The History of Braden Lodge

The Beginning

The Founding of Braden Lodge #168

Brother Erick Crail, Junior Deacon, Braden Lodge #168

 

[Presented at a Special Communication of Braden Lodge #168 held on July 14, 2011, at Triune Masonic Center, 1898 Iglehart, St Paul, MN, to commemorate the 125th Anniversary Year of the founding of Braden Lodge.]

                The City of St Paul that we know today is very different than the one that must have existed back in 1885.   St Paul has seen a slight population decline of almost three percent (3%) between 2000 and 2010. We are troubled by the growing unemployment that grips the Metro area, currently hovering around 6.3%, with additional job losses from the closing of the Ford Truck plant looming on the horizon.  There is much that can be said of the many important roles that St Paul plays in our state – the seat of our government with the State Capitol, home of the Minnesota Wild, headquarters for twenty (20)  Fortune 500 companies in the Metro, and a great place to live and raise a family.  But let’s face it, no one today would think of St Paul as a “boom town”.

                But if we step back in time to the late 19th century, a boom town is exactly what you would have found in St Paul in 1885.  The conclusion of the Civil War and the passage of the Homestead Act in the 1860’s, coupled with the completion of the Northern Pacific Railway in 1883, brought a resurgence in the westward expansion of the United States, and much of the train traffic destined for the Great Northwest came through St Paul.  It served as a central nexus where goods such as grain, timber, milled flour, and beef could travel East by train, or be transferred to barges and travel South via the Mississippi River.  By the 1880’s, flour milling and timber operations dotted the banks of the river, and new industrial businesses, such as the St Paul Harvester Company, were opening here as well. Between 1880 and 1890, the population of St Paul swelled by a whopping 221%, from 41,000 to over 133,000 people.

                As St Paul continued its growth, homes sprung up east of the city’s central district in an area known as Dayton’s Bluff.  This expansion was no doubt fueled not just by the beautiful vistas from the bluff, but from the many railroad lines that lumbered beneath the bluff along the river. Here, large machine shops were constructed to maintain the rolling “Iron Horses” for their westward journeys, and mammoth freight yards assembled the trains that carried settlers west, and returned with raw materials and goods for markets in the east and south.  Dayton’s Bluff quickly became known as a “mixed” neighborhood, an eclectic blend of what we would in today’s terms call blue-collar and white-collar homes.

                 Then as now, Masonic Lodges consisted of just eleven officers, so in larger Masonic Lodges, opportunities for personal advancement in leadership positions were limited.  In addition, traveling to central locations where large Masonic facilities were located was an arduous process; long before automobiles and freeways, only horses and a limited number of trolley lines offered ready access to other parts of the City.  These factors combined to create a demand for smaller neighborhood Masonic Lodges – ones within walking distance, where their smaller numbers gave a more close-knit, intimate association with their fellow Brothers, and afforded more opportunities for members to seek leadership positions.

                It was in this climate – a growing City and a move toward smaller neighborhood Masons Lodges – that prompted twenty-four (24) Master Masons to come together in a meeting held on November 3rd, 1885. Assembling at the Odd Fellows hall at the corner of Third Street and Bates Avenue, they met to discuss their common goal of establishing a new Masons Lodge to be located in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood.  At that meeting, a petition to the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota was drafted requesting Dispensation or Warrant of Constitution to allow them to form a legal Masonic Lodge.  Some of the language of that Petition bears repeating tonight:  {quote}

The undersigned respectfully represent, that we are Free and Accepted Master Masons; that we are at present, or have been, members of regular Lodges; that having the prosperity of the fraternity at heart, we are willing to exert our best endeavors to promote and diffuse the genuine principles of Masonry; that for the convenience of our respective dwellings, and for other good reasons, we are desirous of forming a new Lodge on Dayton’s Bluff, in the Town of St Paul, to be named: Braden. That in consequence of this desire, we pray for letters of Dispensation or Warrant of Constitution, to empower us to assemble as a legal Lodge, in a regular and constitutional manner, according to the original forms of the Order, and the Regulations of the Grand Lodge; … and that; if the prayer of this petition should be granted, we promise a strict conformity to all the Constitutional Laws and Regulations of the Grand Lodge.   {endquote}

                On November 17th, 1885, Henry R. Denny, the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota, approved a Dispensation allowing the petitioners to form a new Masonic Lodge to be known as Braden Lodge. Haskel Ransford, a bookkeeper from New York who had been a member of St Paul #3, was chosen to serve as Worshipful Master during the organizational period.  Henry Brand, also from St Paul #3, served as Senior Warden, and Henry A. Kellam, a merchant from Vermont who had last been a member of Tuscala Lodge #33 in Michigan, was named Junior Warden.

                On January 13th, 1886, at the 33rd Annual Grand Communication of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota, the Charter for Braden Lodge was officially approved, and the Lodge was considered “regularly constituted” on February 26th, 1886 at an installation presided over by Most Worshipful Brother A.T.C. Pierson, Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota.

