The three Degrees in Freemasonry, ENTERED APPRENTICE, FELLOWCRAFT and MASTER are the prerequisites of becoming a better man.
We present the following facts and information in the hope that this will in some measure, afford a basis for a history of the Smithfield Lodge. As could be expected there are many missing links that should be connected but incomplete records prevent such from being a reality. In the source of our research we found many interesting sidelights of our Lodge, but the basic material for a “straight” history is necessarily limited.
The forerunner of our present Smithfield Lodge was the Grand Prairie Lodge and derived its name from its geographical location. At that time this section of the country was known as prairie land. The Grand Prairie Lodge, U.D. (under dispensation) was organized and held its first meeting July 13, 1875. It was set to work by Brother John Collier, Special Deputy to the Grand Master. At that meeting he instructed officers as to the proper manner in opening and closing the Lodge. The second meeting, or as you might term it the first work meeting was held July 17, 1875 with twelve members present for the purpose of receiving petitions.
The above meetings and subsequent meetings were held in the Zion church which during those days also served as the public school. It was located on the grounds presently occupied by old Smithfield Methodist Church (now Discovery School).
The first-degree work conferred by the Lodge was the conferring of three Entered Apprentice Degrees on August 18, 1875 upon D.H. Hightower, J.A. Garrett and Eli Smith. The first Master Masons were made October 13, 1875. They were Eli Smith and D.H. Hightower.
The meeting time for all these meetings was “Saturday on or before the first full moon in each month”. According to the minutes and conversations with the older members of the Lodge, these meetings would begin in the early afternoon and continue into the night. These extra lengthy meetings were necessitated by the lack of transportation, or rather the mode of transportation.
By April 8, 1876 work had begun on the first Lodge building. It was erected on a lot approximately one fourth of a mile west of our present building. Member Masons did labor on this building. Skilled craftsmen were paid $1.50 per day and common laborers $1.00 per day. It was during this building period that we have record of the first loan received by our Lodge. It was $23.37 from the Zion Church Missionary Society and interest was at the rate of 12 per cent. It was duly paid in full some months later.
The last meeting of the Grand Prairie Lodge, U.D. (under dispensation) was held May 18, 1876, the date of our present charter being June 10, 1876.
On July 26, 1876, Grand Prairie Lodge #455 was set to work by Right Worshipful Brother E.G. Lipscomb, Special Deputy of Right Worshipful Brother T.E. Coombs, District Deputy Grand Master. The first officers of the lodge were as follows:
Worshipful Master S.D. Sansom, Senior Warden D.H. Hightower, Junior Warden W.A. Whittenberg, Senior Deacon J.R. Crane, Junior Deacon A.G. Walker. The first fees for initiation were $10.00 for each of the three degrees. The Secretary received $20.00 per year and the Tiler was allowed $1.00 per each stated and called meetings and was exempt from dues.
As work progressed and membership increased with the Lodge, there came about the usual trials and business, and we find from the minutes there was a strict adherence to the basic principles of Masonry. Names of course must be omitted but for example we find several trials of “intoxication” whereby the member was referred to as being beastly drunk, falling off his wagon and being unable to right himself and return to his wagon. The defense also is interesting in that the accused maintains that he had climbed from the wagon and was adjusting part of the harness when the horses jumped striking him a blow in the side rendering him breathless and unable to get up.
Another trial involves the charge of drinking whereby the intoxicant engaged another in an argument and proceeded to enforce his argument by striking the brother with part of a wagon tongue. Needless to say, spilled blood resulted from the ensuing scrap.
Other trials, some more, some of less serious nature followed during the early years, but as always the Lodge remained one of the focal points of the community.
Some of our early brethren still have landmarks bearing their names. The community of Bransford was named after Brother T.G. Bransford, a member of the late 1880s and early 1990s. Isham Chapel, a forerunner of the Hurst Methodist Church bears the name of Brother William Isham who was also a member in the early years, Colleyville after Brother Lilburn H Colley, and Bedford after Brother Weldon Bobo.
In 1894, with the coming of the railroad, the Lodge building was moved from its location in “Old Smithfield” to the lot on which our present building stands in “New Smithfield.” The moving of this building was accomplished by the use of horses and log rollers. It required, according to verbal conversation, some few weeks of tedious work on the part of the members. It was this building that served as our Lodge Hall until 1937 when it became unsafe for further meetings. This evidence was found in the minutes of February 20, 1937, when a stated meeting could not be held because of the high wind. On March 20, 1937, the Grand Master granted special dispensation for the Lodge to meet in the Smithfield School building. At the stated meeting on October 16, 1937, the Deputy Grand Master praised the Lodge upon completion of its new building.
Our Lodge once had an Eastern Star chapter, and while minutes are not available to verify exact dates and officers, sealed records indicate the Chapter number as 379, and as best we can tell existed from about 1890 to 1935.
Attempts to move the charter of the Lodge attempted during the years. The first record of any such action was at the stated meeting on December 2, 1922, when a motion was entered to move the Lodge to Birdville, Texas. Needless to say that this and other attempts have been rejected.
In the year 1946 our Lodge's charter was suspended because of the lack of instructed members. It is with deep felt thanks to a few that gained the necessary instructions, most notably Past Master Fred McCullar, that we still work under the charter of 1876.
In 1947 the Lodge asked the Grand Lodge and received permission to change the Lodge name from Grand Prairie Lodge No. 455 to Smithfield Lodge No. 455, as it was located in the town of Smithfield, Texas. The Lodge is still in the same location, but is now in the city limits of North Richland Hills, Texas.
The Lodge Building has been remodeled several times since being rebuilt and furnished for a kitchen and dining room and bath in 1958. The upstairs Lodge Room was remodeled in 1969, air conditioning and heating was added in 1974.
On November 6, 1949 a building fund was established setting aside a part of the annual dues for this purpose. This has been maintained ever since. On October 6, 1960, the Lodge bought, for $11750.00 the 2 lots just west of the Lodge Building, and on March 5, 1964 two more lots were purchased for $2500.00. The Lodge now owns all the lots from the Lodge building to where the Fire Hall once sat.
The Lodge has for many years had several annual affairs for the members, on February 3, 1949 the Lodge voted to change the "Family Night" to be called the Annual Wives and Widow's Banquet. Also in 1949 a watermelon party was established, this was an annual affair until about 2000.
The Lodge established an annual Public School Week Program with an oyster supper on March 3, 1954, and this too has become an annual event, but due to the costs of oysters, it became our annual fish fry.
The Lodge has had its trials and its glory, and it has not been the work of one, but the help of many who have caused it to live through the years. 140 years of guidance by the Creator, and with His aid we hope for many more.