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SCHENECTADY DIGITAL HISTORY ARCHIVE

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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 131: New York State Masonic Home at Utica — Historical and Descriptive Sketch.

[This information is from Vol. II, pp. 1856-1868 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. Some images have been relocated to the area in the text where they are discussed. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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The following article on the New York State Masonic Home at Utica is taken from a Masonic pamphlet:

The suggestion that led to the publication of this pamphlet came from our Grand Master. A few months ago he casually observed that he never realized until he became Grand Master how very few among the membership of the Fraternity who were loyal to local Lodge interests were acquainted with the magnificent service the Craft is rendering through its Home at Utica. "It seems to me," he said, "that the Brotherhood should be educated and informed about the wonderful ministry of the Home." It was taken as a "hint to the wise." Support of this work depends largely upon acquainting the Fraternity with the scope and sweep of the work carried on. It is the unanimous opinion of those who know the facts, that such service as is rendered by our Utica Home is really a concrete expression of all of the highest and best ideals for which our Fraternity stands, and that all the Masons in the State of New York may share in the joy and satisfaction of the few who know, this pamphlet is published. Every man realizes that cold type is poor medium for the expression of the emotions of the soul and sentiments of the heart. But so far as can be done with the printed page we desire to introduce our readers to the Home at Utica, and at the same time give expression to the ideals and aspirations of the Craft that give the Home a rightful claim in every Mason's sympathy.

Historical Resume

[Photo: New York State Masonic Home]

As a background against which to paint the picture of the Home as it stands today it is necessary to take at the outset a retrospective view and to study the evolution of the ideas and plans that consummated in spite of many discouragements and difficulties in the founding of the institution. Prior to 1840 the Grand Lodges of Kentucky and Missouri had set a worthy example for the Masons of America in providing for the needy brother, the widow and the orphan in Masonic Homes and Schools. The Brethren of this State were quick to appreciate the sincerity of purpose and spirit of fraternity that such institutions attested and manifested a growing desire to engage the Craft of the Empire State in the same field of Masonic endeavor.

The First Dollar

It took the act of one man to focus the intentions of the New York Masons on the task. According to Past Grand Secretary Herring, on an occasion in the year 1842 a number of brethren were assembled around his desk discussing the project with which they were all so heartily in sympathy, when Greenfield Pote, Grand Tiler of the Grand Lodge placed a dollar on the Grand Secretary's desk and called it the first contribution toward the establishment of a Masonic Home. It was only a dollar, but it was a beginning and small as was the sum, it crystallized thought into action and discussion into generosity.

Organized Action

June 8th, 1843, is an important date in the Masonic History of our State, for it was on that day that the first well defined and organized action in regard to the Home was taken. Then a petition signed by one hundred members of the Craft and accompanied by upward of $300.00 was presented to the Grand Lodge for the purpose of founding "an Asylum for worthy and destitute Masons, their widows and orphans." The Grand Lodge immediately appointed the committees necessary to formulate and devise plans and means whereby the project could be carried out, and requested the committees to report at a later communication of the Grand Lodge.

General Morgan Lewis, who served the State of New York as Governor, and whose public record is conspicuous for fidelity to the people's interest and loyal service to the Commonwealth, was Grand Master of Masons in the State when the idea and plan for the Home had its definite inception and origin.

Getting Under Way

The Grand Lodge records reveal with what enthusiasm the Committees appointed in 1843 inspired the Craft. In June, 1846, the Hall and Asylum Fund amounted to $2,943; in 1859, $20,000; in 1861, $39,000 and in 1864 it totaled $49,000. This last increase was due to a resolution passed by the Grand Lodge instructing the Lodges of the State to collect from each member ten cents per month for the Fund. This instruction was not generally observed at the outset, but it was re-enacted in 1864, and resulted in bringing the Fund up to $74,000 in 1865. When one reflects that it was at this very time that our Country was suffering under the cloud of the Civil War; that the nation was torn by discord and was bearing all of the hardships and bitterness attendant upon such a struggle, the facts just stated testify eloquently to the sincerity of the Masons of the last generation and to their fine fidelity to the highest tenets of our profession.

The Home and Education

It is interesting to note that in 1846, provision was made for a school in connection with the proposed Home in the following statement: "Resolved that a school for good, plain, useful education shall be established on the principle of the district schools." Later the interest of the Craft was so far awakened in the matter of the education of its youthful charges, that it was resolved that not only would they have the advantage of a district school instruction, but that they should enjoy the same educational opportunities as the children of the more affluent brethren. So in 1851 a report was presented to the Grand Lodge recommending the founding of a "Masonic College and Asylum." Throughout the many changes of plans, the idea of a school as part of the Home has persisted and today over the main entrance to the Home is a stone on which is inscribed "Masonic Home and School."

