The Supreme Council of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry for the Northern Masonic jurisdiction issued a dispensation to thirty-three Scottish Rite Masons from various other Valleys having in or near Bloomington, for the institution of a Lodge of Perfection in the new Valley of Bloomington. The date was December 19, 1907. The petition for Bloomington Lodge of Perfection had been prepared and filed by Delmar Duane Darrah, 33°. Many of the petitioners with him became famous in the Masonic history of the area. Many were leading citizens of the community, as William R. Bach, 33°, John W Probasco, 33°, Harry M. Palmer, 33°, and Doctor Harry L. Powell, 33°...men who have stamped their names indelibly on the historical records of McLean County.
On the evening of January 4, 1908, Ill. Amos Pettibone, 33° Deputy for Illinois, came to Bloomington and instituted the Lodge which began to function immediately in the election of candidates. On January 24th, sixty-five were elected, others followed and at the first initiation on March 25, 1908 there were ninety-two candidates. In this class were many civic leaders and men who were to become Masonic leaders, including Charles L. Capen, N.B. Carson, Howard H. Frank, 33°, Alonzo Dolan, 33°, Robert F. Empson, 33°, Dr. Frank Fisher, 33°, William Blake Leach, Nimrod Mace, 33°, George W Pumphrey and Austin H. Scogin, 33°, who ten years later was Grand Master of the Grand Lodge A.F. and A.M. of Illinois.
The Masonic Temple at the time occupied a portion of the fourth floor of the present Heritage Plaza Building. All three of the Subordinate Lodges met there -- Bloomington Lodge #43, Wade Barney #512, and Mozart Lodge #665, together with the York Rite, Chapter and Commandery. There was very little scenery or paraphernalia. The bills for scenery for the first reunion amounted to $484.10, and for robes and equipment, $304.00. The degree work was done in an informal fashion and without much stage effect.
A second reunion on May 22 added 38 more members and on September 17, 1908, the era of Dispensation ended and a charter was issued by the Supreme Council. On July 19, 1908 dispensations were issued for Zerubbabel Council, Princes of Jerusalem, and for Mt. Calvary Chapter of Rose Croix. These bodies conferred their first degrees on November 10, 1908, and received their charters on September 23, 1910.
The need for a new Masonic Temple was becoming very obvious. On September 23, 1910, the Lodge of Perfection passed a resolution authorizing participation with other Masonic bodies in building a new Temple on Jefferson Street at Prairie. The cost was to be from $40,000 to $45,000.
The guiding spirit and organizing genius in these moves was Ill. Delmar Duane Darrah, 33°, a college teacher for eighteen years who devoted the latter years of his life to Masonic capacities. He organized all four of the Scottish Rite bodies, serving as presiding officer for one term (3 years at that time) in the Lodge of Perfection, the Chapter and Consistory and served five terms as the presiding officers of the Council, Princes of Jerusalem from 1923 to 1938. He was Secretary of the Bodies from 1915 to 1922. With the exception of a few periods, he was Director of Work from 1915 until his death in 1945. It was he who organized Arts and Crafts Lodge No. 1017 to take over the Scottish Rite share of ownership in the Jefferson Street Temple. He was Grand Master of Illinois in 1910-11, Grand Recorder of the Grand Commandery in the early 1920's. He was made a 33° Mason in 1909, an Active Member of the Supreme Council in 1911, and Deputy for Illinois in 1932. He was a Masonic publisher, an author and a lecturer of wide renown, and at the time of his death he was Grand Lieutenant Commander of the Supreme Council, the second highest office in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite.
The new Temple on Jefferson Street was the scene of the first Consistorial degree work on December 4, 1912. Eighty-eight brethren were made Sublime Princes of the Royal Secret. The dispensation for Bloomington Consistory had been issued on August 5th of that year. The charter was granted on September 18, 1913. According to the 1913 report, the first year's work included 144 candidates. Each year the classes grew in number and the need for a new Temple became a topic of conversation.
On Friday evening, March 23, 1917, at a meeting of the Trustees, a discussion of a new Scottish Rite Temple was recorded in the minutes. The purchase of land at East and Mulberry took place in May 1918 and the building contracts were authorized in November 1919. The first contracting company went bankrupt two months later and Simmons-Dick Co. took over in the spring of 1920 on a contract calling for $305,000. With extras later added, the total cost of the land, building, pipe organ and equipment came to $586,000.
In the beginning of Scottish Rite the fees for the Lodge of Perfection were $25 and when the other bodies were instituted, the fee became $100. This was raised to $125 in 1920 to help finance the Temple. Fees were dropped back to $100 in 1933 and further reduced to $85 in 1934. They were brought back to $100 in 1939 and not raised again until 1981 when they returned to $125.
