When the Orange Belt Railroad came in 1888, population was only about fifty with several small, sleepy villages like Wardsville, Williamsville and Pinellas Village. Under the persuasion of Mr. J. C. Williams, Sr., “Father of St. Petersburg,” Mr. Peter Demens built the first railroad station, railroad pier and The Detroit Hotel. The Post Office was opened and the Post Mistress traveled to Mr. Demens’ office in Sanford, Florida to inquire as to what name should be used for the town. Not finding Mr. Demens there, she spoke with his associate who insisted Mr. Demens would want it named for his birth city, and so the name of St. Petersburg it was. In 1890 St. Petersburg had grown to a town of about 270 people, and two parties formed for elections. The Wets and the Drys held an election for incorporation, stopped the residents from allowing live stock to graze on city lots, and ticketed those riding too fast on horse back in town. Pinellas County was part of Hillsborough County, becoming a separate county in May of 1911 . St. Petersburg became a city in 1903 with a population of about 600 people .
We became a U. D. Lodge in December 1893, and were one of five Lodges chartered in January, 1894 under Brother Marcus Endel, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Florida . St. Petersburg Lodge #139 F. & A.M. was chartered on January 17, 1894 with nine members made up of key people of the town. The charter officers were as follows: Brother W. W. Coleman, Worshipful Master, a hotel owner; Brother H. W. Hibbs, Senior Warden, owner of the first wholesale fish house; Brother J . C. Williams, Jr., Junior Warden, owner of Crystal Ice Company (with his brother) and a hardware store, and was a land developer; Brother G. L. King, Treasurer, owner of the first saw mill; and Brother James Henry, Secretary. Brothers J. C. Williams, Jr. and H. W. Hibbs went on to serve on City Council. The streets of the City were paved with shell from the shell mounds around Mound Park (Bayfront Medical Center area) made by early residents.
We started with nine members, had a high membership of 1,256 in 1956 and throughout the years members from our lodge have helped start other local lodges. The past 120 years have been very interesting.
Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair; the rest is in the hands of God. - George Washington
St. Petersburg Lodge # 139 was organized and held its first meeting as an U.D. Lodge on December 1, 1893 with 9 charter members, namely:
They met in the International Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) Hall, location of which was believed to be on Central Avenue just West of 4th Street about where the Phiel Hotel stood. Rent was $3.10 per month. The Lodge was chartered January 17, 1894 with Marcus Endel, G.M. who worked for and on the unification of Masonic work and illustration. Between 1893 and 1915 the Lodge had many landlords such as K of P, IOOF, W.O.W., and A.C. Phiel, who became the world’s first airline passenger in 1914.
Along about September, 1901, the idea of owning our own home was about to be born and on October 7, 1902 a committee was appointed to study and enlarge on this idea. In 1906 our rent had increased to the staggering amount of $85.00 per year. Still, the Lodge suffered out another 3 years . On November 16, 1909 the building committee reported that a suitable piece of property had been located at the Northeast corner of 4th Street and 2nd Avenue South. On November 23, 1909 said committee was instructed to obtain the best terms possible for the purchase of this property. On January 4, 1910 the Building Committee was instructed to purchase the property, which was known as the V. N. Ridgley property and is our present location. On August 16, 1910 the Lodge voted to issue 300 certificates of $10.00 each . Each certificate was to bear interest of 5%, due and payable on or before December 31, 1917. Proceeds from said Certificates were used to pay for the property.
Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence. - George Washington
On October 25, 1912 rent for use of the building for meetings was raised to $125.00 per year! On December 3, 1912 the Lodge voted to put the 4th Street property up for sale for an asking price of $10,000.00. Apparently there were no takers. On February 3, 1914 plans had been drawn and were examined but no action was taken. On March 2, 1915 the Lodge empowered the Trustees to negotiate a loan on the 4th Street property for building the new temple.
On October 19, 1915 the Lodge voted to sell Life Memberships for $100.00. Those Life Memberships were almost our downfall -later in 1930. On November 4, 1915 the Lodge was formed in regular procession to the lot on the Northeast Corner of 4th Street and 2nd Avenue South where the ground was broken for the first time for the new Masonic Temple by W. M. W. W. Birch£ ield, then Worshipful Master of St. Petersburg Lodge #139, who turned the first shovel of sand. The first meeting of St. Petersburg Lodge #139 in our own Temple was held on March 28, 1916.
1916: March 28th the first meeting in our own Temple was held.
