Cataract Lodge No.2: Our History

by WB Joel Friedman
(edited by WB Mark Campbell)

posted on July 10th, 2024


The origins of Cataract Lodge began back on 13 December 1851 when Dr Alfred Elisha Ames along with eight other Masons petitioned the Grand Lodge of Freemasons of Illinois for dispensation to form a Masonic Lodge in the then St Anthony (the forerunner of Minneapolis). Then Grand Master of Illinois, Thomas Pickett, granted the request and Cataract Lodge #121 of the Grand Lodge of Illinois was thereafter chartered on 5 October 1852. It was at that time one of only three Masonic Lodges in the Minnesota Territory, with statehood still six years away.

Dr Alfred Elisha Ames

The first Lodge meeting or Stated Communication of Cataract Lodge was held on 14 February 1852 with only the nine charter members in attendance. Within the next eight months when the Lodge’s charter was issued, the Lodge had raised 30 Master Masons and received an additional 42 petitioners. That first meeting was held in the parlor of Ard Godfrey’s home with his wife, Helen, guarding the door to keep off all cowans and eavesdroppers. Their daughter Helen recalled, We couldnt even peep through the keyhole [1],” and of her duties it was said, “She discharged there duties of that office in a very commendable manner [2].”

Godfrey House (current and in the 1850s)
Dr Ames, originally from Vermont, moved to Illinois in 1836 at the age of 22 and became deeply involved with state politics as Deputy Secretary of State and both State Senator and Representative. He subsequently graduated from Rush Medical College and for health reasons moved to Minnesota in 1851 establishing a medical practice in partnership with Dr JH Murphy in St Anthony which would not become incorporated until 1855. Of those founding members of the Lodge, many are familiar names in the history of the developing state. William Smith of Maine, was among the first to farm East of St Anthony. Isaac Brown, originally from Maine, served as the first sheriff of Hennepin County. Ard Godfrey supervised the building of the first commercial dam powering  the St Anthony lumber mill.

Ard Godfrey

Colonel John H. Stevens of Quebec was among the earliest residents on the West bank of the Mississippi. He was granted a site within the Fort Snelling Military Reservation, in exchange for providing ferrying services across the river. His restored home is familiar to Minneapolitans as a museum in Minnehaha Park. John Stevens would serve as both state senator and representative. Daniel Coolbaugh of Pennsylvania was responsible for the construction of many of the stone buildings in St Anthony. Hezekiah Smith Atwood of Nova Scotia was prominent in the furniture industry. Colonel Emanuel Case of New York established the first mercantile in St Anthony and would serve with distinction in the Civil War.

Additionally, even prior to receiving their first charter, Cataract had among its members such distinguished personages as Isaac Atwater (lawyer and historian), Anson Northrup (Steamboat captain), Franklin Steele (First to stake land north of Ft Snelling), Dr JH Murphy (physician and partner to Dr Ames), and Charles Stearns (politician and namesake for Stearns County). The Lodge was so named to reflect its proximity to St Anthony Falls, and would come to inhabit several homes. The first regular meetings from 1852 to 1856 were held in rented space at Main Street NE and 4th Avenue.

First Lodge Hall rented by Cataract Lodge No.2 in 1853

The next two years were at the Tremont House, followed by the Rollins Building until 1874, which was originally owned by the Crown Iron Works. The Lodge would come to purchase six lots at Bank Street SE and University Avenue on which they would build their first Lodge owned Masonic Hall.

The Captain John Rollins’ Building 1857 - 1874

This site came to be termed the ‘Old Lodge’ and its cornerstone was laid in August 11, 1874 with suitable pomp and circumstance. The event was reported in the Minneapolis Daily Tribune,"There were about eight hundred Masons in procession, and they presented a very creditable appearance. The police were out in their new uniforms, and for the first time in the history of the city, a procession was preceded by a good-looking, well-dressed platoon of policemen.... It was about three o'clock when the procession came up University Avenue to the spot where the new building is being erected, and the procession having formed in a hollow square, the ceremonies of laying the cornerstone were gone through with." 