The Scottish Rite of the Valley of Bloomington has become noted throughout the Masonic world because of the outstanding leadership of men like Delmar Duane Darrah and later, Louis L. Williams, who devoted a lifetime to Masonry and The American Passion Play, an institution dating back to 1924.
The Temple was designed not only for Scottish Rite degree work but also to present the American Passion Play, Mr. Darrah's greatest dramatic work. The Valley of Bloomington and the American Passion Play have prospered through the years because our members believe in supporting this worthwhile production.
The first Reunion in the new Scottish Rite Temple was held on November 28-30, 1921 with 353 candidates. Let no one think, however, that building the Temple was all easy sailing financially. The $200,000 mortgage originally contemplated was soon seen to be insufficient. The bonds of the first mortgage did not sell well following the 1921 economic recession and the interest rate was raised from 5% to 6% to make them more marketable. In 1924, the bond issue was refinanced for $250,000. From this period until the bonds were paid off in 1947, the financial administration of the Temple was a serious matter.
It was a special occasion on January 26, 1947, during the term of Ill. Aaron Brooks, 33°, as Commander-in-Chief of Bloomington Consistory, when the old mortgage was finally paid off. Past Commander-in-Chief, Hal M. Stone, 33°, was privileged to hold the old mortgage when it started to burn. Oscar A. Muhl, 33°, held the tray to catch the ashes. Ill. Melvin M. Johnson, 33°, Sovereign Grand Commander of our Supreme Council was on stage watching the ceremony after which he dedicated the Temple... it was now free of debt.
The membership figures soared from 524 in 1914 to 4,148 in 1924. They remained high for some years. Then came the 1929 depression period, when many had to keep every possible penny for family expenses. The membership figures naturally dropped. The low point was reached in 1942 report with a membership of 1,624. There was steady improvement until the Valley membership totaled 5,303 in 1976.
In the year of 1962, the Valley of Bloomington celebrated its Golden Anniversary with a class of over 400 candidates.. (This large class secured primarily through the leadership and organizational efforts of James H. Bickett, 33°, who served as Secretary of the Valley of Bloomington for twenty-three years.) A group of 100 dedicated Scottish Rite Masons under the leadership of Louis L. Williams, 33°, Harold D. Walters, 33°, Royal J. Barturm, 33°, and Frank D. Hartenstein, 33° Commander-in-Chief planned this great event. The inspiring leadership of Brother Williams, an Active Member of the Supreme Council and later Deputy for Illinois, made this Golden Anniversary a major achievement in the history of the Valley of Bloomington.
In the years following the Golden Anniversary, the valley continued to progress. However, time had taken its toll on the physical condition of the Temple, automobile parking was felt essential and inflation over the last decades had made reserves inadequate to meet these needs. In the earlier days, the Scottish Rite Bodies of the Valley of Bloomington met their needs by appealing to the membership. In 1980-81, the Trustees of the Valley of Bloomington determined to go back to its membership to help meet the needs of maintaining and improving our Temple. A steering committee was appointed by the Commander-in-Chief, Winford H. McElroy, 33° consisting of Harry E. Riddle, Jr., 33°, Barry D. Weer, 33°, Michael S. Weer, 33°, Norman L. Meade, 33°, William B. Munro, 33°, Robert H. Wright, 33°, Robert E. Clark, 33°, R. Wesley Rafferty and Robert Artman, which developed a plan to raise funds to meet the needs of our Temple. Two funds were implemented - The Permanent Fund and The Immediate Needs Fund. As in the past, Louis L. Williams, 33°, and Arlo E. Bane, 33° offered their leadership and advice in serving as advisors of the Committee and being responsible for large advance gifts.
The Immediate Needs Fund accepts contributions which are not restricted in use but which may be used in full to pay for the Immediate Needs of the Temple.
The Permanent Fund accepts contributions which are deposited into an endowment (permanent) fund. The principal is held forever, except should dire need require its use and then only after action by the Fund Trustees, Valley Trustees and membership of the Valley at a Stated Meeting. A major portion of the Permanent Fund was raised through the 600 Club promotion of the drive. A member, at the time, making a $600 contribution to the 600 Club pays no more dues to the Valley for the remainder of his life and the $600 remains forever a memorial to that members interest and support of the Valley.
The opportunity to “join" the 600 Club will remain a continuing opportunity and any member desiring to have his dues paid for life and/or memorialize himself forever in this Valley may do so by talking to any officer or the Executive Secretary.
The valley has since 'sold' the consistory building to the City of Bloomington, but retains the right to hold its reunions in the building. The offices and meetings have moved back to the temple on Jefferson Street, now owned by Bloomington Lodge #43.