About the time of, or shortly after, the Civil War, a fraternal movement swept the nation. The Masons had long been an established fraternal organization in the United States, with lodges (or local organizations) spread throughout the states. There was a renewed interest in the bonds of fraternal organizations, probably due in part to the comradeship which had developed during the dark days of the late war. As a result, new organizations, based upon fraternal values, appeared on the landscape.
Men sought membership in these organizations to provide themselves with forums for like-mindnesses in the cause of politics, religion, social status, or other reasons. Small, rural communities like North Lewisburg were just as prolific with the rise of these fraternal organizations as the larger cities. In the decades following the Civil War, North Lewisburg probably never exceeded a population of 1000 residents. Yet, in the community could be found members of the Masonic order, the Eastern Star, the Knights of Pythias, the Pythian Sisters, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, the Rebekahs, the Woodmen of the World, the Fraternal Order of Eagles, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, and similar organizations. While the town was not the host community for lodges, or camps, or meeting houses of all of these organizations - some townsfolk had to travel to the nearby communities of Marysville, Bellefontaine or Urbana to actually take part in the various organizations' rituals - there were a few prominent memberships in the community.
The Masonic order was very active in the community and maintained meetings on a regular basis. The male-elite arm of the order was composed of prominent members of the community. The Eastern Star auxiliary was primarily a female organization, but opened its doors to participation by members of the Masonic order. By the middle of the 20th century, the Masons were the predominent fraternal organization in the town and surrounding communities. The organization purchased one of the old storefronts on Sycamore Street, and extensively remodeled the building to meet the needs of the burgeoning and quite active membership. On lodge nights, or at other Masonic events, the streets of the community were lined with the parked cars of the faithful. The building was aglow with lights and activities, camaraderie, meeting social and civil needs. Even young people like my friends and I were aware of the Masonic community in our midst; it was often easy to recognize Masons by the rings or other fraternal jewelry which they wore, or the way in which they conducted themselves in social environments. Some of the men in the community were actively involved in more than one fraternal organization.
Another prominent fraternal organization in the community was the Knights of Pythias, or K of P. This group had met in the second story area of one of the buildings at the end of the business block which fronted East Maple Street. They, too, held fraternal, social and civic activities in their meeting area. - I recall attending many dinners, ice cream socials, or similar activites in that area of the building, with evidence of the fraternity visible through the charter which was displayed in a place of prominence in the hall. I even recall once stumbling across a document of some sort in the meeting area which indicated my father had been a member of the organization prior to his induction into the service during World War II.
The primarily-female counterpart of the K of P was the Pythian Sisters. These women seemed to be more pro-active than the male membership. In addition to their regular meetings, they were always promoting dinners and other social outings. They used many of these activities to raise funds for the organization. And, they were wise when it came time to dispense those funds. Thus it was that in the 1960s they, and the Knights, decided to purchase an old church building and to convert it into a meeting hall. Accordingly, the deed was done and the old building was remodeled to meet their needs. - Once again, I recall attending many activities and functions in that old hall.
As a matter of fact, my old buddy Mike Chamberlain and I had been encouraged by Don Woodruff (we worked with him in Arthurs' IGA store) to join the Knights of Pythias. At the appropriate age - which I believe was 18 years of age - Mike and I both submitted our applications for membership. As members, we spent several hours helping to repaint the interior of the main hall of the building. In the course of time, we both progressed through three levels of membership in the organization - Page, Squire, and Knight. At the time we were two of the youngest members of the lodge. I looked forward to each meeting night, and the opportunity to gather with some of the "old men" of the community, true characters in every way.
They were a mixed lot of men who had worked, married, prospered, and socialized in the town. Even now, some fifty years later, I can picture their faces and "hear" their voices. Paul Chamberlain was the quiet one, unassuming and dignified in all his demeanor. Rarely did he speak during meetings; a former township clerk, he had long-ago earned the respect of his comrades. Chester "Chet" Louden was an area farmer, who had also played a prominent part in the town's celebrations, providing music as a member of the town's band. At every lodge meeting, Chet's voice rang out loudly and clearly with his cheerful "Are we having fun yet?" His hallmark greeting was usually associated with the traditional card game of "Spades" which was an all-important part of the prelude to or conclusion of each meeting. Floyd Simpson, Sr., was one of my personal heroes - a man whom I admired and respected. His voice and accent was like no other I had known before - or since. It was deep, melodious, and carried throughout the hall. In one of his periodic role-playing activities as the philosopher Pythagoras, his characterization, demeanor and voice created a dramatic aura in the room. There was Don Woodruff, who had a contagious laugh and smile which set him apart from others. He was always active, and a good role model for young men like myself. Whether at the lodge meetings, or at work at his "second" job in the grocery store, or later when I came to work with him at the Champaign County Engineer's department, Don knew how to enjoy life. His bubbling personality has never diminished over the years. (Now in his eighties, he continues to be an active member of the community and a valued friend of long-standing).
My mother was a prominent member of the Pythian Sisters. My step-father (William Robert "Putt" Forsythe) and I were active in the Knights of Pythias. Mom encouraged both of us to also join the sisters' organization. I look back with fond memories upon the time when my Mom - and step-father - became my "sisters," and the social activities we enjoyed as a family.
Something happened over the years. As the old members of the fraternal organizations died out, there were few young people who seemed interested in membership. Slowly, but surely, the life and glow of the lodges, camps, and temples disappeared. The K of P lodge and the Pythian Sisters ceased to exist in North Lewisburg before the end of the 20th century. The old lodge hall was torn down, the materials which had graced its walls and halls scattered. The members of the Masonic lodge joined with one in nearby Mechanicsburg; their old building now a church.
A revival of the principles upon which these fraternal and social organizations were founded would be a good thing for America. Important parts of a social and civic history we now seem to have replacedwith narcissism, it would be good to hear the cheerful cry of "Are we having fun, yet?" once again.