March 3rd, 1914 St. Petersburg Lodge contributed $100.00 to the Masonic Home & Orphanage Fund. The idea for a Masonic Home & Orphanage was first brought to the attention of Grand Lodge by Bro. A.W. Gilcrest in 1902. Bro. Gilcrest later became Grand Master of Masons in Florida. March 17th the West Coast Company (a land or real estate company of those days) offered to donate 100 acres of land to us and through us to the Grand Lodge of Masons of Florida for a Masonic Home & Orphanage location.
July 3rd, 1917 correspondence from the Grand Master stated that the Committee on Selection of a site for the Masonic Home & Orphanage had selected St. Petersburg for the future Home. The selection of St. Petersburg for the Home was due largely to the untiring efforts of Bro. Ed. T. Lewis, Mr. A.P. Avery, Mr. Lew B. Brown, Walter P. Fuller and H. Walter Fuller, acting for St. Petersburg through St. Petersburg Lodge #139. At this time a motion prevailed that each member of this Lodge be assessed $500.00 to assist the Gra~d Lodge Committee with the Masonic Home site.
Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work. - Thomas A. Edison
1924: September 16th – Boom Days! Talk was getting started about a new Masonic Temple to be jointly owned by all Masonic bodies in the city. At that time a preliminary set of sketch plans was shown to the Brethren for a 15 story building to be built on the present land, Bro. Dupont being the architect. After considerable discussion, W.M. w.w. Birchfield appointed 15 members to this committee. Needless to say, this idea died a natural death.
1925: January 20th – Boom Days – A motion prevailed that the Lodge purchase the property on the Northeast corner of 4th Street and 5th Avenue South (as I remember it) for $35,000.00 and place the present property on the market at $200,000.00. Talk by this time was for a Lodge Temple further out of the City so more parking would be available for Lodge members. September 1st The Lodge rejected an offer of $5,000 . 00 per year for 99 years on 4th Street & 5th Avenue South property . It was moved and seconded that the Lodge Trustees sell the property for $75,000.00 by October 1, 1925 and also authorized to sell our Temple and present property for $250,000.00, offer good until December 1, 1925. September 15th The 4th Street and 5th Avenue south property sold for $75,000 . 00 C.I.F. (cash in fist). It was then moved, seconded and carried that the Masonic Temple property be removed from the market. Again the idea of a 15 story building being built on this location came up.
1925: A new Masonic Lodge U.D. called at that time Sunshine Lodge U.D. was operating in our Masonic Temple. Sunshine name was later discarded in favor of Nitram Lodge in memory of one of their first (deceased) members, whose name was Martin and by spelling Martin backwards you came up with Nitram and so Nitram Lodge #188 was born! Its elected officers were jointly installed with St. Petersburg Lodge #139 officers on the night of December 29, 1925. Our membership at year’s end was 491. We raised 56 and affiliated 30, making 86 new members for 1925.
The only true happiness is to learn, to advance, and to improve; which could not happen unless we had commenced with error, ignorance, and imperfection. We must pass through the darkness, to reach the light. - Albert Pike
April 1930: The Lodge found it necessary to borrow money to pay Grand Lodge per capita dues. If not paid we would have had no representation in Grand Lodge that year 1 We paid our Grand Lodge dues and the Grand Lodge was held that year in Tallahassee, FL. Tallahassee was at one time (1876) the home of the Grand Lodge of Florida Masons. Star Lodge #78 of Largo received its charter from the Grand Lodge when it was located in Tallahassee. Your W .M. of that year flew his airplane to Tallahassee where the Masons celebrated the first 100 years of Free Masonry in Florida. Your Master’s fly into Grand Lodge was a first in Masonic records. May 20th a motion prevailed that to stimulate interest in the Order of DeMolay, the member receiving the highest credits was to be given the Blue Lodge Degrees.
July 1930: The bank closed, tying up $1,550.00 of Lodge funds, caus1ng St. Petersburg Lodge #139 to default for the only time in its history on its very first note payment of $688.77 to the Acea Mutual Life Insurance Company which company had refinanced the Lodge in December of 1929. October 7th money problems were developing fast. A resolution before the lodge raising dues to $10.00 and life memberships to $250.00 was defeated.
