Stored deep in the offices of our Lodge is a volume of handwritten pages, neatly bound, written in Quill and Ink in an elegant hand, in the same style of script that one sees displayed in the National Archives in such documents as our Declaration of Independence. This volume opens thus (the spelling and punctuation are verbatim):
“Jerusalem Lodge No. 40 Convened at this Lodge room in Plainfield in the Township of Westfield, County Essex & State of N. Jersey on Monday the 27th of December Ano Lucis 5817 for the purpose of being constituted by Installation a regular Lodge of free ancient and excepted York Masonry”
The modern eye immediately focuses on discrepancies: Our Lodge is not No. 40 but is No. 26; we are not in Westfield; nor are we in Essex County. These items call out to our long history- in 1817, Plainfield was not yet a city or a town, but was merely a locality identified by its nearest Township, Westfield. Further, Union County did not yet exist, but was part of Essex County. Thus, our Lodge predates both our City and County. The explanation for our Lodge Number is more complex, but will be found in our History:
The Minutes of the November Session of the Grand Lodge of New Jersey show that on November 11, 1817 a petition was presented for a warrant to form a Lodge to be named Union Lodge, in the Township of Westfield, the County of Essex, in East New Jersey.* Union Lodge 21 being already in existence, a warrant was issued, but the new Lodge was designated Jerusalem Lodge #40. The first meeting of the new Lodge was held on St. John's Day, December 27, 1817**, at which John Allen was installed as its first Master. This meeting was held in the upper story of a small frame building on the northwest comer of Front and Somerset Streets, where the Lodge continued to operate until 1835. This building, known as the "Gloekler Building," was demolished in 1915. Dues at that time were twenty-five cents per stated meeting night, while the fee for the three degrees was fifteen dollars. The first petitioner for the Degrees of Masonry was John Norcott, who was initiated on September 14, 1818.
Despite the strong anti-Masonic sentiment created by the "Morgan" episode in northern New York State in 1825, which did not moderate until the election of General Andrew Jackson, Past Grand Master of Masons of Tennessee, in 1836, the minutes of the Lodge are silent on this subject. Nevertheless, there appears to be little doubt that this episode had a bearing on the Lodge's suspending its operations for a time. The Lodge room was closed in 1834 and "The old chest containing the minutes, warrant, jewels, treasurer's books and working tools were placed in the care of Brother Richard Manning who took them to his home on the outskirts of town." The last minutes are dated, A.L. April 23, 5834. However, the "Secretary's Book" shows money received November 2, 1835, and the "By Laws" carry the signature of William Tunison, initiated November 2, A.L. 5835 (Masonic Year)". From 1817 to 1835, the membership of the Lodge increased from 8 to 41.
Although its warrant was not surrendered to the Grand Lodge, Jerusalem Lodge #40 was "stricken off the rolls" at the annual communication of Grand Lodge on November 8, 1842.
On May 8, 1853, a number of Masons residing in the vicinity of Plainfield met to determine the propriety of resuscitating Jerusalem Lodge #40. Although there is no evidence of a petition having been prepared for the purpose, M.W. Edward Stewart, Grand Master, was present at the meeting and, after agreement was reached, opened the Lodge and declared it duly resuscitated with Elias Runyon installed as Master. The first meeting of the Lodge was held on May 18, 1853. At the annual communication of Grand Lodge on January 11, 1854, it was ordered that the warrant of Jerusalem Lodge be granted to the new Lodge and its number be changed from 40 to 26. Lodge meetings were held in the rooms of the Order of Odd Fellows at 105 E. Front St.
The first election of officers following the new designation resulted in the election of Henry Rutgers Cannon as Master. He served as Master for the four terms 1855 through 1858. He served two terms as Senior Grand Warden in 1864 and 1865, became Grand Master in 1868, and was re-elected Grand Master in 1869. He served on the Committee of Petitions and Grievances from 1870 to 1896 with the exception of the year 1874, when he was a member of the Committee on Masonic Jurisprudence. From 1897 to his death at age 90 in 1911, he was a member of the Committee on History. He was also honored in 1897 by being commissioned by the Grand Lodge of Alabama as its Grand Representative to the Grand Lodge of New Jersey. He held this commission until his death, and was a member of Jerusalem Lodge for 57 years.
In 1868 the Lodge moved to 111 E. Front St., and then in 1879 changed its meeting place to a new building at 116 E. Front St. In 1895 The Lodge occupied new quarters in the newly erected Babcock building, on the corner of. Front St. and Madison Ave., in special rooms designed for the purpose. This building was destroyed by a fire in 1902 in which the Lodge lost almost everything except the warrant which was in the possession of W.B. Robert Kenny, and the Square and Compasses (in use since 1817) which were recovered from the ruins. Temporary quarters were secured in the Stillman building on W. Front St., until the Babcock building was rebuilt and where the Lodge re-occupied its quarters in 1903.
On July 4, 1867, the Lodge participated in the laying of the corner stone of the monument at Washington Rock Park. Also, on May 31, 1880, the corner stone of Muhlenberg Hospital was laid, then located on Muhlenberg Place between S. Second and W. Third Streets. On December 4, 1915, the Lodge took part in the laying of the corner stone of Plainfield’s new Post Office.
In 1921, a group of Brothers, representing Jerusalem Lodge No. 26, Anchor Lodge No. 149, Emanuel Lodge No. 264, Jerusalem Chapter No. 24 Royal Arch, and Trinity Commandery No. 17 K.T., formed the Plainfield Masonic Realty Association for the purpose of building a permanent home for Masonic activities. Funds were raised by subscription from the Fraternity. On December 17, 1927 the corner stone of the present Masonic Temple, was laid by M.W. Grand Master Howard Cruse. The Temple was completed and ready for occupancy in February 1929.
On October 13, 1967, Jerusalem Lodge No. 26 celebrated its One Hundred Fiftieth Anniversary. Saleem K. Boghdan served as Worshipful Master, Emil W Habeeb was Junior Stewart, and Robert Quenzel was Marshall. All three Brothers are still members of Jerusalem Lodge.
Equality Lodge No. 283 was merged with Jerusalem Lodge April, 27, 1972, and Anchor Lodge merged with Jerusalem April 30, 2004. Since then, Jerusalem Lodge has had a steady increase of new Members. As of 2017, there are 130 Members. We look forward to the next Century in our Fraternity.
* The Colony of New Jersey was divided in 1674, into East Jersey and West Jersey. By 1790 New Jersey was a single entity, but it reflects on the conservative nature of our Fraternity that in 1817 Masons still referred to New Jersey in terms belonging to the prior century.
**A mystery: The Lodge Minutes clearly indicate Monday, December 27. December 27 is St John’s Day, but a calendar for the year 1817 shows December 27 to be a Saturday, not a Monday!
Segments of the above history are borrowed from the 150th History of the Lodge, composed by George H. Barnstorf, PM, 1956. Our thanks to additional information supplied by RW Michael Neuberger, Grand Historian, and WB Emil Habeeb, Historian of Jerusalem Lodge.