Old Lodge exterior and Lodge room

The building was completed on 28th December 1874 and deemed to be,"...the finest in the state." By the fiftieth anniversary in 1902 of the chartering of the Lodge, membership had grown to 416 brothers. By 1914, it was apparent that the Lodge would need a larger space and several plans were considered before the Late Gothic Revival plans drwan up by the firm of Fallows, Huey, and Macomber was accepted. The cornerstone was laid with proper Masonic pomp and circumstance on August 11, 1925 at the new site at Central Avenue and 4th Street, exactly 51 years after laying the cornerstone of the "Old Lodge." - The Minneapolis Sunday reported it cost $325,000 [3]. 

Once completed the five story building would accomodate six Masonic groups with retail space on the first floor and office space on the second. It was a spectacular space with its main Lodge Hall on the uppermost floor. This was the Gold or Greek Room measuring nearly 4,500 square feet and equipped with a 21 foot proscenium stage in the west. In addition to the ornate details in gold, the room was flanked by Doric columns behind which were pastoral murals. In the East, a large, beautifully ornate stained glass was behind the Master’s chair and the ceiling featured a artfully designed representation of the sky. In addition to this main Lodge Hall there was also the smaller Blue or Roman room measuring just over 1,500 square feet and featuring Roman pilasters along the side walls. All this was in addition to a spacious Banquet and Ballroom.

Aveda Building exterior and interior
Unfortunately, two events made this site infeasible to maintain. Firstly, over the two decades, Cataract saw a steep incline in property taxes and coupled with this was the loss of nearly 800 active members. These Masons ultimately demitted to instead become affiliated with the newly chartered University Lodge. With increased expenditures and decreased revenue, Cataract was forced to sell and returned to the ‘Old Lodge’ at University and Bank.

Subsequently, with the changing demographics of the area, it was elected to build a new lodge closer to many of the members and a site in Golden Valley, a first ring suburb of Minneapolis, was chosen. Brother Benjamin Gingold drew up the architectural plans based on recommendations put forth by the Building Committee (Thomas Townsend, Robert Labo and Frank Harris). The one floor 4,500 square foot lodge on Glenwood Avenue was designed with handicapped access in mind in a functional, non-ornate structure. Because of zoning restrictions and the lot lines, the hall was oriented in a North-South direction rather than the usual East-West. Groundbreaking occurred on 28 July 1961 with a dedication ceremony on 21 July 1962. Unusually, there was no cornerstone ceremony and instead a bronze plaque was instead used.

Golden Valley Site
There followed a period of tremendous growth in membership for the Lodge, so much so that it became difficult to accommodate the many petitioning candidates owing the the restriction imposed by the Grand Lodge to limit candidates in any given ritual to no more than ten. As a result, the Lodge took to having four Ritual cycles per year in order to meet the needs of the community. However, again faced with rising property taxes, the Lodge could not continue to afford to stay in Golden Valley and in 1978 came to lease space from Richfield Lodge No 334 who, in concert with Century Lodge No 338 had built the Richfield Lodge Hall in 1959.
Richfield Masonic Center
Then in 2000, the site of the Richfield Lodge Hall was rezoned by the City of Richfield resulting in the loss of ownership of the site by eminent domaine from the city as of March 2001. This was apparently precipitated by the City Fathers’ desire to accommodate the building of the Best Buy Corporate Headquarters. The three affected Lodges decided to merge as one under the umbrella of Cataract’s charter and subsequently call as their home leased space from Minnehaha Lodge No 165.
[1] MacGregor, Ardis, Restoration of the Ard Godfrey House,” Hennepin History, Winter 1979-1980, Vol. 38, No. 4
[2] Centennium 1853-1953: the first 100 years of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota
[3] Minneapolis Sunday Tribune, May 9, 1926, page 8.