BONHAM – The year was 1840. The Republic of Texas had only been free from Mexico for four years and Fannin County, one of the new republic’s first counties, had only been organized for two years. It was the year that one of the county’s oldest organizations — Constantine Masonic Lodge No. 13 — was officially recognized. That 175-year history will be celebrated by the lodge and its supporters later this week.Though it is the 13th Masonic Lodge officially sanctioned by the Grand Lodge of the Republic of Texas, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, Constantine is now the state’s fifth oldest Masonic Lodge still in operation, according to Jim Shelton of Denison, one of the lodge’s past worshipful masters.
It began prior to 1840, almost out of necessity.The individuals and families, many of them planters, who migrated into Fannin County’s wild, untamed area of rich farmland, struggled against the elements, Indian raids and other dire situations. Lives were lost and livelihoods destroyed. Some of the men had been part of a special brotherhood in their home states – the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons. The brotherhood required members be of the highest moral character. Members supported, protected and encouraged not just each other, but their families, and aided the communities they lived in. That spirit of brotherhood and camaraderie and the added protection it provided was needed by the hard-working Fannin County pioneers in their new home.The men began gathering monthly in Warren, a tiny trading outpost located northwest of Bonham. Due to the vastness of Fannin County at that time, some of the men would have to stay overnight as they had to travel so far, usually on horseback. However, Comanche Indian raids intensified to such severity that Warren was virtually emptied and the group, in 1844, moved its meeting site to Bonham to be under the protection of Fort Inglish. At that time, the lodge wasn’t yet chartered as the Grand Lodge of the Republic of Texas was still struggling to become officially organized due to the Texas Revolutionary War and Mexico’s decree that the Masons could not organize in Texas. In fact, by the end of 1837, the first three Texas lodges were actually chartered by the Grand Lodge of Louisiana.
The Grand Lodge of the Republic of Texas wasn’t officially organized until May of 1838.“We didn’t even have a charter. These were just free Masons who met and had fellowship as best they could,” said Shelton.Constantine Lodge received its official charter from the Grand Lodge of the Republic of Texas on Feb. 6, 1840 and has been in continuous operation since that time. Members first rented a building on the Bonham square and in 1878 purchased the building the lodge now occupies, situated one block north of the town square. It sits across the street from what was a Confederate arsenal during the Civil War. A simple, wooden Masonic symbol on the door and a historic marker on the front wall are the only distinguishing marks on the structure.According to Shelton, the current building, a long, narrow, “shotgun style,” wasn’t able to be set up as required by the rules of Masonry, gleaned from teachings in the Bible.“Our inside is turned backwards. East is where the west is and west is where the east is supposed to be, and the north and south are wrong. It’s because of the building being so narrow and where the entryways are,” explained Shelton. “Our lodge had to get it OKed by the Grand Lodge of Texas in order to set is up this way, and we’re the first lodge in Texas to be on the ground level. All the others were upstairs.”The meeting space is different, but the Masonic beliefs shared by the Constantine members are the same as their Masonic brethren throughout the world. They strive to uphold the teachings in the Bible, honesty, integrity, service and love of family. They share that heritage with such Texas legends as Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston, William Barret Travis, James Bowie, Audie Murphy, Gene Autry, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and James “Red” Duke.Lodge members through the years have included a variety of business, civic and spiritual leaders from not just Bonham but surrounding areas. As a charitable organization, the lodge supports its community and the nation in a variety of ways. One of the first notations of the lodge showing its patriotism and support was in 1851 when it made a $10 donation, a sizeable sum at that time, to the erection of the Washington Monument, per member Carl Englutt, District Deputy No. 3 and current secretary of the Constantine Lodge. The lodge began the “Masonic Female Institute” in 1882 and, later, donated the land to the city of Bonham for a free public school which became the Bailey Inglish Ward School. The Constantine Lodge also sat the cornerstones at various sites throughout the county.
Today, the group provides scholarships each year and takes part in the Fantastic Teeth program for first and second graders. The lodge honors community-service efforts annually with the Lamar Medal and Community Builders Award and takes part in other community-related activities. Often, the lodge’s members lend a helping hand and support in their communities on their own, without the lodge even being involved. It’s part of the Masonic beliefs that members are to make a positive impact in their communities, as well as in the lodge and in their own families.“Lots of Masons do things in their own communities. You’ll find most of the time that the leaders in a community are a member of some organization like the Rotary Club, this or that, and a lot of time you’ll find Masons. We don’t say you can’t be anything else (join another organization) if you’re a Mason. You can do anything you want. As long as you conduct yourself as a Mason, keep up your dues and do your part, you’re in for life,” said Shelton.Ira Hicks, the lodge’s current Worshipful Master, has a long history in Masonry.“In 1976, I was working for Braniff Airways. I noticed a lot of the guys I worked with, thought a lot of and respected would be standing around talking. When I’d walk up, they’d stop talking. I asked what was going on and they said they were studying their Masonic work and couldn’t tell me (what they were talking about) because I wasn’t a member,” said Hicks. “I said, ‘Hey. How do you become a member, then?’ … I had a lot of curiosity and a lot of respect for those guys. I thought a lot of them. I got a petition, became a Mason and haven’t regretted a moment of it.”Hicks originally joined the Lewisville Masonic Lodge where he eventually served as the Worshipful Master.
He then was one of the co-founders of the Masonic Lodge in The Colony, serving as its Worshipful Master. After retiring, he moved to Honey Grove where he joined that lodge and also served as the Worship Master. He joined the Constantine Lodge several years ago after several of the Constantine members began visiting with the Honey Grove lodge.“The Constantine Lodge is pretty active,” said Hicks. “… We just do stuff to try and help the community. Lots of the money used is just out of our pocket donations, like this 175-year celebration. We did have coins struck that have the likenesses of the Grand Master in 1840 and the current Grand Master and we’ve been selling those for $10 to help offset the cost of the celebration and to raise money to go into the scholarship fund.”Englutt, like Hicks, chose to become a Mason after meeting other Masons.“I’ve been a Mason since June of 1968. I just thought it was a great thing to be. I saw guys around town that were Masons and I thought I wanted to be a part of it,” said Englutt. “It’s a charitable organization that seems to take care of its community and its people with the charitable activities they are involved in. They also have the Texas Masonic Home and School and the Texas Masonic Retirement Center for aged Masons and their families.”Though Englutt is a member of the Mantua Lodge No. 209 in Van Alstyne, he opted to also join Constantine several years ago.“I liked the fellowship and camaraderie of all the guys in all the lodges in Fannin County,” said Englutt.The Constantine Lodge’s 175th birthday celebration will be a fish fry Feb. 6 at the First Baptist Church in Bonham, starting at 6:30 p.m. It is open to the public and tickets are $10 each which much be purchased in advance in order to give a correct head count to the caterer. Tickets can be purchased by contacting Hicks at 903-378-3168.Among the many honored attendees will be Michael Wiggins, the current Texas Grand Master.
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