It was a sad day for Bethel Masons as demolition of the building began early on Thursday morning. A small crowd gathered like sentries. Throughout the day a revolving group of people stood together and marveled as parts of the building almost refused to be taken apart. They reminisced about local history and the slow but steady disappearance of the homes and buildings that have long defined the character of the town.
Charlie Steck, former first selectman, remembered when there had been a plumbing store, Sutton's, owned by Dorius Wright, where the parking lot was now filled with bricks and debris.
According to Steck, Wright worked across the street at Shepards, where the flower shop was until last year. “It was Shepard’s Tannery and Lanes Leather Shop,” Steck remembered. “It was during the second World War. They made leather hatbands.”
“It was a long building, you could walk almost the length there, almost out to Main Street. Joe Lane was the manager there, and he was an extremely strong man. He could hold onto a pipe and hold his body straight out, rigid,” he said.
Speaking about the Temple, Steck said, “This building never really had parking. On the other side of the building there had been a park for the church.”
Trying to explain what the building has meant to him, resident Tom Vizi said, “My daughter had her wedding reception here. You have to be here to understand. Hard to explain. It’s the oldest and largest fraternal organization in the world. It’s all about brotherly love, friendship, and charitable work.”
As the dusty air from the crashing building swirled in the wind, the men talked about the effect the Masons have had on Bethel. Mason Bill Bassett said, “If you look at the names of the streets, you will see the names from this lodge. The Brotherhood in Action was started by the Masons. They call us the quiet fraternity. We raise about 4 million dollars a day, across the whole organization,” Bassett said.
While the men at the scene said that the Masons were first established in England in the 1500s, Wikipedia said there are myths and stories about the Temples going back to Biblical times. “They have been in this country since the early 1700s, and we have had six or seven presidents who were Masons,” Steck said.
Vizi added, “And a majority of the House and Senate.” Taking a moment, he laughed and said, “But there is no national treasure!”
Donations from the sale of the building will be made to local charities including the Brotherhood in Action.
Below is a list of Bethel's earliest Past Masters, provided by Bill Bassett. How many of these gentlemen have had Bethel streets named after them? In what other ways have you known these (or other) Masons to make a difference to Bethel?
1857 John Hart, James Fenning, William Dauchy, Daniel Taylor, James Conlin, David Hubbell, John McCorkell, E. Romaine Barnum, Willis Burr, Edwin Oakley, Edward Pelton, Levi Short, Adam Williams, Andrew Patchen, Elliot Smith, Charles Hart, MD, Frederick Richmond, Lucien Judd, Andrew Hallock, Thomas Mansfield
1895 Francis Perkins, Oscar Thorp, William Gilbert, William Swift, William Wright, George Griffith, George Bolles, Walter Davies, Daniel Light, Bennet Short, Walter Noonan, William Birrell, John Grocutt, Arthur Taylor, Wilbur Stryker, Leonard Bailey,
1924 George Smith, Lewis Shaw, William Livingstone, Arthur Stock, Max Delling, Harold Rapp, Eugene Reed, Lester Palmer, Herbert Terry, Ray Rubly, Benjabim Washburn, Duncan Walker, George Andrews, William Reynolds
1940 Marsdin Shaw, Joel Crofut, Frank Larson, Charles Craig, Edward Kyle, Andrew Muhlfield, Russell Damon, Earnest Johnson, Robert Edison, John Wasko, William Van De Water, Bernard T Wright, Charles Taylor, Richard Settanni, John Main, Estel Henry, Alfred Hermandorfer, Lawrence Studwell, Kenneth Keller, J. Russell Stuckey, Carl Kuehn, Walter Nelson, Frederick Vowinkle
1967 Leonard Carlson