Making ‘Good Men Better’

Metuchen’s Mount Zion Lodge No. 135 celebrates150 Years of Freemasonry

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In 2024, the Metuchen Freemason fraternity turned 150 years old. However, 150 years of brotherhood is nothing more than one “brick in the castle” for the Freemason organization which was formed by stoneworkers in the 1700s.

Today, they represent the average Joes, the community leaders, dads, uncles, and granddads of Metuchen—find these men and others like them in any town with a local lodge.

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When this fraternal organization is mentioned, what is your first thought? Does your mind jump to the famous line: “I’m gonna steal the Declaration of Independence,” an avowal by Ben Gates (Nicholas Cage) in “National Treasure” (2004)? Or does your mind fly to films like “The Da Vinci Code” (2006) and its portrayal of the Freemasons? When it comes to this order of men, there is fact, there is fiction, and there is still much unknown…

For now, let’s dive into the local history of Freemasonry.

The Metuchen Freemason headquarters is Mt. Zion Lodge.

In 1874, Colonel Joseph Moss formed the Freemason chapter in Metuchen known as Mt. Zion Lodge. Moss was the first Worshipful Master of this club.

Prior to that in 1863, a lodge was formed in Woodbridge, and Freemasons from Metuchen would travel there for meetings.

“Back then it would have taken two hours on a horse,” said current day Freemason and the lodge’s historian Bill Bodycombe. “So, three Master Masons of [the Woodbridge] lodge got 10 people together along with permission from the Grand Lodge.

“You have to put forward a plan to fill office chairs, and rules say you can’t have a meeting without seven people filling the top chairs.”

Other prominent members at that time included Nathan Robins whose brother had a private railway station.

“There’s no sign of [the station] now but Nathan Robins owned Robins Hall [on Main Street] and the post office was in his building,” Bodecomb said. “He was president of Eagle Fire Brigade. So, getting a prominent businessman like him in the lodge was important.”

There was also “Charles Bloomfield who had been a New York lawyer but had a big estate in Metuchen.”

“He discovered clay on his property, and he started Bloomfield Clay Company which became a significant employer in the area,” Bodecomb noted.

In 2006, Bodecomb joined the Metuchen Freemasons of Mt. Zion No. 135 after moving from the town of Middlesbrough, England where he was living and teaching for 34 years.

In fact the first Grand Lodge was formed in England on June 24, 1717, according to the history of Freemasonry written by RW Michael Neuberger, who served as grand historian for the Grand Lodge of New Jersey in Trenton in 2017.

Lodges in Ireland and Scotland soon followed in 1725 and 1736, respectively.

Before it was a thing to do, Bodecomb met his now-wife online and moved to the United States. Today, Bodecomb has published his work specifically about Free and Accepted Masons—summarizing the history of Mt. Zion Lodge along with added historical context.

Since being recognized in 1874, Mt. Zion Lodge headquarters could be found in multiple locations within Metuchen. Today, Metuchen Masons meet at 483 Middlesex Ave.

“In 1927 the Trustees of the Lodge purchased this building from the Metuchen Club and remained in ownership until 2010,” said Bodecomb. “At the time, the lodge couldn’t afford upkeep and maintenance for a building of that size and age.

“So, Malcom Wernik [whose brother Donald served as Metuchen’s 29th mayor] brokered the deal, and the YMCA bought the building. We were given a license to use the Masonic bit for perpetuity.

“But we lost members over that…,” recalled Bodecomb. “They said, ‘How could you sell the building?’ The fact was that we spent $37,000 per year to maintain it. So, it had to be done to put lots of money in the bank… Now, the building is named the Wernik House.”

The Wernick House is the fourth location that has served the Metuchen Freemasons since 1874.

The first location was in the “Greason Building [owned by founding member George Greason], then it was moved to Robins Hall which still exists [at 401 Main Street],” Bodecomb said. “Mason Robins owned the building, and the lodge rented the top floor [for $200 per year] … The third location was then called Metuchen National Bank and has since been taken over by Manasquan Bank.”

Current day Metuchen Masons

So, for 97 years the Wernick House has been a meeting place for Masons in Metuchen. For the most part, today’s Masons are no longer settling untouched land, building up Metuchen, nor riding horses. So, what does a Freemason do in 2024?

