Chaplain.
Originally, meeting night were designated to be held on the first Saturday night following the full moon each month. This practice of holding stated meeting during periods of the full moon was common among many lodges. It enabled members to use of the moonlight while traveling to and from the lodges. At the stated meeting of July, 1897, the date was changed to the first Saturday night of each month. Several years later, the date was changed to the second Monday night of each month. All masonic lodges have always been careful about holding meetings on dates that would not interfere with church meetings or other public gatherings. Since 1854 stated meetings have been held, and we have been reliably informed that Bethel Lodge has never missed a stated meeting in these one hundred thirty-two years.
It has been reported that the first meetings of Bethel Lodge were held south west of Ladonia near the Rehobeth Community. According to Fannin County records on January 17, 1879, a deed from B. F. Bourland and wife Nancy E. for two acres of land was granted to Bethel Lodge No. 134 A.F. & A.M. Ansolm Terry, W. M.; William Stone and David Partlow Wardens and to the church and school Committee of the Missionary Baptist Church, known as Rehobeth Church. The meetings were soon moved to the west part of the Ladonia Business district. At the time of the fire of 1896, Bethel Lodge held meetings in a building rented from C. W. T. Weldon. After the fire destroyed this building and all the Lodge property and records, another building was rented on the east side of the Ladonia Square. The building was also owned by C. W. T. Weldon, and the rent was $120 per year. When Mr. Weldon died in 1911, the Lodge building was placed on the market to be sold by Mr. Weldon's heirs. By majority vote of the Lodge, it was decided to buy the building. The purchase was completed and the deed transferred to Bethel Lodge March 11, 1912. Officers that year were Dr. S. C. Ralyea, W. M.; W. H. McCown, S. W.; A. F. Sweeney, J. W.; Dr. J. L. Dennis, Sec.; T. Miller, Treas. Cost of the building was $1,200. On April 5, 1912, the first meeting of the Lodge was held in its own building on the northeast corner of the square. This is the same location as the present building.
The building adjacent to Bethel Lodge and on the north side was owned by the Woodmen of the World. After the W.O.W. fraternity demised and the building became delapidated to the extent that it had to be removed, it was noted that the wall between the Masonic Lodge and the W.O.W. building belonged to the W.O.W. So it was that on May 1, 1946, R. T. West, H. M. Ewin and Grover Bishop, acting as trustees for Dan Redner Camp No. 220 W.O.W. did sell to R. B. Neilson, W.M.; W. C. Grrant, S.W.; and H. C. Conallly, J.W.; acting as trustees for Bethel Lodge No. 134 one tract of land running 115 feet east and west, and 18 includes north and south containing the brick wall that stood between the two buildings. Purchase price of this tract was $75.
The lapse of time, the ruthless hand of neglect and the devastation of storm and decay have laid waste to many valuable monuments of antiquity, on which the utmost exertions of human genius have been employed. Even the temple of Solomon, spacious and magnificent, and constructed by so many celebrated artisans, escaped not the unsparing ravages of barbarous force. Thus it was that in 1957, the old building had deteriorated to the degree that it was no longer serviceable. It was then evident that the Lodge was faced with the problem of buying another building or building a new one. After much discussion the latter choice was made. A fundraising drive began and bids were requested. More than $4,000 as raised. This was about half the amount needed to construct a new building, according to the lowest bid. It was then decided to borrow the remaining amount from the local bank.
Officers installed that year were Leroy Byers, W. M.; Alf Robardy, J., S. W.; Bascom Beeler, Jr., J.W.; Alvin T. Bramlett, Treas.; J. B. Eastman, Sec. A Finance Committee and Building Committee were appointed to assist the officers to complete this project. The Finance Committee consisted of W. A. Bradshaw, Roy Crossley, Robert Moore, R. W. Briscoe and Floyd Burnett. named to the Building Committee were I. B. Fry, John Reid, W. W. Bradshaw, Moss Farmer, John Burleson and . B. laird. These committee would help the lodge officers in financing and planning a new building.
The plan chosen, after much deliberation, was a tile brick building, forty-four by sixty feet in size with a hip roof built on a concrete slab. Included in the plan was a recreation room, kitchen and rest room. The contract was awarded to E. F. Thomas of Gainesville to construct the building. Mr. Thomas had submitted the lowest bid of $8,586 plus the material salvaged from the old building. The editor of the Ladonia News, Bro. Joe T. Morrow, offered the second story of his news building to be used as a meeting place for Bethel Lodge during the period of construction of the new building. This offer was accepted, and the October and November meetings of 1957 were held in the Ladonia News building. This building was on the east side of the square, a short distance from the Lodge building. Lease of the lot owned by the W. O. W. was secured, and the lot lying to the south of the building was deeded to Bethel Lodge by the heirs to the McFarland estate.
