Valley of Allentown History

by III. Thomas R. Lawall, 33°

This is the second of a series of articles which will be published in “The Messenger” to give its readers a condensed history of our Valley. In this issue, we will discuss the actions that led to the formation of the Valley of the Lehigh.

The history of the Valley of Allentown begins with the sudden growth of membership in the Valley of Scranton, after the end of the First world War. A large number of Masons from the Lehigh Valley traveled to Scranton to become Scottish Rite Masons. Much of this growth came through the efforts of III. Owen W. Metzger, M.S.A., 33°, who was so deeply impressed by the exemplification of degrees and the Scottish Rite spirit of Keystone Consistory (Valley of Scranton) that he immediately became active in its’ interest and put his whole heart into his efforts. He was able to get the cooperation of other Lehigh Valley members of Keystone Consistory in making an all out drive to get new members for the Rite. The records of the Valley of Scranton give ample evidence that their labors were not in vain. During a period of six and one half years, between 1919 and 1925, there were 1,371 Master Masons from the Lehigh Valley who had traveled to Scranton to receive the 32° in Keystone Consistory. For many years Caldwell Consistory (the Valley of Bloomsburg) had concentrated on Masons in the city of Bethlehem for membership. But when III. Brother Metzger took over the leadership of Keystone Consistory’s interests, the activity of the workers of these two Valleys became highly competitive. The zeal exhibited by these two Valleys brought a tremendous growth in Scottish Rite Masonry to the Lehigh Valley and it was inevitable that a Scottish Rite Valley would be created by these brethren. Their dreams took form when, at a meeting on January 14, 1926, four Bodies of the Valley of the Lehigh were instituted, culminating several years of planning and hard work. At this meeting, opened by III. Edgar Fahs Smith, 33°, Acting Deputy, it was announced that the Lodge will be named Muhlenberg Lodge to perpetuate the memory of Major General Peter G. Muhlenberg: the Council will be named Lafayette Council in honor of General Lafayette: The Chapter named Bethlehem Chapter, after the village in Judea where Christ was born: and the Consistory will be named Lehigh Consistory for our great and beautiful Valley of the Lehigh. By virtue of these ceremonies, the Valley of the Lehigh was now a Scottish Rite Valley, and the brethren doubled their efforts in final preparation for the first Reunion.

The rapid growth of the Valley brought with it a very real problem. How best could the Consistory take care of so many members in so widely scattered an area? After consultation among the officers, the “Sectional Plan” was set up. This was, at the time, an innovation in the Rite, and it has proved so successful, that many Consistories have since adopted and used it with equal success. In each city, town, or township where the Valley of the Lehigh had members, it called the brethren together for the purpose of effecting an organization which would promote the growth of the Rite in getting new members, and caring for the needs of those who were already Thirty Second Degree Masons. As a contact man between himself and the members on each section, the Commander-in-Chief appointed one Brother to act as Representative. This Section Leader in turn selected a group of interested Brethren who could be counted upon to devote themselves to the good of the Consistory. This group was ever thereafter known as “The Sectional Committee”. The first Scottish Rite Reunion of the Valley of the Lehigh, in April, 1926, was an overwhelming success, surpassing by far anything that even the most hopeful might have imagined. From the standpoint of candidates, it was a record-breaker with 1,226. In addition, 462 demits were on file and ready for action. Interest in the new Consistory rose as a swelling tide and reached such a point that it was necessary to issue a call for a second Reunion to be held on June 28, 29 and 30, 1926 to initiate 307 petitioners and receive 205 members by demit. Shortly thereafter, in the City of Buffalo, New York, on September 22, 1926, the Supreme Council issued a Special Warrant, which when properly delivered would constitute Lehigh Consistory a full Valley of the Scottish Rite, giving it full power and authority to convene as such. The men who dreamed a dream, and believed in the great strength of the Scottish Rite in the Valley of the Lehigh, saw their dreams become a reality!

