St Martin’s History
New Revised Short History of St. Martin’s Lodge Building
By Bro:. Joseph Alan Sartin
Ancient builders of great structures often designed and encoded them with the legacies of their accumulated knowledge. Through symmetry they imprinted such forms with meaning and in this way communicated higher truths. Those great edifices which have remained through the ages stand as permanent testaments to such architectural ways of conveying meaning. They also represent a great many people’s pursuit of excellence.
Buildings in more modern times continue to communicate humanity’s collective experience through form and symmetry. A quick survey of the marvelous wonders left behind by the founding fathers of our great nation bears witness to their understanding that America too should express itself through the buildings spanning its vast territories. Each structure elected to a different purpose and shape becoming a record, a storehouse of society’s intentions aspirations and actions.
In an early American colonial village a Church structure would symbolize not only the faith of a community but also express its commitment to permanence. To the establishment of a new and noble endeavor.
In 1827 a small group of faithful Christians made the decision to build a meetinghouse for the growing Baptist community in the village of Chatham, Massachusetts. A sturdy traditional church structure complete with steeple was raised on Queen Anne Road where the Baptist cemetery still stands today just up from Route 28 on the left.
By 1844, with a congregation growing past 95 members (town population was about 2800), the building was moved to Old Harbor Road closer to town. It was renovated and a separate building was built on the north side of the Church and named the Chapel.
During the storm of 1876 the steeple blew off the church and smashed through its roof crashing to the floor below. Instead of replacing the steeple it was made to resemble the Methodist church built in 1849 downtown.
By 1900 the Baptist church membership had dropped to a scant 27 souls. The decision was made to sell the building. In 1903 St Martin’s Lodge of AF&AM, (at that time meeting at Chatham Town Hall) made an offer to buy the church for $400-$500.
A Brief History of St. Martins Lodge Organization
(from page four of the 1937 65th Anniversary Lodge publication entitled “Story of St. Martin’s Lodge” Forward by Harold Tuttle*):
“Sixty-six years ago(1871) the little town of Chatham had no Masonic Lodge. Masonry, however, as it has existed throughout the world since the time of Solomon, existed in the town…Finally, it seems, there were enough members of the craft in the town to consider the formation of a lodge of their own, and, led by a few zealous brothers they met to consider the undertaking…”
Brother Benjamin D. Gifford, a doctor in town, led the zealous brethren it seems. He and a few ardent brothers would meet in the vestry of the Congregational Church. Around Christmas 1871 under the dim lights of the vestry twenty-six brothers signed a petition for dispensation from the Grand Lodge of Freemasons of Massachusetts. Why they chose the name St. Martin’s is not clear.
On January 27th 1872 the dispensation was granted by the Grand Lodge. St Martin’s Lodge held its first official meeting in an upstairs room in a building on Main Street owned by Ellery Higgins known as the 5th Avenue Tailor Shop.
Between 1872 and 1898 the Lodge grew so as to change halls 3 times to accommodate. A permanent site the required size was sought. One site considered, The Old Ocean House, was voted down 10 to 1.
The site of the old Baptist Church property was argued and debated over from December 3rd, 1900 until March 3rd 1902. One can only imagine the lines of rhetoric delivered and countered by those bygone brethren each one standing in his place as an active member of a living tradition spanning the ages. Each one called forth by his own conscience to deliver his individual perspective, a representative of his own unique honor, virtue, and dignity.
Eventually the brethren came to a consensus, and on January 1st, 1903 the final balance was paid on the purchase of the old Baptist church property. The Lodge renovated the building at considerable expense but kept much of the structure original in form. The Chapel building was turned to a north/south direction, attached to the main church structure, and renamed the Banquet Hall.
On July 6th 1903 the 1st meeting was held in the new St Martin’s Lodge Building.
It is clear that such a building as St. Martin’s Lodge the old Baptist Church of Chatham, stands as a reminder of the legacy we share with not only our colonial forefathers but with all builders since ancient times. These buildings in no small way remain as monuments of eras past and beacons of future prosperity. These structures continue to guide us along the avenues of cultural achievement. If only by reminding us of what has passed before our time or providing us with wonder of what might be to come.
I. Thomas Buckley concludes in his Short History*:
“In contrast to the other churches in town, the Methodist Church was built in 1849. The Congregational Church was placed in their present lot in 1866-7, using portions of their old church built in 1830.
The Catholic Church was built in 1916. This would make the old Baptist Church- St. Martins Lodge the oldest church of the four religions.”
I am indebted almost entirely to three documents:
-*A Short History of the Old Baptist Church A.K,A. St Martin’s Lodge
By I. Thomas Buckley
-*St. Martin’s Lodge 65th Anniversary publication Forward by Harold Tuttle
-St. Martin’s Lodge 100th Anniversary publication Wor. Harrison Eldredge
Worshipful Master (1972)
All facts and many words were drawn from these sources as well as the recollections and reveries of some local history buffs. It was this author’s intention to clarify and integrate these sources into one stream outlining the prestigious history and traditions associated with St. Martin’s Lodge building alone.
Not to mention – except briefly – the history and tradition associated with the august and sublime fraternity of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of Massachusetts. Of which a second Masonic History of St Martin’s Lodge is being prepared.
I wish to thank Right Worshipful Brother William Hammatt for his confidence in asking me to take on this project.
Brother Joseph Alan Sartin
St Martin’s Lodge Historian