                While twenty-four (24) members had signed the petition asking to form a Lodge in November of 1885, only fourteen (14) members signed the Charter; half of these fourteen (14) demitted from St Paul #3 in order to join Braden.  During that first full year of its existence, Braden Lodge raised ten (10) additional Brothers to the sublime degree of Master Mason, and two (2) Brothers joined from other Lodges, bringing the total membership to twenty-six (26) by the end of 1886.   When officers were elected at the end of 1886, Charles H. Glidden, a physician from Vermont who demitted from Mystic Tie Lodge #37, was elected Worshipful Master.  Henry A. Kellam moved from the Junior Warden to Senior Warden’s chair, and Arthur E. Hodson, a bookkeeper from Illinois, became the first Mason raised in Braden Lodge to become an officer when he was elected Junior Warden. 

                One detail emerges from that initial year’s report that this author found interesting:  Braden Lodge is often portrayed in its history as a “railroad” Lodge.  While it is true that over the years a great number of people employed by the railroads became members, and the Lodge even held morning meetings to accommodate the varying shift schedules of the railroad workers, the annual report for the first year of the Lodge shows only two (2) of the twenty-six (26) members “potentially” engaged in that profession, one as an “engineer” and one as a “conductor” – assuming they are referring to railroad positions, and not a bridge builder or music conductor.  Bookkeeper, merchant, or clerk were more prevalent occupations of our earliest members.

                No discussion of the founding of Braden Lodge would be complete without a discussion of the name: who was “Braden”?

                James Clinton Braden was born in Plymouth, Ohio, in 1835.  He moved with his family near Brownsville, Minnesota, in 1854.  In 1860, at the age of 25, he was raised as a Master Mason at Hokah Lodge #17 in Hokah, MN.  In August of 1862, he enlisted in the Army during the Sioux Uprising of 1862. He became a private in the Sixth Regiment before being promoted to Adjutant of the Tenth Minnesota Infantry in October of 1862. 

                In July of 1863, while serving with General Sibley’s Expedition in Dakota Territory near Bismarck, Braden helped organize the first Masonic Funeral Service held in Dakota Territory for Brother Frederick Beever, an aide to General Sibley.

                Upon his return from service, he affiliated with Preston Lodge #36 in Preston, MN in February of 1866.  His leadership skills led to his election as Preston Lodge’s Worshipful Master the following year.  In 1868, he received the Royal Arch Degree from North Star Chapter #11 in Chatfield, MN, and was Knighted in Damascus Commandery #1 in St Paul in 1869.

                In 1871 he moved to Litchfield, MN, where he helped form Golden Fleece Lodge #89, becoming its first Worshipful Master. 

James Braden became very active in committee work for the Grand Lodge, and on January 13th, 1876, he was elected Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota.  He was re-elected to serve a second term the following year.

                In November of 1878, James Braden was suffering from a disease; while the exact nature of the disease is not recorded, it is said that Braden knew it was “hastening his end.”  His doctor recommended a change in climate, so he traveled with his wife and two small sons, ages seven and four, to San Antonio, Texas, in hopes that the change would improve his condition. But this effort was futile, and The Most Worshipful Grand Master James C. Braden died on December 9, 1878, at the age of 43.

                It was in recognition of James Braden’s distinguished service, to our country in the military, and to our fraternity in his many Masonic positions, that the petitioners chose to honor him by naming our Lodge in his memory.  He remains to this day a model of public service, self-sacrifice, and brotherhood.

                The Lodge that bears his name has continued to serve our community with the same zeal and commitment to service that James C. Braden exemplified in his life.  From its humble beginnings, Braden Lodge continued to grow; from 26 members its first full year, it reached 254 members just twenty years later, in 1906.  By 1916, it had 674 members, and at one point, during what some have called the “golden age of Masonry”, Braden Lodge boasted 1,148 members in 1926.  But that number declined, mirroring the decline both nationally and in Minnesota in fraternal memberships, to 816 members by 1946; 628 members in 1966; 273 members by 1986; and just 106 members in 2006.  We have rebounded slightly, closing out 2010 with 121 members, and continue to welcome those who would be a worthy addition to the Fraternity.

                From its humble beginnings in Dayton’s Bluff, the Brothers of Braden Lodge have served their Lodge Brethren, their communities, and their families with distinction and honor, and a true reflection of the spirit of service embodied in the namesake of our Lodge, James Clifton Braden.  We thank you for joining us tonight as we celebrate 125 years of “making good men better”, and we ask for your support and your prayers as we kick off the next 125 years of service to our fellow and future Masonic Brothers everywhere.  Thank you.

[The author acknowledges with grateful appreciation the contribution of Ed Halpaus, Grand Lodge Education Officer of the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of Minnesota, for providing some of the source material upon which this paper was written.]