A BRIEF HISTORY OF SHEPHERD-SALEM LODGE NO. 78
Shepherd Salem Lodge No. 78 began its history on January 28, 1851 as Shepherd Lodge, taking its name from Benito Shepherd, a grocer and butcher from Hartford who was then serving as Grandmaster of Connecticut Masons. The Lodge is the oldest fraternal order in existence in the borough of Naugatuck.
Interestingly, it can be argued that the history of the lodge really begins all the way back in 1797. On December 21st of that year, Masons met on the corner of May and Hill Streets here in the borough, in what was then called Salem (Salem being the second parish of Waterbury – Naugatuck didn’t establish itself until 1844). This first meeting took place at the house of Jared Byington, and his house still stands today, one of the oldest surviving homes in Naugatuck.
These early Naugatuck Masons formed Harmony Lodge No. 42 and the institution and consecration of this lodge took place on December 27, 1797. It took place at Daniel Beecher’s Tavern, which stood at the far eastern side of Church Street, near the Naugatuck River. Reverend Fowler from Salem Congregational Church gave the sermon, A copy of his sermon survives, and its nature and references would no doubt be familiar to many modern Masons.
Records from this era are a bit sketchy, but it appears Harmony No. 42 continued to meet on occasion at Beecher’s Tavern right up until 1835. They also met at numerous other Naugatuck locations, including a house on Brook Street, where Marshall Hoadley, future first master of Shepherd Lodge, was welcomed into the fraternity. It is believed that the last meeting of Harmony No. 42 was held in Naugatuck in 1839.
SHEPHERD No. 78 GETS ITS START
In early 1851, John A. Peck, Marshall Hoadley, Gideon O. Hotchkiss, William G. Smith, William H. Hine, Selden Lewis, and Isaac S. Johnson, mostly members of Harmony No. 42, petitioned the Grand Lodge of Connecticut to form a new Lodge. This request was granted and a total of 22 masons became charter members of Shepherd Lodge No. 78. The charter was dated May 17, 1851. Unfortunately, the original document has been lost, only a certified copy survives.
Many of these men were prominent citizens and businessmen. This began a long tradition of civic leaders joining the Lodge, as many of its members played important roles in early Naugatuck history. At the time, the town was a sleepy hamlet of about 1800 people and the town was fairly well represented by Shepherd No 78.
THE PECK BUILDING
The Lodge met from 1851 until August of 1873 on the third floor of a building owned by charter member Brother John A. Peck (later to become Master of the Lodge in 1856). This building, which housed Peck’s general store on the first floor, stood right at the corner of Maple and Main Streets, until it burned down shortly after 1873. This site, sitting on the Naugatuck River, is now marred by a rather ugly white concrete structure adjacent to the Whittemore Bridge.
The Lodge minutes from this era make for fascinating reading. One big event in 1860 was the decision to install gas lighting. It is worth remembering that this era was well before electricity, automobiles, and telephones. Some meetings were co-ordinated with the full moon to make travel easier, as members traveled to the Lodge on foot or horseback. Shepherd Lodge is not known to have lost any members in action during the Civil War, but several did serve in the Union Army. In 1864, meetings were moved to Tuesdays between September and June, a practice that continues to this day.
THE HOTCHKISS BUILDING
By 1873, Shepherd Lodge was growing rapidly, had raised significant funds, and moved to a new space across the river. The new building, the Hotchkiss Building, was owned by a Brother H. S. Hotchkiss (later to serve as Master of the Lodge in 1878) and it stood about 75 feet south of Maple Street. Records show that the Lodge invested in new furniture and other appointments and was very happy in its new home.
Shepherd No. 78’s finances became more robust as membership expanded. This allowed the Lodge to provide aid not only within the community, but to charitable causes across the country. Victims of the great Chicago Fire, yellow fever sufferers in the South, and Masonic Veteran’s Associations were direct recipients of funds raised right here in Naugatuck.
About this time, the first donations were made for what would eventually become the Masonic Hospital in Wallinford, CT. Shepherd Lodge No. 78 set a great example for future generations with its rich heritage of charity and philanthropy.
In 1903, the Lodge celebrated the fact that one of its own, Leon M. Woodford was selected to lead all Connecticut Masons as the Most Worshipful Grand PMaster, the first from Shepherd No. 78 to be so honored. Brother Woodford also held the distrinction as one of only two men to be a Master of Shepherd Lodge four times, serving in 1879, 1880, 1894, and 1895.
Brother Woodford made his living in Naugatuck’s rapidly growing rubber industry. A review of the records at the turn of the 20th centruy shows many prominent names that are linked with rubber, clocks, brass, and banking, as Naugatuck’s economy shifted from agrarian to industrial.
The lodge stayed here until 1907, when it lost its building to eminent domain. The powers that be decided to move the railroad from its place along Church Street to its current location along the Naugatuck River. The Lodge moved reluctantly, but they did salvage some of its furnishings. in fact, the original Lodge doors from 1873 survive to this day, refitted for the current building. New members to the fraternity pass through the very same door as their brethren did over 135 years ago.
PARK PLACE AND SALEM LODGE
After nearly a year without a permanent home, and with meetings scattered at various sites about town (like the old Post Office and the long gone Naugatuck Hotel), the Lodge took up residence in the Twitchell Building on Park Place in 1908. This building still stands, and the careful observer will note Masonic marking on the building’s facade. Rent was paid monthly to Brother Twitchell (seems to be a theme here!) and space was shared with the Odd Fellows, until their own building was completed a few years later.