The First Move

In the year 1851 it was recommended that the Grand Lodge purchase a property in the "center of the State" upon the following estimate:

This estimate today seems exceedingly modest. But it is well to remember that in 1843, the year in which the plan for the Home had its inception, there were but 79 lodges and about 5,000 Masons in the jurisdiction. In 1846, there were about 175 Lodges with 12,000 members, while at the time of the dedication of the Home, our forces were numbered 726 Lodges and 83,287 Master Masons.

The Goal

In 1864, the "Trustees" were duly incorporated by an act of the Legislature.

In 1869, the real estate at the corner of Sixth Avenue and 23rd Street, New York City, was purchased. In 1870, the cornerstone of Masonic Hall was laid, and in 1875 the completed edifice was dedicated. As a result of building and equipping the Masonic Hall, the Craft found itself in 1876 in debt to the amount of $794,000. Consecrated endeavor on the part of the Fraternity's leadership kept reducing the amount until in 1889, under the administration of Most Worshipful Frank R. Lawrence, the whole amount was wiped out and the Grand Master made the happy announcement to the Craft — "The debt is paid and the Craft is free."

The Masonic Home

In 1887, under the splendid auspices of the "Ladies Masonic Fair Association" a fair was held in New York City which netted the magnificent sum of $76,000 which was turned over to the "Trustees" to be devoted to the erection of the Asylum. Four years later, in 1891, Most Worshipful John W. Vrooman, Grand Master, laid the corner stone of the Utica Home. On October 5th, 1892, Most Worshipful James Ten Eyck, Grand Master, conducted the exercises of dedication. For over a quarter of a century the doors of the Home have swung wide with true Masonic hospitality to the Brethren of the Craft and their widows, who have needed a friendly and kindly environment in which to wait for life's sunset, and to the orphans, who in youth needed the protection of affection and incentive for high living and true citizenship.

The Home

Location: Those members of the Brotherhood who had the task of selecting the site for the Masonic Home were men who went about the choice with the same conscientious consideration they might have shown in selecting a place to build their own dwellings. It was not a case of "anything is good enough if it's cheap enough." Rather their motto might well have been — "The best is none too good for the needy Mason." And so, in the suburbs of the beautiful city of homes — Utica, the most centrally located municipality in our Empire State — the place was found and there today, overlooking from a slight eminence the charming valley of the Mohawk, stands in stone and mortar a concrete testimony of how well they did their work.

It is an imposing sight that greets one's eye, as he swings up the broad and well kept driveway, bounded by rolled lawns, beautiful herbage and conventional flower plots. His Masonic enthusiasm aroused by the magnificent group of buildings, stretching out before him quickly crystallizes into the emotion of honest and righteous pride. There before him in endurable masonry, in a masonry that all the World can understand, is a tangible expression of the Masonry he was taught behind tiled doors. There in a form not to be gainsaid, is a witness to Masonic sincerity and a refutation to the idle lies told by idle lips of the craft's hypocrisy. There is a Temple of Peace, a City of Refuge, a Haven of Comfort for the needy and the distressed. There the corn of nourishment, the wine of joy, and the oil of peace, come to those who otherwise would know the pinch of hunger, the cup of bitterness, and the crushing fear of insecurity. They say that when the ancient anchorites finally arrived at the Shrine toward which they had long pressed as anxious pilgrims, the first sight of the holy place brought them to their knees in prayer. The true Mason, making his first pilgrimage to the Home may not fall upon his knees, but his heart beats quicker and his soul is stirred by an emotion that is not vastly different from prayer.

The driveway terminates at the door of the Administration Building; to the left or east end is the Hospital and the beautiful Chapel with its classic colonial lines; to the right or on the west side is the Memorial, or Boy's building, and by its side the fine well built (fireproof) Girl's Dormitory, which was presented to the Home by the Knights Templar of the State of New York.

