THE RAILROAD DEGREE
In the Spring of 2016, Past Master William (Bill) Held, Jr. and his governing officers of Ionic
Lodge #31 began an idea to incorporate an annual event which would be able to celebrate
a raising of a Brother to the sublime degree of Master Mason and create an event unique to
Ionic #31 which would bring many Masons together in unity. Unbeknownst to them, the
event would lead to the start of a great legacy and symbolism for Masonry. This would not
only make a prominent mark on the Lodge and its Masonic name, but also have a lifetime
impression on the special candidates which would go through the process as it's most
important person of the day. Eventually, this dream fleshed itself out as the
Master Mason Railroad Degree!
Partnered with the Wilmington & Western Railroad, Delaware's oldest operational
locomotive from 1872, the Railroad Degree has enjoyed three years bringing Masons
from multiple states together in unity to enjoy the highest degree to be held as a Freemason.
The Degree is held within the sunny, wooden areas of Red Clay/Brandywine Area of Northern Delaware.
Railroads hold a special, but obscure, place in Freemasonry history. As described by an online article titled Parallel Lines by John Hamill, a writer for the Freemasonry Today Magazine, railways helped strengthen and broaden Freemasonry in Great Britain and London by allowing members to more easily travel to their or neighboring lodges. By the 1930s, railway companies were making special routes for Brothers to travel to the Grand Lodge of England for their Quarterly Communications. Attendance spiked as members who lived outside the city areas that once traveled by horse-drawn carriage or sea, simply hopped on the locomotive.
Past Master Bill Held Jr. and company called on the Wilmington & Western Railroad to inquire to use their train to transport a large Masonic body from the rail station to a grassed picnic area deep inside the woods of the Brandywine Valley next to the Red Clay Creek to confer the degree. After an understanding and contract were agreed upon, the site was blessed in accordance to the Lodge's Charter, ornate wooden chairs and an altar were fabricated by the hands of Past Grand Master Dale Irwin, decorations and Lodge instruments were created from railroad lanterns, spikes and knockers, and the event was advertised by word of mouth and social media.
To entertain the guests which would come multiple states and Lodges, Brother Fred Palmer designed a specialty Masonic pins and collared shirts for the event. The late Past Master Ken Weaver was able to prepare plenty of food for the inaugural guests, as they awaited. At the site of the degree by the flowing creek, the crowd of Masons amassed with folding chairs, surrounded the area awaiting the degree. In the end, the First Annual Master Mason Railroad was a huge success. Imagine a degree conferred on a brisk Spring day, the sounds of the trees, the flowing creek and rhythmic sounds of the birds. It was sight and sound to behold.
The Railroad Degree since has been continuing for four years, amassing more popularity and admiration has it continued.
Although paused for two years from the pandemic, the 2023 Railroad Degree will be hosted once again by the Wilmington & Western on Saturday, April 29th at 10:30! Lunch will be provided from 10:30 to 11:15, and the historic train will leave its terminal at 11:30am. It is expected to return back to the terminal at or around 4pm.
We look forward to seeing you all again in 2023.