October 1930: Money troubles reached an all time high. After several motions and amendments to the By-Laws were rejected, the W.M. Lois F. Beard turned over the “gavel” to R.W.D.D.G.M. James D. Smith of Tarpon Lodge who presided in the East. Beard made a factual plea for the brothers to reconsider the necessity of raising the dues to $10.00 per year and life memberships to $250.00 as the facts were that 71 of our members held life memberships and paid no dues and were now costing the Lodge $3.25 each for per capita tax. Due to the stress of business conditions, the submission of petitions for affiliations and degrees were almost to a stand-still. Our income was not sufficient to operate the Lodge. Inasmuch as all expenses of the Lodge had been cut to the lowest possible level, there appeared to be no other means whereby the Lodge could operate except by increasing its income. Other Masonic bodies who were renting our Lodge room were in financial difficulties and were unable to pay rent.
March 1936: approved action of the finance committee accepting stock of St. Petersburg Building & Loan Company with an approximate value of $2,800.00 owned by St. Petersburg Chapter #31 R.A.M. for past due rent and that the Lodge would refund $100.00 to the Chapter should such sale be made.
Men are not prisoners of fate, but only prisoners of their own minds - Franklin Roosevelt
1940: October 8th was the second mortgage burning with Wor. Bro. W.W. Birchfield striking the match to the mortgage.
1941: April 15th 325 Masons were present at a regular meeting – in the old temple. Compare that with the average of 30 to 40 per meeting of today!
1945: We raised 65 men, took in 40 by affiliation, and reinstated 7 for a total of 112. Lost 19 by deaths and 7 by Demits for a total of 16. The Lodge had a net gain this year of 86. Bro. John Blackmon sent the Lodge a gavel made from stone taken from Solomon quarry.
1946: The Lodge being cramped for space, a building committee proposed extending the building to the East property line, to enlarge the hall and put a balcony in the West with full air conditioning and a modernized front. W.B. Perry R. Marsh was appointed to the Masonic Horne Board. A Resolution was passed at Grand Lodge that the· Masonic home property could not be disposed of without a vote of all of the Lodges. 15 reinstated , 41 affiliated members and 103 raised for a total of 159. Losses of 30 members for a net gain of 129 members.
Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen. - Winston Churchill
April 1952: Recommendations of building committee concerning a new Masonic Temple on this location were received and placed on file.
February 1953: Lodge accepted building committee’s plans and recommendations for tearing down the old Temple and building a new one. Cost for this would be approximately $219,350.00.
1954: Members accepted the recommendation of the Building Committee that the Temple building be razed and a contract for constructing a new building on the same site be awarded to the firm of R.E. Clarson, Inc.
1955: A building at the City owned Sunshine University was rented for $165 .00 per month for the purpose of holding Lodge meetings while the new Temple was under construction. The final meeting in the old Temple was held on January 29th and the original cornerstone opened on March 5th. Ground was broken for the new $200,000 Masonic Temple on March 26th and on June 4th a cornerstone was laid for the new Lodge . Membership at this time totaled 1,199. The first meeting in the newly constructed Temple was held on November 15th.
1956: The new Temple was dedicated by Grand Lodge Officers on October 16th . A total of 310 Masons were present at the dedication ceremony.
The best luck of all is the luck you make for yourself - Douglas MacArthur
1963: In an attempt to change the image of St. Petersburg from that of an “Old Folks Town,” all green benches were outlawed. The Lodge voted to contact the City to get instructions for the new bench to be installed in front of the Temple.
1964: The Lodge voted to have a member on duty in the Secretary’s office from 9 a.m. to 12 noon and from 1 to 4 p.m. to assist the Secretary and serve as receptionist. It was reported that our membership is at a new low of 1,026. On May 5th the members agreed to amend the By-Laws by eliminating the “fee for affiliation.” Although no action was taken on the subject, it was also agreed that the “19th Masonic District would be unified into a concurrent jurisdiction” which would allow our Lodge to receive a member from anywhere in Pinellas County without getting a waiver of jurisdiction” from the Lodge closest to his residence.
1965: April 20th a committee was appointed to effect the installation of an elevator in the Temple building and on November 2nd the Lodge contracted with the Otis Elevator Co. for the purchase and installation of same for the amount of $14,975.
1968: Bro. A.A. Russell, Tyler for over 40 years, died on January 14th.
On February 6th it was decided to have the Temple roof repaired to prevent further deterioration. Under the heading of necessary maintenance, $350.00 was used to paint the fire escape, caulk the windows of the Temple, replace the front door lock and issue new keys. By resolution, Officers would require Lodge permission before spending more than $25.00.