Fraternity celebrates a landmark few others can matchIn 1853, Millard Fillmore was president and Oregon still a territory when a group of fellows wearing aprons created a piece of Astoria history, practicing Masonic rituals and spreading goodwill while Indian wars raged to the south.

Now, 150 years after gaining their charter, today's members of Seaport Lodge No. 7 Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of Oregon are donning their regalia to mark an anniversary few North Coast organizations can match.

INFO.BOXWhat: Seaport Lodge No. 7, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of Oregon in in Astoria will mark its 150th anniversary.

When: noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, building tours and information; 3 p.m. ceremony; All events are open to the public.

Where: Masonic Temple, 1572 Franklin Ave., Astoria.

More details: Contact Dan Crockett, master, 325-8855.

• Anyone interested in leaning more about the Masons is invited to attend a salmon dinner at the lodge 6:30 p.m. Wednesday; the regular meetings are on the second Wednesday of each month, except July and August.

Grand Lodge of Oregon on the Web: (www.masonic-oregon.com)The public is invited to the Masonic Temple at 1572 Franklin Ave. Saturday afternoon to tour the building and learn about the fraternity, which draws on architectural allusions to inspire upright lives. The Grand Master of Oregon, Gareth J. Duggan, will be among guests at a 3 p.m. ceremony.

"We are trying to make it a community event," said Dan Crockett, a retired U.S. Marine Corps captain, who is master of the lodge. "If visitors have any questions about Masonry, they should be able to find answers."

'I like the brotherhood'Freemasons meet around the world, claiming links to the medieval craftsmen who built Europe's gothic cathedrals. Although secretive about rituals, passwords and initiation ceremonies, members are known for their charitable work.

Crockett moved to the community two years ago, having attended lodges in Kansas and Arizona. "Being master of the lodge is a pleasure, and it's an honor to be chosen," he said.

He was initiated into a military lodge while serving in Okinawa, Japan, in 1954. That year, Ernest E. "Ernie" Brown, Astoria's oldest active Mason, moved to town. Like his father-in-law, John E. Wicks, who came west to Astoria in 1905, Brown was an architect (as was his wife, Ebba).

LORI ASSA - The Daily Astorian

Photographs of past masters and group photos of officers hang on display in the library of the Masonic Temple. Secretary Ron Collman, left, and master Dan Crockett do a little cleaning Monday in preparation for Saturday's 150th anniversary ceremony.Retired but still perky at 92, he reflected fondly on the benefits of lodge attendance.

"I like the moral standards that Masonry represents," said Brown, who wielded the gavel in 1988 and again in 1994. "They are not puffed up. They are basic standards of conduct than men should abide by."

Local Masons no longer sponsor a DeMolay chapter for young men - St. Helens is the closest - but encourage academic achievements and raise money for nursing scholarships.

"I like the brotherhood, the meetings, and finding out what's going on in Astoria - and how can we influence the kids to lead good lives," said Brown, the lodge's chaplain.

Records lostSky Olsen of Astoria serves as junior warden - third in command - of Seaport 7. Researching its history, he had to rely on newspaper accounts and Grand Lodge of Oregon archives because most local records at the first lodge building on Ninth Street were destroyed in the Great Fire of 1922.

"The only thing they got out were the charter and the officers' jewels," said Olsen, a gunsmith.

The story begins in 1853 when Dr. Freeman Farnsworth, John Hunt and R.M. Moore petitioned the Grand Lodge for permission to start a lodge. They were granted a charter as Temple Lodge No. 7 in 1854 with Freeman serving as first master and H.B. Summers and the pioneering Adam Van Dusen as wardens. Later, his son, Brenham Van Dusen, served as master in Astoria, then was the state's Grand Master in 1891.

Members helped form three more North Coast lodges, Evergreen 133 in Seaside (1908), Gateway 175 in Warrenton (1921) and Harbor 183 in Astoria (1923).

After the fire, Oregon and California Masons contributed money to rebuild. The temple that stands today at 16th Street and Franklin Avenue was dedicated in 1924.

Some 300 Masons, including many past masters, attended the 100th anniversary celebration in 1954, when Anthony Canessa, master during the fire, and Albert Porter, who followed him, burned the mortgage. The next key date was 1980, when the temple was renovated at a cost of $60,000.

Declining membershipTemple and Harbor lodges merged in 1993 to become Seaport No. 7, reflecting diminishing numbers. Nationally, few young men petition to join, which members attribute to weakening values and television-focused lifestyles.

"It's not just Masons, it's Odd Fellows, Elks, everyone," said Brown. "It's an overall attitude. Maybe it's a mark of our times that everybody is so darned busy that they don't have time."

The temple has been modernized, with a chair lift and brighter illumination, though rings set in the sidewalk for visitors to tie up their horses linger from a bygone age.

Donald Link will be awarded his 50-year pin this week, but such dedication is rare. Astoria lists 156 members, but attendance on the second Wednesday of each month isn't that high.

Edward Aho served a stint in the Merchant Marine, then joined the U.S. Coast Guard before ending his federal career with the postal service. As senior deacon, he wants the organization's values to survive.

"One of the things that I have seen written about Masonry," Aho said, "is that it 'makes good men better.'"

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