Welcome to Harmonia Lodge #138 – West Palm Beach, Florida
The County’s First Masonic Temple
James R. Knott
Almost fifty years ago C.C. Chillingworth, one of our earliest attorneys gave an address to the Harmonia Lodge in its early history, excerpts from which follow. It was organized at Juno, then the county seat of Dade County
. In November 1892 a few Masons in Lake Worth began to talk about organizing a Masonic lodge. The nearest one in the north of the state was in Titusville, and to the south was in Key West. So for a distance of perhaps 375 Miles no masonic lodge was to be found.
A handful of Mason's gathered at the court-house in Juno from time to time and discussed the possibility of organizing locally. There was only one Florida Mason in the whole lot so far as I can remember. On July 1, 1893, after dispensation was received from the Grand Lodge of Florida in Jacksonville, five of us met and organized the first masonic lodge ever to be created in this section of the world.
There had been considerable discussion over the proper selection of the name for the new Lodge. It was suggested that above all we must have harmony in the lodge and all feeling of ill will between political factions must be avoided. I was then fresh from college (Corneli) and knew more of the classics than I know now, so I suggested “Harmonia,” after the Greek goddess who was the personification of universal harmony, and this was approved.
A fine man, Nelson Cowles, was selected as the first worshipful master, and Captain G.W. Herring, a Confederate veteran, was chosen as senior warden. I had declined the honor of being the first worshipful master because of my utter inability to memorize the work of the order. I simply cannot memorize anything verbatim, and this made me almost useless in the Masonic ritual. When I was a boy in college I was required to write and memorize an orientation to be given before a large audience. I worked for weeks in trying to memorize this production of my own. On the appointed night I mounted the rostrum and repeated the first two sentences of my precious orientation and then my mind suddenly became blank; I could not remember a single word. From that moment, I spoke extemporaneously, and got through without breaking down. From that day to this, I have never tried to memorize anything which I must say in public.
We labored under difficulties. We had no place of our own in which to meet. There was no suitable hall at Juno, then the country seat, or anywhere else on Lake Worth except the circuit courtroom in the big white courthouse at Juno. Public meetings of various kinds were held in that room. Occasionally an itinerant preacher would preach to us there, although we were such heathens that no church was ever organized in Juno. So we obtained the permission of the county commissioners to use the courtroom as a lodge room one Saturday each month. The worshipful master had his rostrum at the east end of the building. None but Masons were allowed entrance on those August occasions. We have since been criticized for having used a public building for meetings of a secret society, but where else could we go? No public function was ever disturbed or postponed and no public business disarranged. There were no Masons on the board of county commissioners so we obtained no special favor on that account
. There was no public road to Juno at that time, and only one steamboat on Lake Worth. It left Hypoluxo at the south end of the lake in the morning, made carious stops and went to Juno at the north end of Lake Worth to get the mail, but it ran at the wrong time for our meetings. There was not a single man in the Lodge who was rich enough to have a launch. So the members would frequently come many miles in sailboats. If the wind was fair they would arrive on time. If they should have a head wind or no wind, the results were different. We often waited for hours to get a quorum. In 1894, we were granted a charter and obtained the lot on Clematis St. where the Masonic temple now stands. But we lacked funds for a building. Quite a few houses were being erected in 1894 in West Palm Beach though the town had much the appearance of a western mining camp. On what was then Banyan Street, now First Street, were the numerous saloons of the town, gambling houses and other dens of iniquity, all of which were running wide open, both day and night. The rough element was strong and aggressive.
The cornerstone of the new temple was laid in 1895, with a large crowd in attendance. Eventually we managed to get together $500 and paid for the lot. We then induced a member of our lodge to lay the brick at a very low price; he received only $2.00 per day. Some of the carpenters and mechanics who were Masons were induced to take their pay in $10 bonds. We struggled on with the construction work through March, 1896, and then moved the lodge headquarters to West Palm Beach.
The first meeting in the new temple was held on April 8, 1896 and was an occasion of great rejoicing, although we were terribly in debt. On June 3, 1896 the formal dedication of the new temple was held. There was a grand celebration and Masons from all over this part of Florida attended. That night the first school of instruction took place in Harmonia lodge and we were all very happy over the event. During the summer of 1896, a great business depression fell upon the town. The Florida East Coast Railway had been opened to Miami in April of that year, and quite a number of our merchants and other business men left West Palm Beach and moved to Miami. Through this, and a subsequent fire on the ground floor, the lodge survived to pay off its building funds.
It is now many years since a handful of Masons on Lake Worth began making plans for the erection of a Masonic lodge. Since then this lodge has been a valuable factor in building up this community, and a source of comfort and strength to many a man and of material aid to many a family in distress…