Less than 10 months after Norton was incorporated as a town on Feb. 15, 1894, the town’s Suthers Masonic Lodge received its charter and authorization to choose its officers on Dec. 6.
From that date, the lodge has been a part of town, and later city, life in step with Norton. “We’re a fraternity, number one,” said current lodge Master Adam Sexton as he and lodge member Montie Marshall and member and past Master Jack Flanary sat down on Monday to talk about how the Suthers Lodge’s existence is intertwined with Norton’s history.
“This lodge actually met in November 1894, a month before it received its charter,” Marshall said as he pointed to the lodge’s framed founding documents and a photo of lodge founder W.H. Suthers.
“Suthers came from the Masonic Lodge in Big Stone Gap to help start this lodge,” Marshall said. “The lodge first met in the old Rohrer building on the other end of town. We’re not sure exactly where it was, but the current building was opened in 1959.”
Flanary, the oldest active member of Suthers Lodge and a two-time Master, recalled that it was built at the same time by the same company that built John I. Burton High School less than a mile away.
“This lodge also set the cornerstones for the First Baptist Church and the Post Office in Norton,” said Flanary.
One wall of the lodge meeting room contains photos of past lodge Masters, many recognizable to longtime residents and, by name, to residents across all ages. Former city school superintendent John I. Burton — the namesake of the city’s high school — is among those pictured on the wall.
While Masonry has its own traditions, symbols and history — Marshall said 13 of the Declaration of Independence’s signers were Masons and 14 U.S. presidents starting with Washington and most recently Gerald Ford, Jr — Sexton said community service forms a large part of Suthers Lodge’s role in Norton.
“We’ve helped the Brown Bag Ministry program,” Sexton said. “We help raise money for different programs every year, and we work with the schools and other groups.”
“We’ve also helped with the Angel Tree and at Christmas with a dinner for members of the community.” Marshall added.
“Our ability to do things depends on our members,” Flanary said. “The population of our lodge has gone down in recent years, but there’s a lot of traditions we’re trying to keep as true as we can. That’s one thing all the lodges do is to keep the traditions, and we’d like to pass it on as it has been given over the years.”
Despite a decline in membership, Flanary said that Suthers Lodge has been fortunate in gaining several younger members.
“A lot of the members get in because of family,” Marshall said. “My father had six brothers who were Masons. My son is a Mason. We’re three generations of Masons. That’s what brings people in is family.”
One of the more visible public faces of Masonry is the Shriners, a philanthropic offshoot, but Flanary said it is still close to Masonry.
“To become a Shriner, you have to go through here first and become a Master,” Flanary said.
Flanary, who grew up in the Norton area, went on to become a member in lodges in Texas and Illinois as he worked in those states after retiring from Old Dominion Power.
“After you’ve been confirmed that you’re a Mason, you can go to any lodge,” Flanary said. “It’s a matter of fellowship, and you’re welcome anywhere you go. Every state has its different traditions, but they’re all Masons.”