Freemasonry began centuries ago as a guild of stone workers. Guilds, precursors of unions, were invitational gatherings of skilled workers with a high level of mastery of their craft. Sometime in the 18th century the freemasonry guild evolved into the Masonic order known today, a ritualistic men’s service organization which seeks to better the lives of members and their community.
Even before Fort Collins became a town, a group of initiated Masons found each other, meeting first in early settler Henry Peterson’s workshop in the 1860s. Imbued with the pioneer spirit, they set about to form a lodge. Collins Lodge #19 (the 19th lodge in Colorado) was chartered in September, 1870; the Agricultural Colony, which soon became Fort Collins, began two years later.
When the lodge was chartered, fewer than a dozen houses, along with abandoned buildings from the military fort, dotted the landscape here. Only about 850 people inhabited the entire county.
Quite a few early settlers were Masons, including Dr. Timothy Smith, the fort’s first physician; Abner Loomis, later a respected banker; Ben Whedbee, the town’s first mayor; and Harris Stratton, a primary influence in securing the agricultural college here. Members did indeed benefit the community: William Stover was a delegate to the Colorado constitutional convention, Loomis was on the board of the Water Works built in 1882, and Peter Anderson was instrumental in bringing the sugar beet factory here. Charter member Benjamin Eaton was a pioneer in irrigation practices as well as serving a term as governor of Colorado.
(Not all went smoothly — in the early 1880s, the wife of a Mason eloped with another man, then, scandalously, returned a few years later to claim the estate of her former husband. The betrayed husband is not named in Lloyd Hagen’s account of the first 100 years of Masonry here.)
The lodge met for a time in storied Old Grout; later the members met on the third floor of the Loomis Block. The year 1903 saw construction of a temple in the 100 block of West Mountain Avenue, a move to a newer part of downtown. That building later became home to the Public Service Company.
The cornerstone for a new temple on West Oak Street was laid in 1925; the lodge moved in two years later. But hard times were coming — membership dropped significantly during the Great Depression, unpaid dues and financial obligations reaching a crisis in 1934. Eventually the lodge recovered only to lose members again during World War II. But in due time, membership numbers grew and the lodge paid off the mortgage on its West Oak Street temple, which remains the home of Collins Lodge #19.
Over the years, Lodge #19 has continued to attract community leaders — educators, physicians, attorneys, stockmen, farmers, businessmen, bankers, engineers and entrepreneurs — to its ranks, members who serve the community where the lodge began two centuries ago.
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