Shepherd No 78 continued its good work at home and afar. In 1912, for example, the Lodge gave $500 toward the construction of the Whittemore Bridge (that was real money back then!). The bridge was named after one of Naugatuck’s leading citizens, and one of Shepherd’s own, John Howard Wittemore. In the same year, funds were raised for victioms of violent flooding in the Ohio Valley. This was typical of the good work done by local Masons at this time.
In 1928, a petition was submitted by some members of Shepherd Lodge, led by George B. Lewis, for the purpose of forming a new Lodge. This request was granted, and on February 7, 1929, Salem Lodge No. 136 sprang into being.
Salem No. 136 shared space and resources with Shepherd Lodge No.78 throughout its existence and had a good run. lasting just over 40 years. A bit more on that tale is to follow; sadly, this space does not permit a full recounting of Salem’s own history. Considerable facts suggest that it was Salem’s own Arthur F. Lewis who served as Grand Master for all of Connecticut Masons in 1936.
A PERMANENT HOME
By the late 1920’s, members of Shepherd No. 78 were of one voice. After nearly 80 years of renting, it was time to settle down and buy a building. A corporation was established for this purpose. The Twitchell building was offered for sale to the Lodge, but this idea was rejected. Members never really liked this space, and it seems there is a bit of a dispute about the heating in the winter months!
Finally, in 1930, Shepherd Lodge No.78 took the plunge and bought the Frank T. Birdsall property at 130 Church Street, a mere fifty yards around the corner. This building was built in 1900 and had been a furniture store (remains of the old elevator shaft can still be found in the basement).
For those that haven’t seen it, 130 Church Street is a grand old three-story structure right in the heart of downtown Naugatuck. There is a non-affilated store on the first floor, the second floor features a fine kitchen and hall that will seat about a hundred, and on the top floor is one of the nicer lodge rooms in all of Connecticut. The lodge room boasts much of the antique furniture from the aforementioned Hotchkiss building and features refurbished seats rescued from Naugautck’s old Salem Theater. The hall is open for public rental and tours of the lodge room by non-Masons can be arranged by request.
130 Church Street was positively buzzing in the 1940’s and 50’s, reflective of Naugatuck’s immense effort and the subsequent postwar boom. Several Masonic organizations called the building home at this time and the membership of Shepherd No. 78 stood at a remarkable 404 brothers.
THE TIDE EBBS
1955 was a year of the great flooding along the Naugatuck River, and in some ways, it is reflective of the “high water mark” in Shepherd’s history as well. Times changed, and for many reasons too numerous to count, membership slowly dipped. Sadly, this situation was not unique. Many of the great fraternal societies of the 19th century shrank dramaticallly or simply disappeared all together. Masonic Lodges throughout Connecticut were closed or merged.
As already mentioned, Salem No 136 started in 1929, spun off by members from its mother Lodge, Shepherd No. 78. Membership in Salem’s early days grew steadily, but stalled in the 1960’s. Lacking a critical mass of active Masons, a suggestion to rejoin Shepherd No.78 was floated. It was formally decided to merge the two Lodges, and a special meeting of the Connecticut Grand Lodge was convened here in Naugatuck for this express purpose on May 5, 1972. Clifford E. Morrissey, who was then Salem’s Master, was then given the reins of the newly dedicated lodge, Formally retitled Shepherd-Salem No. 78.
There would be further closures of area Lodges. Euclid No. 135 of Waterbury, also chartered in 1929, went dark around 1990. These closures, however painful for their own members, proved to be Shepherd-Salem’s saving grace. It provided the Shepherd-Salem Lodge with a core of seasoned, dedicated masons who preserved the Lodge’s history and traditions in the face of declining membership. One such addition was Leonard D’Amico, past Master of Euclid No. 135 in both 1969 and 1987, who joined Shepherd-Salem Lodge and then led Connecticut as Grand Master in 2000. However, by the time of Shepherd-Salem’s sesquicentennial in 2001, the rolls had shrunk to roughly 100 members, and many members were older and inactive.
As the 21st century began, there were fears that Shepherd-Salem simply wouldn’t make it. There were discussions about selling the lodge building; money was tight. Many meetings were poorly attended and officers chairs sat empty.
Then, a remarkable thing began to happen. For reasons unknown, men from Naugatuck and surrounding towns began knocking on the Lodge door in greater numbers than had been seen in many years. Each came seeking to improve himself and his community. Teachers, postmen, policemen, businessmen, students; they all came expressing an interest in the ideals of Masonry.
Many of these men that joined in recent years are now holding leadership positions in the Lodge. In turn, their involvement has rejuvenated many of the older members, and as a result, attendance has jumped.
Also, it was discovered that certain new Masons possessed exceptional culinary skills, and now a Lodge dinner is not to be missed. This, too, has no doubt accounted for an increase in turnout!
SHEPHERD-SALEM LODGE TODAY
The lodge has grown well under current leadership and it remains a positive force in the community. Members of Shepherd-Salem Lodge No. 78 are understandably proud of their long history. If you know of anything else about the Lodge you’d like to have added to these pages, please contact us. The lodge would love to hear from you.