Work went well on the new building, and in early December 1957 the work was completed and the Lodge moved into its new home.
Monday evening, December 9, 1957, the stated meeting was held in the new home for the first time. Bro. E. F. Thomas, the one who had built the building, was asked to confer the Masters degee on Bro. Elvin Fisk. Bro. Thomas accepted the honor, and Bro. Risk was raised to the sublime degree of a Master Mason.
On November 21, 1961, Yowell Lodge No. 858 merged with Bethel Lodge. This merger brought several members to Bethel Lodge. Among them was Bro. Lon Gilbert who later became a life member of the Lodge and held a lifetime certificate at the time of his death.
Through the years several improvements have been added to the Lodge. In 1976 the lodge room, eating and ante rooms were carpeted. Officers that year were Melvin Fife, W. M.; Billy Don Owens, S. W.; Marvin Page, J. W.; Jimmy Owens, Sec.; and John Reid, Treas.
Officers for the 1983-84 were Glen Fields, W.M.; J. B. Montgomery, S. W.; Danny LaCook, J.W.; J. C. Owens, Sec. and John Reid, Treas. Through their efforts new kitchen cabinets were added to the kitchen area. Mr. and Mrs. Horace Durham donated a beautiful kitchen range.
Officers for this year 1986 are Frank Robinson, W.M.; H. B. Roberts, S.W.; Billy C. Crews, J.W.; Joe B. Montgomery, Sec.; and B. E. Fry, Treas. Central air-conditioning has been installed during the year.
So many worthy brethren have labored with the craft and delved into its mysteries with such dedication and zeal it would be impossible to enumerate all of them. However, it would seem amiss not to mention these few; Dr. J. L. Dennis was made a Mason in Paris, Texas in 1871. He affiliated with Bethel Lodge in 1881. In 1884 he became District Deputy Grand Master and served in that capacity for thirty-three years. For many years Dr. Dennis served as secretary for Bethel Lodge. With his beautiful penmanship, accuracy and vivid descriptions of the meetings in his recordings, one can almost feel like being present. Few men have ever devoted more time to teaching lecturing and promoting the lessons of Free Masonry than Dr. Dennis. He died in February, 1918, and was buried with full masonic honors in Ladonia Cemetery.
Along with Dr. Dennis wee Dr. Relyea and Billy McCowen. Often described as the "indispensable number," these three led and kept the lodge proficient and forceful for many years.
Bro. Wilbur Keith, a native of Ladonia, served many years as Executive Secretary of Masonic Education and Service.
Bro. Thomas M. Bartley, during his lifetime, served as Grand Commander of the Knights Templar of Texas, Secretary of the Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Texas, and Grand Recorder of the Grand Council. His life was devoted to the teachings of Masonry and his duties called him to many of the states of the Union. Bethel Lodge was proud to claim him as a member.
Also serving many years as secretary were Joe Beall and J. B. (Buddy) Eastman. Along with Dr. Dennis, these three served more than fifty years in that position. Br. R. C. Fife Jr., is serving his thirty-third continuous year as Tiler.
Several members of Bethel Lodge have served as District Deputy Grand Masters. Other than Dr. Dennis were Joe Beal, Alf Robardy, Jr., Billy Tom Williams, Leroy Byers, Frank Robinson, and Ed Crawford, the current D. D. G.M.
Oldest living member of Bethel Lodge is Bro. H. R. Middlebrooks. He is ninety-nine years of age. Bro. J. Howard Mason, in his eighties, is a fifty-year Mason.
Records of Bethel Lodge reveal that fact that men from every walk of life have met within its sacred portals to teach and to be taught the mysteries of Free Masonry. From the humblest walks of life they have some as well as those who have received the highest honors men can bestow - all on an equal footing, endeavoring to spread the cement of brotherly love and affection.
Operating under a dispensation issued in 1853, this organization was formally chartered by the Grand Lodge of Texas in 1854. Wesley c. Walker served as the first worshipful master. The membership, like the general population of the area, was comprised of pioneer settlers, many of whom migrated to the new state of Texas from the older states of the South. Early meetings were conducted in a lodge hall at the Rehobeth community (6 mi. SW) in Fannin County.
Bethel Lodge relocated to Ladonia in the 1870s. Meetings were first held on the west side of town but were moved here after a fire destroyed the early lodge hall. The group leased meeting space at this location from 1896 until 1912 when it purchased the structure. The building served the organization until members voted to have it razed and replaced with a new hall in 1957. Four years later, Yowell Lodge No. 858 merged with Bethel.
Since the ante bellum days of Fannin County, Bethel Lodge No. 134 has played an important role in the development of the area. Its members have included leaders in civic activities and in regional and state Masonic programs.
Location: Northeast corner of the town square in Ladonia.