The Administration Building

Upon entering the front door of the Administration Building, the main stairway with its beautifully carved and massive woodwork flanked by two heavy brass electroliers, comes into view. The large main hallway surrounding the staircase, contains four interesting tablets, each commemorating an epoch in the planning for and building of the Home and two of them carrying the names of men who had much to do with the founding of the institution. One bears the date of the laying of the corner stone, together with the date when the finished edifice was dedicated. Another is dedicated in grateful appreciation of the genius, energy and devotion of Most Worshipful Frank R. Lawrence, who as Grand Master succeeded in freeing the Fraternity of the debt incurred in building the Masonic Hall and so making it possible for the Asylum Fund to be raised. A third is a tribute to the Ladies, whose fine spirit of co-operation and magnificent helpfulness aided so materially in securing money for the work. The fourth reads: "This Asylum for the Aged and Infirm Brother, the Destitute Widow and the Helpless Orphan was erected A.D. 1891 and 1892 by the Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New York under the supervision of the Board of Trustees at that time."

It might be well to make an observation concerning one statement appearing in the last tablet, i.e., "Aged and Infirm Brother." Since the doors of the Utica Home were opened, as a Craft, we have been able to care for the aged and the infirm who were and are indigent financially. These, however, are not the only aged and infirm who have a right to our consideration. There are those who are indigent physically and these, because of a lack of hospital accommodations, the Trustees have found it impossible to take into the Home. That we have an obligation to those infirm who are indigent physically as well as those of the Brotherhood who have been financially unfortunate goes without discussion. And to provide for their care, the recent Grand Lodge has authorized the building of a hospital which shall be dedicated as a Memorial to the Soldiers and Sailors of the Craft who gave their lives in the defense of the World's Liberties in the Great War. The corner stone of the Hospital, which, when completed will cost approximately $650,000, was laid by Most Worshipful William S. Farmer, Grand Master, on September 20th, 1919.

But now to resume our pilgrimage through the Home. Opening off the Hallway to the right is the Superintendent's Office. This is the Sanctum Sanctorum of the Temple. Here presides the man whose fine fidelity to the trusts reposed in him makes the institution a Home and not an Asylum. Brother Wiley has a genius for homemaking. As an executive he is wise and efficient, as a student of human nature he follows an intuition of kindliness that makes few mistakes, and as an administrator he is fair, and through a display of a fine sense of justice holds the confidence of all the members of the Home. But it is the big heart and sympathetic spirit of the man that makes him the power for good that he is at Utica. The children call him "Papa Wiley," poor little kiddies who draw all the paternal affection that life will afford many of them from the genial and tender soul of our Brother. It would be a fatal blunder to fail to mention "Mother Wiley" just here. She is the capable helpmate of a strong man. From her radiates a maternal spirit that keeps a big institution "homey" and that heals up the little disappointments and heartaches that come in childhood, no matter where it is passed.

Still to the left of the Office is the Children's Library and Study Room. Once the chapel, it still has the light that streams in the room, softened by cathedral glass. It is furnished with individual desks — each desk with its own electric light, for here the children gather at night to do the school "home work." The accommodations are as luxurious and comfortable as those of any high priced private school. After the study hour is over, before the children retire, the Superintendent or one of the older children leads in Vesper prayers.

Returning to the Hallway, the Reception Room to the right looks inviting. Here the guests of the Home receive their visitors.

Adjoining the Reception Room is the Library, where a well selected collection of books is always on hand. And beyond the Library are the Ladies Parlors. Here, in quiet happiness the ladies sit and chat, knit, read or follow any other diversion they wish. Occasionally Brother Wiley reads to them and at different times during the month a stringed orchestra gives a musical. Everything possible is done to make sunset years happy.

Before going further, turn into the Smoking Rooms where the Brethren spend their time when indoors during the day and where they while away the evening hours. All the comforts of a well equipped club are here. There are cards, chess, checkers, and other games. If you think you are a pinochle player or a checker expert there are those present who will very gladly instruct you in those matters which you don't know about the games. If you do not wish to play here you will find the daily papers and current periodicals for your perusal. Just beyond in the Reading Room, you can write a letter home. In the Reading Room, too, you will find the billiard and pool tables, which were generously donated by Right Worshipful Tom Johnson, Past District Deputy of the Old 26th District. This room seems to be the most attractive, for the men congregate here in larger numbers than anywhere else.

The Home carefully provides for the every want of these venerable Brethen; clothes, medicine, physician, dentist, teeth if needed, glasses, and last but not least, tobacco. Those who are physically able are expected to give a few hours of their time each day assisting in the work of the Home by the performance of light tasks.

The sleeping rooms for the old people open off the long 270-foot hallway. Each room accommodates from two to six persons and is furnished with a consideration for every comfort. For sheer safety's sake no person is allowed to occupy a room alone. The installation of electric lights and sprinkler system has added much to the comfort and safety of the entire "family" at Utica.

