Brief History of the Tenino Lodge – The Early Years

 

In 1891, Tenino was a bustling town with a population of 335.  It boasted a school, a new business district with five general merchandise stores, three hotels, two restaurants, four saloons, two barber shops, a saw mill, shingle mill, town hall, and a newspaper.

 

The Tenino Masonic Lodge was formed in the 1892, interestingly the same year of a widespread national financial turndown. This came at a time when all of the Tenino quarries were idled due to a lack of the need of building materials.

 

“Eleven brethren organized this Lodge, at Tenino, by virtue of a dispensation from Grand Master Amos dated February 25, 1892, with Theodore F. Mentzer as W. M.: William Ragless, S. W.: and Jefferson F. Cannon, J. W.  It was chartered June 15th following, and in recent years has had a membership of a little over twenty.  Its Masters have been: Theodore F. Netzer,Wm. Ragless, Jefferson F. Cannon, Samuel W. Fenton, Aaron Webster, Thomas J. McClellan, Wilmer W. Jeffries.” 1

 

On September 26, 1906, a devastating fire destroyed all the buildings on the north side of Sussex Street (across from the current lodge).  In 1917, another fire, this time on the north side of the street, destroyed all the existing wooden structures.  The original Lodge was destroyed in this fire.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Current Lodge structure was built in 1921.  The Masonic Temple is a rectangular, two-story sandstone structure on a sandstone foundation.  The building was reportedly designed by one of the early Past Masters of the Lodge, Samuel W. Fenton, an owner of the Tenino quarry who was an active Mason at the time of the construction. The lodge was built with sandstone despite the fact that by 1921, the use of sandstone as a building material in Tenino and other communities had passed. It is likely that Fenton donated sandstone from his quarry.

 

Today the Lodge is part of the Tenino Downtown Historic District2 recently listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.  The structure still has its original furnishings including maple flooring and specially built benches.

 

Brief biography of S. W. (Wes) Fenton 3

 

Samuel W. (Wes) Fenton was the pioneer quarryman of Tenino, and in person, a man bigger than life.   He was both an operative and speculative Mason.

 

Fenton was born in 1861 in Ontario, Canada, and served his apprenticeship there.  At the age of 18 he went to work for Thomas Russell at a salary of $4 a month plus board.

 

By 1888, he was working in a limestone quarry near West Superior, Wisconsin, helping quarry stones for cross-street arches in St. Paul, Minnesota.  It was there, that he met George N. Van Tine.  Van Tine and Fenton heard of a shortage of building stone in the Pacific Northwest and decided opportunity lay there.

 

Arriving eventually in Olympia, they explored the Manville quarry near Plum Station north of Tenino as a possible source of stone for a minor building boom being experienced in the Seattle area.  It was not a good day.  Fenton and Van Tine didn’t like the quality of the stone.  And they missed the last train that would take them from Plumb Station back to Tenino.

 

They spent the night at the home a nearby farmer, Sam Spurlock.  Spurlock had a fireplace built of sandstone.  The stone was blackened by smoke but the two quarrymen scraped a patch clear with a knife and noted the stone was of good grain and quality.  Spurlock told them that the stone had been hacked with an axe from sandstone boulders south of Tenino, and that other fireplaces locally had been built in the same manner.

 

The next morning, the would-be entrepreneurs rode the narrow-gauge railroad back to Tenino.  En route they visited with the conductor, Fred Brown, Tenino’s first Merchant.  Brown told them where stone deposits had been found in the area.

 

Van Tine and Fenton located an outcropping near the Southern Pacific railroad track at the south edge of Tenino and leased it from Charles Billings.

 

This was the Tenino Sandstone Co. quarry, the first quarry in Tenino.  Fenton stayed with the quarry though with different partners until the quarry finally closed for good in 1926.  The quarry eventually filled with water and is now Tenino’s public swimming pool.

 

Fenton was a charter member of Tenino’s Masonic Lodge.  He served as a member of the Washington Legislature and as Mayor of Tenino.  He is perhaps best known as the pounder of the bass drum that kept time for the Tenino Fife and Drum Corps and helped awake Tenino to the news of the end of World War I.

 

After the quarry closed he returned to his original work as a brick and stone mason.  Fenton died in 1936.

 

Below is a picture of Samuel W. Fenton, copied from source #1, below.

 

 

 

 Click on the picture below to see a group picture of the early Tenino Masons.

 

 

 

 

1 Source: “Masonic History of the Northwest”: The Historic Publishing Co. - 1902

2 Source: Tenino Downtown Historic District (Big download - 8.10 MB -- interesting read)

3 Source: “Tenino Washington; Decades of Boom & Bust”: Scott McArthur - 2005

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