Published January 8, 2018 in the Liberty Hill Independent.
At a time when emptied Masonic lodges across the country are being turned into movie theatres and apartments, a new generation of young men in Liberty Hill are helping keep alive one of its oldest downtown institutions.
“Young men are finding that they can talk here about questions, deep questions, that they can’t talk about in other places,” says Gene Eaves, a Master Mason for the better part of 40 years.
Standing in the upstairs of the lodge, a long ceremonial chamber, Eaves and the other Freemasons are gathered for their Tuesday night study sessions, when they learn, teach, and practice the complicated rites that have survived generations.
A pair of gilded columns stands in front of an altar, on which sits a Bible and a sword.
Every object in the room has a symbolic purpose, explains Master Mason Ted Robertson, a 10-year member of Lodge #432 in downtown Liberty Hill. Learning them is part of the arduous and complicated rituals that initiates must learn on their way to becoming full-fledged members.
“I don’t know if it’s because of a change in education, but these guys are like sponges. They soak up a lot more information and a lot faster,” Master Mason Brent Taylor said of the new members. “These last three or four gentlemen we’ve had come through here, they’re smart as whips.”
Details of the rituals are made more difficult to learn by the Masonic decree that nothing should be written down, a rule that has helped keep them secret for generations. Initiates must instead listen closely to their seniors.
The Liberty Hill lodge, while still “small town and rural,” as Lodge Master Don Walker describes it, has still managed to keep a consistent count above 60 or so Master Masons with these new younger members. Attendance at their monthly meetings, held every second Saturday evening, has also been unusually high.
The Liberty Hill lodge has existed since 1875. In 1967, the Liberty Hill lodge had 65 active members. In 2007, they had 56 active members. Today, they have 60 active members.
The chapter’s stability comes in contrast with national and state trends, which have shown a decline since the post-World War II era. Baby boomers, the Masons say, were by and large uninterested in their father’s fraternity.
Across Texas, membership in 1967 was 241,706. In 2007, it was 108,064. Today, it has dropped to 71,274.
“We’ve needed the younger crowd to get involved,” said Master Mason Ted Robertson, a 10-year member of Lodge #432 in downtown Liberty Hill. “Masonry helped build this country, whether people want to realize it or not.”
During the 10 years of the Republic of Texas, Masons filled some 80 percent of the republic’s higher offices, despite being only 1.5 percent of the population, according to the Texas State Historical Association. All of the presidents, vice presidents, and secretaries of state were Masons. After statehood, five out of the first six governors were Masons.
“We’ve had a few old-timers pass on, but we’ve managed to break even, and maybe even stay a little ahead of the game,” Eaves says.
But pointing to a painting of famous American Masons, including Benjamin Franklin and the astronaut Buzz Aldrin, he hints at another view with a longer scope, and a characteristic Masonic reading of history.
“Masonry tends to come and go in cycles through the ages.”