CHAPTER: BENEVOLENT SOCIETIES, by Jefferson B. Browne, 1912
The numerous benevolent societies which exist in our city are considered one of its marked features.
The first to be established was Dade Lodge No. 14 of the Free and Accepted Masons, chartered January 16, 1845. Its first officers were Mr. 0. S. Noyes, Worshipful Master, Mr. Alexander Patterson, Senior Warden, and Mr. Benjamin Sawyer, Junior Warden. It is one of the oldest Masonic lodges in Florida, all but two of those chartered prior to January, 1845, having gone out of existence. Royal Arch Chapter No. 21 was organized in 1868; Monroe Council No. 4 in 1870, and Baron Commandery No. 7 in 1872. In the same year the Cubans organized Dr. Felix Varela Lodge No. 62, F. & A. M. Anchor Lodge No. -, F. & A. M. was organized in 1908; its first officers were Joseph Y. Porter, Worshipful Master; Mr. Julius Otto, Senior Warden, and Mr. Chas. H. Ketcham, Jenior Warden.
In 1869 the Masons erected a large two-story building on the northeast side of Simonton street, about midway of the block, between Caroline and Eaton streets. The second floor was used for lodge purposes, the lower floor for entertainments, and subsequently for the first public school conducted in Key West. This building was destroyed by fire in 1886, and a large three story brick one erected in its place, which was completed in 1889.
Second to the Masons in point of time of organization, was the Sons of Temperance, in 1845, which continued in existence until 1862. Captain Francis B. Watlington and Mr. Joseph C. Whalton, Sr., were prominent in bringing this society into existence. It effected much good to its members and society at large.
Key West Lodge No. 13, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, was organized in 1872, Key West Encampment No. 5 on July 4, 1875, and Cuba Lodge No. 15, 1. 0. 0. F., by the Cuban citizens, in the same year. Equity Lodge No. 70, 1. 0. 0. F., was instituted by Grand Master William H. Malone, Jr., on March 4, 1911. The first officers were Ernest P. Roberts, Noble Grand; George A. T. Roberts, Vice Grand; F. J. M. Roberts, Secretary; Marcy B. Darnall, Treasurer. The lodge has doubled its membership in less than a year.
Key West Lodges, 1. 0. 0. F., have furnished to the Grand Lodge five Grand Masters, Dr. Joseph Y. Porter, Judge Angel de Lono, Hon. Eugene 0. Locke, Mr. Julius Otto and Hon. William H. Malone, Jr.
In 1874 the Odd Fellows erected a commodious two-story building on the southeast side of Caroline street, about midway of the block, between Duval and Whitehead streets. The upper floor was used for lodge purposes, and the lower floor, for a time, for balls and receptions, but later was converted into a theater.
The years of 1874 and 1875 saw the rise and fall in Key West of a benevolent organization which in point of numbers and influence for good, has never been equalled. The Independent Order of Good Templars began by instituting Island City Lodge No. 9, in 1874, and in 1876 reached the crest of the wave of its prosperity with over eight hundred members. In 1874 Unity Lodge No. 11 was organized, and its membership went up to over four hundred; next came Rising Star Lodge No. 13, in 1875, with about one hundred and fifty members.
There was no hall in the city sufficiently large to accommodate them, and Mr. William Curry erected for their use a large two story building just southeast of where the bonded warehouse now stands, on Simonton street, which was known for many years as Good Templars Hall.
The Good Templars was a strictly temperance organization, in which men and women were equally eligible, and as the three lodges in Key West had a majority of women members, the meetings were the most delightful social gatherings. After the regular business was finished, the rest of the evening was spent in music, recitations, addresses, and any other entertainment which conduced to the good of the order. So strong was its influence that there was hardly a man in the city, unless connected with the saloon business, who was not a member. Saloon after saloon closed its doors, and those that kept open barely made expenses. Gradually, however, that State institution, the licensed saloon, resumed its sway, and this organization went out of existence.
The Knights of Jericho, Astral Lodge No. 18, was organized in 1875. Abstinence from the use of intoxicating liquors was one of its teachings, but not the sole purpose of its being. Mr. Allen E. Curry, now police justice of the city, was an active member.
The order of Knights of Pythias is one of the strongest of the benevolent organizations of the city. Island City Lodge No. 14 was organized in 1881, followed by Coral City Lodge No. 53 in 1890. In December, 1907, Isle of the Sea Lodge No. 104 was organized with seventy members. Among its charter members were Hons. William B. Curry and William M. Pinder. Mr. Roger Weatherford is the present Chancellor Commander.
Camp No. 23 Woodmen of the World was organized and instituted by Special Deputy Organizer H. L. Stricker on July 10, 1895, with fifteen charter members. Mr. Benjamin P. Baker was the first Council Commander and Dr. C. F. Kemp its first clerk. It was not a thrifty organization until about 1905, when it commenced to increase its membership, which is now sixty-eight. It is a fraternal, beneficial, insurance organization, with headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska.
On February 14, 1900, Key West Lodge No. 551, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, was instituted with forty charter members. Shortly after its organization it rented the second floor of the two-story brick building on the corner of Front and Fitzpatrick streets, from Mr. John W. Sawyer, who used the first floor for a clothing store. A lodge room, reading room, and several club rooms were fitted up, and the organization started at once on a most prosperous career. In 1901 the lodge bought the property known as the Duval House, which was built and used by Mrs. Josephine Bolio as a restaurant. Its present membership is one hundred and thirty. Its successive Exalted Rulers were W. U. Simonds, John B. Maloney, Ramon Alvarez, W. Hunt Harris, George L. Bartlum, William R. Porter, Charles R. Pierce, W. Hunt Harris, Jefferson B. Browne, William L. Bates, Henry H. Taylor, Eugene W. Russell and Charles R. Curry, the present incumbent.
Key West Lodge has been four times honored with the appointment of a District Deputy Grand Exalted Ruler for South Florida. Hon. W. Hunt Harris in 1904; Judge Ramon Alvarez in 1906; Hon. Jefferson B. Browne in 1910, and reappointed in 1911.
On May 8, 1905, Key West Council No. 1015, order of the Knights of Columbus, was organized with thirty-six charter members. The first Grand Knight was Mr. F. C. Brossier. Its meetings are held in St. Joseph’s, College on Simonton street. The present membership is sixty-five. The Grand Knights for the successive years were Messrs. P. J. McMahon, A. P. Jerguson, Walter W. Thompson, Henry Haskins and Ulric E. Albury.
The Redmen, Knights of the Golden Eagle, Owls, Eagles and Moose, each have local lodges in the city.