Masons of Morris County Part II

by Erich Morgan Huhn, PhD Candidate, Drew University
March 5, 2024

Morristown’s role in Masonic history traces back to before the Revolution. Legend holds that during the 1779-80 encampment at Morristown, George Washington was offered and declined the position of Grand Master of all Freemasons.

Throughout the first two decades of the nineteenth century, Masonic lodges across the United States played an important role in fostering democratic principles of leadership and responsibility, often serving as charitable institutions and alternatives to establishment churches. The Anti-Masonic movement of the late 1820s precipitated a sharp decline in membership and public support, but by the Civil War, Freemasonry emerged once again as a place for members to engage in social and charitable interests. Fraternity membership also provided a network of support in a quickly changing world, and as membership grew the fraternity established new lodges and built new buildings as centers of operations.

The turn of the century saw Freemasonry reach even greater heights as membership increased and new lodges were formed throughout the country. In 1900, six lodges were active in Morris County in Boonton, Butler, Chester, Dover, and Morristown. But by 1930 the number of active lodges had nearly doubled, with five additional lodges forming in Rockaway, Wharton, Mountain Lakes, and Morristown. In Morristown, Masonic groups coordinated to build the Morristown Masonic Temple. When the building was dedicated on 25 October 1930, it was hailed by former Governor (and Freemason) A Harry Moore as “a symbol of Freemasonry.” As a secular fraternity, only requiring brethren to maintain a personal belief in a higher authority, Freemasonry was among the many fraternal, social, and civic organizations that dominated twentieth century American life. Lodges sponsored dinners, hobby clubs, sport leagues, and other events for the brethren and their families.

As the population shifted towards suburban life following World War II, lodges followed. By the end of the twentieth century, Freemasonry faced declining membership and lack of public interest, forcing the consolidation, merger, and closure of many lodges. Today only five still meet in Morris County, and only one of the original three Morristown Masonic lodges remain. Yet Freemasonry remains active in Morris County, and continues to play an active role in supporting local charitable and community causes.