By Jason Dzembo
Nestled back on a grassy hill, just off the intersection of Hill Road and State Route 7, sits an unassuming green building. This building, the Grange Hall, is also the current home of Van Rensselaer-Star No. 400, F. & A.M., a stalwart Lodge of Freemasons, working to improve themselves and the communities in which they live. Van Rensselaer Lodge No. 400 traces its founding to February, 1856, when its first meeting, under the dispensation from the Grand Lodge of the State of New York, was held in the old Phoenix Hotel. Five men were initiated into Freemasonry at that first meeting. At the time it was known simply as the Hoosick Lodge. When the Charter was granted in July of that year, the name was formally changed to Van Rensselaer Lodge No. 400. The initial officers of the Lodge included Worshipful Master Charles Grover, Senior Warden Samuel Crosbee and Junior Warden David Ball.
Ball, together with two other founding members – Hezekiah Munsell, Jr. and Seneca Dorr – had previously been members of Van Rensselaer’s predecessor in Hoosick, Federal Lodge No. 33. Like many Lodges in New York State, this previous Lodge had closed its doors during the 1820’s as a result of infamous “Morgan Affair.” And thus, for a short time, was Masonry absent from the town of Hoosick. Van Rensselaer Lodge continued to meet in the Phoenix Hotel until the building was destroyed by fire in 1876. Arrangements were immediately made with Honorable Walter A. Wood to procure a new home for the Lodge, where it continued to meet for at least the next twenty years. The Lodge continued growing and, by 1897, had 170 Brothers, making it the largest “secret” organization in the town of Hoosick at that time.
Star Lodge No. 670, F. & A.M, formerly of Petersburgh, can be considered one of the pioneer Lodges in our area, with roots dating back to the Revolutionary War. The Lodge’s initial charter was revoked and recalled due to lapses in paperwork. In July of 1868, Star Lodge was able to again meet, now under its new Official charter, and under the leadership of Worshipful Master, C.C. Bedell. Star Lodge thrived for about a century until, in the early 1970’s, they sold their building in Petersburgh and merged with Van Rensselaer, to form their present incarnation: Van Rensselaer Star Lodge No. 400.
Freemasonry in New York State, and elsewhere around the world, has seen a sharp decline over the last couple of decades. Membership development and retention have been a growing concern for many Lodges as Masonry evolves to remain relevant in a changing and technological world. Nestled in our rural surroundings, Van Rensselaer-Star is no different. Currently at 18 members, it has become the “little Lodge that could” within its District, which encompasses eastern New York State from Clifton Park to Warrensburg. Circumstances have not been helped by the Coronavirus pandemic and governmental restrictions on the size of public meetings. Like most other Lodges, Van Rensselaer-Star has been meeting online for several months, and observing other standard social distancing practices. Nevertheless, the Lodge remains in the public eye and has continued its charitable works. Scholarships are given to graduating seniors of the Hoosick Falls Central School District each spring. With the increase in food insecurity, due to the pandemic, the Lodge voted last December to donate $5,000 to the Hoosick Area Church Association’s food pantry. In addition to their regular rent, the Lodge makes regular donations to the Hoosick Falls Historical Society. And plans are in the works to establish a benevolence fund, using money in the Lodge accounts from the sale of Star Lodge’s Petersburg building, for the continued benefit of Hoosick, Hoosick Falls, and the surrounding community.
Because the Lodge currently rents from the Grange Hall, storage space is limited. Many of the Lodges historical treasures are on indefinite loan to the Hoosick Falls Historical Society and are proudly displayed in their second room floor in the museum. Among the documents, pictures and plaques to be found there is a simple framed Masonic apron. Freemasons wear such aprons during their meetings or public events in honor of the operative stonemasons from which most of the emblems and symbols of the Fraternity’s tenets are derived. The white apron is meant to signify a purity of heart and a nobleness of mind. It is an honor, then, for the Lodge to have on display a Masonic apron that is believed to have been worn by George Washington (who was himself a Mason) during a visit to Vermont. A short explanation of this apron’s history can be found alongside it at the Historical Society. If you are interested in learning more about Van Rensselaer-Star Lodge, or Freemasonry in general, contact the Lodge Secretary, Jason Dzembo, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or check out www.nymasons.org.