Incidentally it might be here noted that all of the buildings are steam heated from one plant. The laundry also is a detached building, with all modern up-to-date equipment. While some of the buildings are not fireproof, they are all equipped with automatic sprinklers. Experts on fire prevention assert that this equipment makes a building practically unburnable.

And now to the Dining Room. It is one of the most interesting spots at the Home. The room itself is immense, 270 feet long with two rows of tables running its full length — each seating eight people. Here the old people gather at meal time, and enjoy a fare that is everything that could be desired at the table of your own homes.

The children's hall is at the end of the long Dining Hall. At meal time this is a happy, noisy place. Laughter and cheery chatter prevail. But there is no uproar or disorder. A firm but kindly discipline is maintained at all times. No evidence of a charitable institution is found in this room. It seems rather to be prepared for a pretty children's party. All about are decorations of flags, banners and streamers. Lanterns hang from the ceilings, each lighted by an electric bulb. Here the children often have a dance — and a children's dance in such surroundings is as pretty a sight as you would wish to witness.

Enter these dining rooms at meal hours, and for the first time you fully realize the wide scope of the ministry of the Home. A bell is rung, and everybody, old and young, takes his or her allotted place at the table. For a moment quiet prevails, for no one is allowed to commence to eat until a second gong is sounded. It is not a case of first come, first served. A dignity and order is observed that gives every diner an opportunity to enjoy the meal, whether he be slow or spry. In the children's Hall, the seating is arranged according to age, the oldest sitting nearest the adult dining room and then the size of the diners grows smaller and smaller as you pass from table to table until you finally come to the "High Chair Division" with its "Bread and Milk Brigade." Now take a look backward, down the full length of both Dining Halls. Get the perspective. The youngest person in that group is a little girl member of the "Bread and Milk Brigade" who has no feminine reticence about giving her age. Why should she, for she is but two years and three months old. Seated in the other hall is the oldest inmate of the Home, who admits to 96 years of life history. Springtime and Winter — Dawn and Twilight — Promise and Decay — Tomorrow and Yesterday.

A modern kitchen with every convenience and equipment of a first class hotel adjoins the Dining Halls. The food is conveyed from the kitchen to the halls in perambulatory service tables and so is served quietly, quickly and while steaming hot. All the bread, cake and pastry is baked on the premises.

Education

The intellectual development of the children of the Home is carefully attended to. The little tots have their Kindergarten and are under the care of a trained Kindergartner. Through the medium of play they are taught system and order. Every appurtenance of the most modern Kindergarten is found in this room. The older children are instructed at the Home until they are ready for the 6th Grade. Then they are sent to the Public Schools in Utica; 180 at present attend these schools. Means have been provided whereby collegiate training can be given to any child of the Home whose progress in any given line seems to warrant such training. The small children who attend school in Utica are driven to and from their studies in an auto bus, so that in all weather they are able to go and be punctual.

The older girls aside from their regular school studies are instructed in stenography, typewriting, telegraphy, dressmaking, millinery and cooking. Those who show talent are given lessons in music. The cooking is taught in a thoroughly equipped cooking laboratory. There, too, the girls are taught the first essentials of housekeeping and are so prepared for a future life as capable, efficient home makers.

The older boys are instructed in stenography, typewriting, telegraphy and manual training. The workshop is the boy's delight. It is equipped with excellent tools, lathes and every essential for full manual training. In the shop there are some splendid samples of the boy's work in the form of furniture, ornaments, cushions, leather and metal work, all as well made as could be found in any market. The instructions are all given by a competent mechanic in charge of the Department.

The Home has its own orchestra of 40 pieces and a fine orchestra it is, too.

The well equipped Gymnasium is another popular place among the children. Regular physical exercise is given here to all the children under the supervision of an expert physical instructor. A new pavilion has been recently erected for a winter and bad weather playground. The Home also boasts of a fine swimming tank, 36 feet by 18 feet, with the water graduating in depth from two feet to six feet two inches. The water is heated to a comfortable temperature and in the tank every child is taught to swim.

Out of doors are those happy gathering places, the playgrounds. There you will find swings and see-saws and all kind of things to please the children. There is a fine baseball diamond and the Home Team has been one of the best of its type in Utica. There are basket ball courts and a football field and in both of these sports the Home lads have given a good account of themselves. These games, played on such beautiful grounds attract a large attendance of vistors from the City.

The Nursery

This is one of the most interesting rooms in the Home, for wherever the wee people are, one's heart is unusually stirred. A happier group of kiddies cannot be found anywhere than the group in the Home. The floor is covered with toys. Little cribs line the walls. Every baby comfort is provided. Kindly nurses care for every want.