That they had proved themselves is evidence by the fact that ten months after institution of the Valley, Supreme Council saw fit to give it the full authority of a regularly Constituted Valley. In less than one month after the announcement came from Supreme Council all was in readiness for the Ceremonies of Constitution and the conferring of Degrees on 210 petitioners. The call went out to the membership announcing the “Constitution Reunion,” to be held on November 14, 15, 16 and 17, 1926. The reunion opened with Divine Services in the Asbury Methodist Church in Allentown on Sunday, the 14th. The Illustrious Brother Reverend Dr. John G. Wilson, 33°, of Philadelphia delivered a soul-inspired sermon. Letters of Constitution were officially delivered on November 15, 1926 when the four bodies were officially chartered with the Deputy, III. John S. Wallace, 33° acting as Sovereign Grand Commander at the special ceremonies. At the separate meetings held for the constitution of each of the four bodies, the officers were officially installed. That the seed was wisely planted and well received is evidenced by the fact that by November 16, 1926, the new Valley numbered 4,891 members.

At the end of 1930 our total membership was 6,309. Then followed a period of economic disturbance during which the number of candidates dropped to as few as 30 at the November Reunion of 1933. The world disturbances of 1939 and the Second World War of 1941- 1945 with its shortages, rationings, and restrictions, made it impossible for the officers to take advantage of the improved economic conditions and a rising interest in Freemasonry. After the war, the class size again began to increase and on May 4, 1969 at the Spring Reunion, the DeMoley Honor Class brought the membership over 10,000 for the first time, having reached 10,048 members.

The presentation of the degrees in dramatic form in our four bodies has always been on a high plane. This is due to the line of outstanding brethren who have served as our Directors of Work as well as to the men who have responded to that direction. First and foremost among these brethren stands the late Ill.Walter J. Hunsperger, 33°, who was loaned to us by the Valley of Philadelphia in 1926 to organize and direct our first casts. It was he who set the high standards of degree work which have brought accolades to our dramatic personnel and which remains a challenge to directors and workers alike. Succeeding him in his important phase of our activities were Calvin E. Ahlum, Ill. Alfred C. Lewis, 33°, Edmond Collins, Jr., Ill. Paul S. Krasley, 33°, Ill. Jack D. Ferlino, 33°, Ill. George W. Prosser, Jr., 33°, Ill. Larry G. Newhard, 33°, Ill. William P. Olson, 33°, Carl A. Kislan, M.S.A., and Ill. Kenneth G. Rinear, 33°.

One of the most significant events that came out of the inspirational directorship of Ill. Brother Hunsperger was the presentation of “The Divine Tragedy of the Christ.” This great drama was based on Longfellow’s “The One Who is Being Forgotten.” This story of the Christ was first presented by the Valley of Allentown in 1928. When it was next presented in 1939, the Christ was personified by an actor, rather than represented by a light and an offstage voice. The production received widespread attention and was featured in an issue of Life Magazine. Shortly after this showing, Ill. Orrin E. Boyle, M.S.A., 33°, Commander-In-Chief, rewrote the drama replacing the archaic poetry of Longfellow with the beautiful language of the King James Version of the New Testament. Everyone was anxious to see the drama in its new form. However, by 1942, the time for the triennial presentation, we were at war and it was not presented. In 1952, Ill. Walter M. Cartwithen, 33°, a deeply religious man, as Commander-In-Chief, set in motion plans for “The Divine Tragedy” to be done in 1953. Ill. George J. Lehrer, 33°, Director of Work in the Valley of Cleveland and a well known dramatic coach, was engaged as the Dramatic Director for the renewal. After three months of rehearsals and preparation, our players enacted the new version for the first time on March 24, 25, 26, 27, and 28, 1953. Thus was revived the tradition after a lapse of 14 years. It was again presented in 1956 and 1959. After not being performed for a period of over 25 years, the Passion Play was again revived in April, 1987. A new script was prepared in order to shorten the playing time. This new script also portrayed the events of Christ’s passion as told in the four gospels, using modern English dialogue, modern stage techniques, and music as an integral part of the drama. The new version was written by Ill. C. DeForrest Trexler, 33°, who played the part of Pontius Pilate. Several years later, in 1995, the play was again presented with the addition of staging and music which was arranged by our Music Director and Organist, John E. Goodman, M.S.A., who is well known throughout the area as a producer of passion plays for church organizations, as well as other musical presentations.

