Freemasonry, being one of the oldest of the world’s fraternal organisations, has had a long history in Wagga Wagga, dating back to 1860 when the first known letter relative to the formation of a Lodge in this town was written on 22 May 1860. Wagga’s first Masonic Lodge was founded on 24 June 1861, as Lodge Harmony 410 SC.
Some of the oldest original correspondence held by the CSU Regional Archives can be found in the Freemasonry Collection [RW2463], the very oldest being a letter written on 11 April 1846 at 35 Bloomsbury Street, London. The material in this collection was largely gathered over a long period by Wor Bro P.A. Mills and was kept in a safe at the Lodge-room. The collection has been transferred in several instalments to the CSU Regional Archives for preservation since 2002.
The site of the first Masonic Hall that was to be built in Wagga was on the allotment of the “Waterview” estate. The contractor was James Markey. James Calder from Sydney was the Architect and the Superintendent of Works, Thomas Hodson.
Laying the foundation stone, 6 October 1870 (from the Freemasonry Collection, CSURA RW2463/816)
The gala event which was the laying of the foundation stone of the Hall, held on Thursday 6 October 1870, had been something the Wagga Masons had been looking forward to for many years. The headquarters of Lodge Harmony had been the Commercial Hotel (which we now know as Romano’s) and for this occasion the Hotel reportedly looked quite majestic with decorations.
The ceremony was to have begun at 3pm; however, the Wagga Wagga Advertiser reported that well beforehand, “…the streets were gay with people come to witness the scene; and what with the smart dresses of the ladies, the handsome “regalia” of the Oddfellows and the lively uniform of the Town Band, the main street of Wagga never looked so brilliant.” The Oddfellows had offered their assistance for the occasion and joined the Masons as they marched from their Lodge at the Commercial, led by Worshipful Master A.J. Hooke Esq.
Mr. Murray, the oldest Mason in the district and the last remaining founding member of Lodge Harmony, presented the ceremonial silver trowel to the Right Worshipful Master, Bro Alfred John Hooke, who officially “laid” the foundation stone. Local newspapers and the Sydney Morning Herald, as well as some coins of the day, were placed in a cavity and the stone was lowered to solemn music played by the band, followed by prayer. A mixture of corn, wine and oil was poured over the stone after which the band played ‘Rule Britannia.’
(right to left) The Commercial Hotel, the Criterion Hotel, and the Masonic Hall in Fitzmaurice Street, 1891 (from the Gormly Collection, RW98/25)
When completed, the Hall became quite an asset for the people of Wagga. It was used for a wide variety of entertainment, as it had a stage, a gallery, supper and dressing rooms and a good floor for dancing.
On the evening of the October 15, 1880 there was a terrible fire that destroyed the Masonic Hall
, the Masons’ Arms, the Criterion Hotel and a number of other buildings. The roof of the Masonic Hall, being shingles, caught on fire and could not be contained. Mr. Edney, a draper, and Mrs. McGregor, the fancy goods and tobacconist, who occupied the shops under the front of the Hall, lost considerable stock.
The Hall was rebuilt soon afterwards in Fitzmaurice Street and was later owned by the Loyal Southern Star IOOF Manchester Unity Friendly Society (the Oddfellows) and was also the Oxford Theatre, the Oxford Furnishing Company and Jeremy Brown Pty. Ltd until it was torn down in the 1960s.