On June 28, the Metuchen Masons are holding a “big gala” which is a fun shindig for the fraternity members to invite Masons, Metuchen’s community members, and friends to an evening at the Pines Manor in Edison where 150 people are expected to be in attendance.

Evenings like these are aimed to bring light to an organization which strives to “make good men better.” This is a phrase echoed from Bodecomb as well as from George Matthes who serves as Worshipful Master of the lodge.

George Matthes

“We’re a fellowship with brothers who focus on developing ourselves,” Matthes said. “We reinforce the commonly understood code and the golden rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’”

Matthes is a father, husband, and IT professional from Metuchen.

“I went into this with some spare time and knew a couple members,” he said. “I went to develop friendships and connections. I began to focus more on my family and doing good work.”

Matthes said in order to become a Mason, every member believes in a God and although the group does not talk about religious or politics in the lodge, “there’s a lot of tolerance here to develop spiritually, morally, and behave as a good citizen.”

“That’s the summary of it all right there,” he said.

Each year at every Masonic Lodge throughout the world, there is a new Master of the Lodge—and Metuchen is no different. This year, the leader is Matthes who has been involved for the last eight years. To Matthes, the most important takeaways from Masonry are about brotherhood and community.

“The guys meet, and they do social things… Cook steaks, wear silly hats like the fez, and get together for different reasons,” Matthes explained. “Each member gets out of it what they want. Everyone is on their own journey. So, if you like to do research and write, you can present to your brothers. Others just like to hang out and eat together. It’s our own little world.”

From the interview with Matthes to the historical conversation with Bodecomb, the overall gist was about uplifting Masonic members, their businesses, families, and the community overall.

To that point, Masonry is not all just extravagant parties, evenings with important folk, and cooking meats with the bros (even if those are the top reasons for membership in this town). The Metuchen Masons also make it part of their mission to give back to their community.

At Mt. Zion, we are a drop site for the charity Moms Helping Moms,” said Matthes. “We have events where we collect diapers from the community and shuttle them.”

Additionally, it’s generally understood that if a Mason is in trouble or going through hardship, that the brothers will be there to offer support. In most cases, this support comes in forms like moving a heavy TV or couch. Other times, Masons support brothers’ families through hard times or family emergencies, God forbid.

The Short of a Long Freemason History

The Freemasons started as just that: Stoneworkers. By definition, a “Freemason” is a Master Mason (or stoneworker) who has been inducted into this brotherhood. Today, most members are not stoneworkers though—and as a result the term “Accepted Mason” came to acknowledge these brothers.

But where did it all come from? Bill Bodycombe has spent hours upon hours of his life trying to answer this question. Even still: “Nobody knows,” he says.

Bodecombe held up a book called “Born In Blood” during a FaceTime interview…

“This book here has a diatribe saying Masons were part of the Knights Templar movement. That’s very nice, but there’s no proof,” he said. “We know that Masonry existed in Scotland during the time of James I, who became James VI of England. We identify Masonry beginning in 1717 when the Grand Lodge of England was founded. Before that, there were individual lodges… And that was the first overarching authority.

“Early Masons would meet in pubs. And Master Masons built castles after a long apprenticeship,” Bodecomb said. “These men would write secret signs to ID themselves as Master Masons. They wore aprons to protect their clothing and to ID the level of masonry they were at,”

The Masons rebuilt London after the Great Fire of London in 1666 where “a third of the city burned down – churches, firehouses, and more.

“The [Masons] became extremely important people,” Bodecomb said. “They formed guilds. When the building was done the groups became small. So, they started to admit others.”

Even still, over the years (whether by design or by coincidence) Freemasons held positions of power throughout the world.

The history and lore goes on. Freemasonry is certainly a rabbit hole, confirmed by Bodecomb and his wife who forfeited her husband for months while he worked on a publication about Masonry in Metuchen and beyond.

Despite all of it, most of what remains is just a group of men who have each other’s back as they try to uphold traditions. Each lodge has its own personality, goals, and missions. But all Masons try to uphold traditions as best they can, and of course continue “making good men better.”

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