Valley of Allentown, Scottish Rite Cathedral

Valley of Allentown, Scottish Rite Cathedral

History of the Valley of Allentown–A New Cathedral
by Ill.Thomas R. Lawall, 33°

Early in the life of the “Valley of the Lehigh”, it was apparent that the Allentown Masonic Temple would be hard pressed to accommodate the growing membership in the thousands. Although the problem of the inadequate auditorium, stage, and banquet room facilities existed from the beginning, in later years as our membership passed the 8,000 mark, it had been acute, and the need for more facilities remained an unsolved problem. At a meeting of the Executive Committee held on December 14, 1954, the Commander-In-Chief, appointed a “Committee on Tour” for the purpose of inspecting nearby Scottish Rite Cathedrals to get some idea of how other Valleys had solved their problems. The Committee scoured the area within a radius of ten miles and was unable to find a suitable site until Ill. Brother Metzger came on a tract of land near the Lehigh Country Club on Cedar Crest Boulevard, between Dorneyville and Emmaus. After an onsite inspection, they unanimously agreed that this was the very site for which they had been looking. At a Stated Meeting it was agreed to purchase the 12.8 acre site on Cedar Crest Boulevard for the sum of $27,500. At the same meeting a resolution was adopted to make application for a charter for a non-profit organization to be known as “The Lehigh Consistory Scttish Rite Cathedral Association.”

The Executive Committee also resolved to engage in a campaign to raise, $950,000 from its membership “for the purpose of constructing a Lehigh Consistory Cathedral and other incidental expenses.”

On August 11, 1960, the Executive Committee reported that, after hearing from the architect on the estimated cost of building at the Cedar Crest Boulevard site, the sum of $1,600,000 should be the goal of the fund-raising effort. As the fund raising project proceeded, so did the years. On November, 1967, the Cathedral Association directors reported that they had contacted various contractors to see if it was possible at that time to build a Cathedral for $1,400,000. The answer was a qualified “yes”, provided there could be a redesigning and reduction in size. At the same time, a report was received on the possible acquisition of three properties on Hamilton Street directly behind the Masonic Temple and it was resolved that legal counsel be authorized to enter into options for that property. In the meantime, the committee received new, updated bids for the construction of the Cedar Crest Boulevard site which were 33% higher than all of our available funds, making it impossible to get Supreme Council approval. On May 2, 1968, the members received notice from the committee that the Cedar Crest Boulevard project was being abandoned and on October 4, 1968, the site was sold to a local contractor. Through February and March of 1969, negotiations were completed leading to the purchase of the properties on Hamilton Street, directly behind the Allentown Masonic Temple. Masonic bodies now owned the entire block bounded by Hamilton Street, 16th Street, Linden Street and Fulton Street.

On June 24, 1968, the Cathedral Association directors entered into a new contract for architectural services with A. L. Wiesenberger Associates. It was estimated that the grand total for the new Cathedral project would be $1,406,392. On May 4, 1969, an official ground breaking ceremony was conducted in which the Valley was honored with the presence of Ill. George A. Newbury, 33°, Sovereign Grand Commander and Ill. Richard A. Kern, 33°, Grand Lieutenant Commander, and Deputy for Pennsylvania, both of whom participated.

At the following Fall Reunion on November 8, 1969, a date stone ceremony was conducted at which time many significant items were placed therein, including the minutes of significant meetings, a chronological history beginning with the application for a charter and articles of the Cathedral Association in 1956 down through the years to the present time.

The first Cathedral Class was received November 7 and 14, 1970, with a class of 458 new members, under the able leadership of Commander-In-Chief, Ill. Harry A. Berkheimer, 33°.