From historic downtown, Free Masons seek opportunities to make a difference

John Brengle, past Master of the Lodge, stands in the upstairs room of the Masonic Hall where members conduct their rituals and ceremonies that have been passed down for centuries.  Brengle says members are sworn to secrecy. (Dana Delgado Photo)

John Brengle, past Master of the Lodge, stands in the upstairs room of the Masonic Hall where members conduct their rituals and ceremonies that have been passed down for centuries. Brengle says members are sworn to secrecy. (Dana Delgado Photo)

By Dana Delgado

The stately, old limestone building yearns to tell its tale.

Its aged limestone blocks towering two stores are blackened at the top. Beneath those darkened age spots one can faintly see, etched in stone, the numbers 1883, the year the building was completed.

Resting in the middle of seven buildings in Liberty Hill’s historic downtown, the structure stands as a testament to the town’s storied beginnings. Built by Scottish-born John Munro to house his hardware store downstairs and the Free Masons upstairs, both stories of the building are now owned and occupied by the Liberty Hill Masons who received their charter in 1875.

The local Masons had met in the Methodist Church in town but convinced Munro, a Free Mason himself, to add a story to house the local organization. Originally, Munro thought about building three stories to his structure, but was dissuaded on the belief that it would be too unstable at that height.

Although 131 years old, the building remains relatively unchanged.  Its flat roof has been modified by installing a new raised roof with a marked incline to prevent further water damage. Inside, the first level has been stripped down to serve as an open eating area for the local chapter. Its high ceilings have been lowered to accommodate heating and cooling systems.

Upstairs remains mostly unchanged since it was designed and constructed as a meeting place in 1883 for the local Free Masons. Antique, ornate ceiling plans are still affixed and functional in the open room.

Now the exclusive home for the local chapter of the Free Masons, the building has hosted many of Liberty Hill’s distinguished men who have shaped the organization to reflect the character of the community.

“Every lodge is different,” said Liberty Hill Free Mason member and Past Master of the Lodge, John Brengle. “This one is family oriented. Anyone is welcomed to the dinner. We meet the second Saturday of every month at 6 p.m. for a potluck dinner. The meeting for members only follows the dinner upstairs at 7 p.m.”

It’s in these “members only meetings” that claims of a secret organization that arose centuries ago have continued to this day.

“Yes, we are sworn to secrecy,” said  Brengle, “and we do strictly follow principles or landmarks and have a beautiful system of morality that is illustrated through symbols vetted through allegory.”

Although the men-only organization of Free Masons are committed to protect their beliefs and principles in their constitution and are prohibited from discussing politics and religion during meetings, they are heavily vested in the community.

“Our motto is to take good men and make them better,” he said, “so they can make the world a better place. In that sense, we are elitist. The whole purpose of initiation is transformation.”

The Liberty Hill lodge, with about 56 members, hosted a Breakfast for Bikes last summer, participated in the Fantastic Teeth Program at the Elementary School where they provided toothbrushes and toothpaste, and donated books to the school district for the Take Time to Read Program. The Masons also present awards of appreciation during Public Education Week.

Brengle said that both his father and grandfather were Free Masons and that he was drawn to the philosophical aspects of the organization.

“I have always been a seeker and studied philosophy in college,” said Brengle. “I looked for a lodge for 10 years.”

The Lodge member, who spent 30 years in construction and logging and has been a business consultant, a writer and respiratory therapist, said he moved to Liberty Hill in 1994 and by 1995 joined the local “down home country” lodge; although, he says he is a member of other lodges including two in Austin and one in Round Rock as permitted by their tenets.

“True thinkers are challenged here,” he said.

“Masons have been around since 800 A.D.,” said Brengle. “The first Grand Lodge was established in London in 1717. About a third of the country’s signers of the Declaration of Independence were Free Masons. Free Masons are everywhere and even in Russia and the Ukraine.”

Brengle said that while Masons have members worldwide, membership numbers have been in decline.

“The largest influx of members were returning World War II veterans,” he said. “That generation is dying off but made it (the organization) so vibrant.”

New members are reportedly ages 18-80 who are seeking meaning in their lives, he said. To become a member, individuals must be male and at least 18 years of age.

“It is based on the firm belief in the Fatherhood of God, the Brotherhood of Man, and the Immortality of the Soul,” added Brengle.

The past Master of the Liberty Hill Lodge further said that Free Masons are a voluntary association of men that uses rites and ceremonies to instruct its members and teaches morality through symbolism as well as the Golden Rule.

The lodge is located at 927 Loop 332 in Liberty Hill.  For more information, send email to Bro. Garlon Evans at GEVANS26@austin.rr.com. Additional information on the local and state organization is available at www.libertyhill432.org and www.grandlodgeoftexas.org.