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Poulsbo's Masonic Lodge is moving from its home of 92 years
POULSBO — The Warren G. Harding Masonic Lodge No. 260 is tied to downtown history like lutefisk is to lefse.
The lodge has occupied the third floor of the Eliason Building since the 1920s; the building was owned by E.J. Eliason, son of the man credited with founding Poulsbo.
The lodge was named after President Harding and is arguably the first permanent tribute to the late president, as it was so named only two days after Harding’s death.
The lodge shared the third floor with a net loft and, during World War II, the Ration Board (where the kitchen and storage closets are).
In the ensuing years, the lodge would be a constant amid change downtown, and in the lower floors of its own building. The building also emerged unscathed from two considerable fires downtown.
After returning home from World War II service as a P51 pilot, Glenn Haskin used to light the building’s four oil stoves early in the morning so the building would be warm when the Masons arrived. He would later become the lodge’s leader, and has been a Mason for 65 years.
Needless to say, Haskin is not supportive of the lodge’s impending move from its home of 92 years.
“I didn’t vote for it,” he said Thursday. “I would like to see them build on a couple of lots here in town instead of out in the country.”
The lodge’s move from downtown won’t happen any time soon. But the lodge purchased land at Clear Creek and Rude roads, just outside the town limits (take Finn Hill Road to Rude Road to Clear Creek Road).
Lodge Secretary Skip Nielsen said the lodge is going through the county permitting process. “We’ve got an architect and we’ve got some help (doing) ground surveys and wetland surveys. This project is at the very beginning.”
The lodge’s website has photos of work done to date. Lodge members put up 600 feet of electric fence to keep a neighbor’s horses out. The next project is to keep the land mowed and to start clearing some of the growth near Clear Creek. Red flags mark wetland areas.
The property is about five acres, according to the website.
Nielsen said the current building is not in bad condition, “but it needs some work. It was built in the early 1900s and in order to meet all the new building codes, it would cost us several thousands upon thousands of dollars.”
The lodge sold the building in 2004 because of the anticipated costs of renovation. “We got an offer and decided to do that, but we did it with the intent to build (a new lodge) elsewhere,” Nielsen said. “We want to be a Poulsbo lodge. We looked at buildings, but all of the ones we looked at, it would have been too much for us to renovate.”
Another problem, Nielsen said, is membership has dropped and the building is too big for the lodge’s needs.
“In the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, we were much bigger. We had need for all this space,” Nielsen said. He estimates the current space is 4,000 square feet. He said the new building will be about the same size, but with more storage.
Haskin doesn’t know how many members the lodge has now, but he remembers when there were more than 1,000 on the roster. Members ranged from dues payers to actively involved to away on military service.
He thinks the opening of lodges close by — there are seven in District 12 — has drained members from established lodges.
Haskin, 87, believes downtown is going to lose an important part of its history. He remembers when the lodge bustled with activity. Masonic youth organizations — Order of DeMolay, Job’s Daughters, Rainbow Girls, as well as Order of the Amaranth and the Order of the Eastern Star — met here.
Then in the 1960s, there was the Indianola Invasion. Masons from Seattle who had summer homes in Indianola “would invade our lodge Thursday nights,” Haskin said.
“Twenty to 25 people from Indianola. We had a real ball.”
Roots in Port Gamble
The Poulsbo lodge’s genesis is rooted in Port Gamble. In 1920, members of the Franklin Lodge No. 5 living in or near Poulsbo began considering a starting a lodge closer to home; travel then was quite an ordeal.
They formed the Masonic Club and rented the third floor of the Eliason Building in Poulsbo. A petition to institute the club as a lodge was filed two days after President Harding’s death, and so they asked that the lodge be given its current name.
The lodge became official on Sept. 4, 1923.
According to two books on Poulsbo history, “Poulsbo: Its First Hundred Years” and “The Spirit of Poulsbo,” the Eliason Building was built in 1907-08. Over the years, first- and second-floor tenants included the U.S. Post Office; Eliasen General Store & Fountain; Wallace Jewelry; Paulson, Hostmark, Borgen General Merchandise; the Kitsap County Co-Operative Association; and the Poulsbo Library.
In 1960, the lodge bought the building from the Kitsap County Co-Operative Association. The lodge owned the building for 44 years.
The local Masonic Lodge conducts several philanthropic projects in the community. The lodge awards scholarships to graduating high school seniors. It awards a bicycle to the top reader at Hildur Pearson Elementary School, and buys musical instruments for students at Kingston High School.