Illinois freemasonry began even before Illinois first became a state. In 1805, Western Star Lodge was organized at the territorial capital of Kaskaskia. At the time, it was the Grand Lodge of Missouri which issued the first warrants for the establishment of lodges within Illinois. The first lodge in Springfield, Sangamo Lodge No. 9, was chartered in 1823, just as the first Grand Lodge of Illinois was being formed.
During this time, Freemasonry also experienced a setback in increased membership in the region due to an anti-Masonic backlash from 1826 to 1845, which precipitated in Batavia, New York due to the “Morgan Affair” incident. A handful of Masons were accused in the murder plot and disappearance of William Morgan, in retaliation for his published book on the “secrets” of Freemasonry. This published literature later turned out to be a plagiarized copy from an earlier published work from England, authored by Samuel Prichard. While William Morgan was known to be a controversial figure, he was reported to be a swindler, defrauding many victims within his community. When it was later discovered that Morgan had infiltrated Freemasonry and used the organization to further his fraudulent activities, he was promptly banned from the society.
Historians analyzing the case surrounding the mysterious fate of William Morgan indicate there has been no conclusive evidence which supports the theory that Masons were involved in his “murder” and disappearance from Batavia, New York. Rather, it is believed William Morgan may have been supplied with money and later, secretly traveled by vessel to Montreal, Canada, after his wife had remarried as well as the embarrassing, permanent ban placed upon him from attending Masonic lodges in New York. Later reports in 1829 and 1831 suggest William Morgan had started his life over and was said to be living abroad in Smyrna, Turkey. His case remains unsolved to this day.
As a result of the overwhelming, negative publicity the “Morgan Affair” fallout had created, the first Grand Lodge of Illinois collapsed in 1827 and with it, each Illinois lodge. It was not until the late 1830’s that lodges re-emerged – this time, under the dispensation from both the Grand Lodges of Missouri and Kentucky. In 1839, Springfield Lodge No. 26 was established, chartered under the Grand Lodge of Missouri. A rapidly growing Springfield community was at the crossroads with immigration, originating from the South to the Northeast. During this dark period in American history, abolitionists and Freemasons were heavily involved in the Underground Railroad which crossed into Illinois. Working under the cover of night, this underground network secretly transported southern slaves to their freedom up to Canada.
As Springfield became the capital of Illinois, the city became the prime location for the newly formed Grand Lodge of Illinois, which initially comprised five lodges: Bodley Lodge No. 1 (Quincy), Equality Lodge No. 2 (Shawneetown), Harmony Lodge No. 3 (Jacksonville), Springfield Lodge No. 4 (Springfield), and Great Light Lodge No. 5 (Galena). Both appointed and elected Officers within Springfield Lodge No. 4 were instrumental in the governance of Illinois Freemasonry in those early years. Prominent members included: US Senators Stephen A. Douglas and James A. Shields, Governor Augustus C. French, and Albert M. Myers, Sr. (Myers Brothers Department Store – downtown Springfield). This tradition continues to this day.
For many years, Springfield Lodge No. 4 met at the Scottish Rite Cathedral on 420 S. 6th Street. When the Valley of Springfield, Ancient, Accepted Scottish Rite sold the building to the Springfield Arts Council in 2001, the old Masonic Temple became home to the Hoagland Center for the Arts. Springfield Lodge No. 4 now resides at the Scottish Rite Masonic Center on 1020 Rickard Road.
For more information on the history on Freemasonry and its influence in Illinois, please visit our Grand Lodge website.