Freemasonry in Wisconsin first took an organized form on the night of December 27, 1823, when seven army officers and three civilians met at the home of Brother George Johnston on the west bank of the Fox River in what is now Green Bay. The soldiers were attached to the 3rd US Infantry Regiment, stationed at Fort Howard, under the command of Col. John McNeil, also a Freemason. Wisconsin was then part of the territory of Michigan and very lightly settled. The regiment was there to maintain order and protect the settlers in this vast wilderness.
Desiring to form a lodge, the men sent a petition to the Grand Lodge of New York requesting a charter. Dispensation for the formation of a lodge was granted, and on September 2, 1824, the interested brethren met again to organize it. Their charter from the Grand Lodge of New York was dated December 3rd.
During the following year, Menomonie Lodge № 374 ceased to be a military lodge and became civilian. An 1854 address given in Green Bay showcased the Lodge’s records dating back to 1827 and its cessation as a Lodge in 1830. It was, therefore, never chartered as a “Wisconsin” lodge; moreover, its New York charter was destroyed in a fire during 1870 at Washington Lodge № 21, Green Bay.
Carved out of the original Michigan Territory in 1836, the rich lead mines of the southwestern Wisconsin territory attracted a large influx of settlers, including influential men from Missouri and Illinois. These men also formed Masonic Lodges.
Melody Lodge № 49 under the Grand Lodge of Missouri received a dispensation at Mineral Point on October 8, 1840. Organized on July 27, 1841, it was granted a charter in October 1842 and began work on February 15, 1843. On January 10, 1843, a second dispensation came from Missouri to form Lodge № 65, about 20 miles from Mineral Point in Platteville. With dispensation granted on June 12, 1843, The Grand Lodge of Illinois, as that area’s Grand jurisdiction, chartered Milwaukee Lodge № 22.
On January 17, 1844 representatives of these Lodges established the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin. The Lodges were re-chartered according to seniority: Mineral Point № 1, Melody № 2, and Kilbourn № 3 (who changed its name to Milwaukee founding father Bryon Kilbourn). Fifty years later, in 1894, there were over 260 Lodges and more than 15,500 members. Membership in Wisconsin peaked in 1960 with over 300 Lodges and more 59,000 brothers.
Wisconsin freemasons support a wide variety of charities. First is the Wisconsin Masonic Foundation that provides worthy students educational scholarships. The Foundation provides care for the aged at its Three Pillars Senior Living Communities in Dousman, the Masonic Home Foundation Fund and Masonic Medical Fund. The service and Assistance Fund improve the lives of veterans at four Wisconsin VA Hospitals but is also ready to assist in time of national natural disasters. Lastly, the Grand Lodge sponsors a state-wide youth soccer game for exceptional athletes. Of course, most Lodges sponsor and support local charities and philanthropic endeavors.
Today Grand Master L. Arby Humphrey presides over 181 Lodges with a membership over 11,000. Among the many distinguished and honored masons of the Badger State are all five Ringling brothers’ circus owners, former Governor and Secretary of Health & Human Services Tommy Thompson, former Wisconsin Governor Lee Dreyfus and former Wisconsin Attorney General, and Past Grand Master, J.B. Van Hollen.