The Farm

Across the fields stand the farm buildings. The buildings are all up-to-date and well kept. Recently there has been built a hollow brick, fireproof cow barn with a capacity for 104 cows. It contains ample room for storing hay, two large silos, in fact it is an up-to-the-minute certified cow barn. Here is kept our magnificent head of grade cattle, providing all the milk, and, that of the highest grade, which the Home can use. There are three teams of splendid horses and an up-to-date tractor. The piggery is one of the most complete and sanitary in the state. The floor is concrete, there is a concrete yard 25x25 feet as well as a second yard 50x50 feet with earth bottom where the pigs can root to their heart's content. Running water has been installed and the place is flushed out every morning. There are on an average 75 pigs in residence. The hen-house keeps the Home well supplied with eggs. Then at the extreme end on the side of the hill is the sheepfold with 60 sheep.

Facts and Some Statistics

The Boy's Building is known as "Memorial Building". Our late Brother Edwin Booth, the actor, donated $5,000 to be used in its construction, and it was erected to his memory. It was built in 1906. Since that time additions have been added until now it is twice its original size. In the "Memorial Building" there is a room fitted up with billiard tables, shuffle-boards, books, etc., for the larger boys. It is known as the "Boys Club" and was furnished through the generosity of the old 42nd District. The Home and grounds cover 298 acres.

During the years of its ministry 469 children and 1430 old people have been cared for.

Originally boys were not kept in the Home after attaining the age of 15, nor girls after reaching the age of 16 to 18 years. Today there is no age limit, and all the children are kept in the Home until they complete their educations and good positions are found for them. A complete record of each child's whereabouts after leaving the Home is carefully kept.

The average number of inmates during the 12 months ending December, 1919, was 451.

The total cost of maintenance for that period was about $200,000, making a per capita cost of $430.00 for 12 months.

The staff connected with the Home numbers 96 people. Does not include members who do some light work for a few hours daily.

Somewhat over 3,000 tons of coal used annually.

The number of visitors to the Home increases every year. Last year that number was about 25,000.

The Home uses on the average 50 barrels of flour a month.

Annual Report of Trustees

In the annual report of the trustees for 1919, submitted to the Grand Lodge, Right Worshipful William A. Rowan, president, said in part as undernoted, which should be interesting to the members of the Craft in this jurisdiction:

Home

  1. That 23 of the Home boys served with the colors, some of whom are still over there, and one girl is nurse with the Army of Occupation in Germany. Three of the boys were wounded.
  2. That while 124 children had influenza, all recovered. In this connection, your attention is drawn to the fact that while the Home has been open for 26 years and has cared for 435 children, not one has been lost, and as 362 have been under the present management covering a period of over twelve years it is a great tribute to the watchfulness and care of Superintendent and Mrs. Wiley.

The expenses for the year show an increase, but not out of proportion to the conditions which obtained and which in a large measure continue.

The income available for the Home last year was $245,160.51; the expenses $196,179.95, leaving balance of $48,980.56. On the basis of the same interest charge as the preceding year, this would have meant a deficit of $16,394.44, emphasizing the wisdom of the timely reduction in the amount of the incumbrance on our property.

The per capita tax and fees this past year lacked $54,597.45 of meeting the expenses of the Home and $20,650.80 the previous year: the reason for this is apparent when consideration is given to the fact that the tax and fees remain unchanged while the cost of everything purchased for the Home has greatly increased.

The increase in the number of children to which your attention was drawn a year ago continues, and although there were twenty-seven withdrawals during the year, there are nineteen more children in the Home now than a year ago and there are eight less adults.

Farm

The farm showed some improvement over the previous year, but as heretofore, its principal advantage is in fresh farm products.

New York Properties

[Photo: Soldiers' and Sailors' Memorial Hospital]

In 1922 the Soldiers and Sailors Hospital was finished and dedicated with impressive exercises. A great feature of the occasion was a parade of over 20,000 Masons, the largest parade in the history of the Mohawk Valley. In the fall of 1922, the beautiful World War memorial group of statuary was unveiled at the northern end of the Hospital building. It was the gift of the Italian lodges of New York City. The Hospital is a model institution and, with its beautiful surroundings of shrubs, evergreens and blooming flowers, it forms a splendid addition to the Masonic Home plant. The Tompkins Memorial Chapel, at the eastern side of the Administration Building, is a handsome architectural addition to the Home buildings.

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