By: Paul Fisher, Nov 30, 2020, 18 min read
A Brief History: The Scottish Rite Bodies in the Valley of Reading
Paul Fisher’s History:
This is an historic sketch of the Valley of Reading, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, and does not pretend to be a detailed history. Some major events of the past 87 years have been neglected, while some trivia have been included. Names appear, but many more who deserve recognition are missing. If you gain a renewed appreciation of what has been accomplished by the Valley of Reading, the aim of this sketch will have been achieved.
The following represents a compilation of previously published material; there is no claim to original authorship. Acknowledgment is made to former Secretaries Illustrious Elmer A. Reeser, 33°, and Ill. Burton R. Knerr, 33°, for historic items they developed. In particular, Brother Knerr is recognized for his sketch on the Valley of Reading in the l967 book, "A Concise History of the A.A.S.R. of Freemasonry in Pennsylvania." Our thanks also to Ill. Frank E. Daniels, 33°, for his helpfulness in supplying the necessary minutes, records, and other historic data.
It is generally agreed that Freemasonry originated in the British Isles from a craft of operative masons. The first Grand Lodge was organized in 1717 in London and the Fraternity shortly thereafter "jumped the Channel" to continental Europe. There, the three Craft degrees rapidly expanded into a multitude of degrees and elaborate rituals. What we know today as the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite had its origins in France and represents a mere fraction of the several thousand European degrees that developed during the 1700's, just about all of which have been forgotten.
Why the name "Scottish Rite?" There are several theories, but none is proved. The most prevalent is that the French thought to authenticate their "high grades" with the name of a foreign country associated with Freemasonry for several centuries.
The Rite of Perfection, ancestor of our Scottish Rite, has been traced to Bordeaux in the early 1740's. From there the organization established several lodges in France, spread to Santo Domingo, and thence to America, with the first Lodge of Perfection established in Albany, New York, in 1767. A Supreme Council for the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction (NMJ) was formed in 1813 in New York. By 1860 three rival Supreme Councils were active in the jurisdiction and in 1867 they formed our present Supreme Council. The Scottish Rite for the NMJ now holds jurisdiction over 15 states and has a membership of approximately 385,000.
Freemasonry became established in the Reading area with the constituting of Lodge No. 62 in 1794. Following the Anti-Masonic era of the 1830's, interest in the Craft increased and additional lodges were founded. By the Civil War period, all three York Rite bodies, or more accurately, American Rite bodies, had been established in Reading. The latter half of the 1800's witnessed a leap in lodge membership and increased interest in various Masonic organizations. Interestingly, a short-lived body, Shekinah Chapter of Rose Croix, Rite of Memphis, was constituted in 1869 in Reading.
By 1900 there were enough members of the Scottish Rite in the Reading area, primarily holding membership in Philadelphia and Harrisburg, to encourage a few farsighted men to pursue the possibility of establishing a Lodge of Perfection.
LODGE OF PERFECTION CHARTERED - 1906
The Charter date for Reading Lodge of Perfection is September 20, 1906. The first officers to serve that body were Adam H. Schmehl, Thrice Potent Master; Thomas P. Merritt, Deputy Master; James H. Renninger, Senior Warden, and Andrew J. Fink, Jr., Junior Warden. John Barbey was the first Treasurer and Elmer A. Reeser the first Secretary. The original membership fee was $25.00 and a life membership could be obtained for $80.00.
If there is a distinction for being the "Father of Scottish Rite Masonry in the Valley of Reading," the laurels would undoubtedly go to Ill. Adam H. Schmehl, 33° He was born in Reading on May 15, 1852, and became a leading attorney, principally in the Orphan's Court. It was common knowledge that Brother Schmehl aided many widows and orphans without any remuneration. Masonically, he served as Worshipful Master, High Priest, and Eminent Commander. In addition, Brother Schmehl was Knights Templar Division Commander, R. E. Grand Commander, and District Deputy Grand Master of the Seventh Masonic District. He was regarded as an authority on Masonic law and was conceded to be the best known Mason in the area. His Scottish Rite association began in 1891 when he joined the four bodies of the Valley of Philadelphia, In 1902 he received the 33° and Honorary Membership in the Supreme Council. Being the prime mover, he served as the charter presiding officer of Lodge, Council, and Chapter in the Valley of Reading. Brother Schmehl was the victim of an automobile accident and died on July 24, 1916.
The first Scottish Rite Mason to be nominated by the Valley of Reading for the 33° was Brother Thomas P. Merritt, who received the degree in 1908, a local businessman. In 1890 he was elected Mayor of Reading, in addition to serving on the boards of several charitable institutions.
The Masonic Temple on North Fifth Street was the original meeting place. Not until 1955 was the next location of Rajah Shrine Temple on North Sixth Street decided upon.
118 BECOME CHARTER MEMBERS
The number of members at the time of Constitution was 118, most of whom had resigned from the Valley of Philadelphia to become charter members at Reading. Within eight years, membership had increased to well over 700. This healthy situation in the Lodge of Perfection prompted the brethren to consider the establishment of the other bodies of the Rite in Berks County. A request was ultimately directed to Supreme Council for a dispensation to organize a Council of Princes of Jerusalem and a Chapter of Rose Croix.
At the suggestion of Brother Schmehl it was agreed to have the Council Body adopt the name of C. Gilbert Steffe, a dedicated and faithful Thirty-Third Degree Mason who had attained great distinction as an employee of the Reading Railroad. Ironically, after having traveled hundreds of thousands of miles as a "railroader," he lost his life in a railroad disaster that occurred on May 11, 1907, in California when thirteen members of Rajah Shrine Temple were killed - six of them also members of the Reading Lodge of Perfection.
At that meeting, Brother Schmehl suggested that the Chapter of Rose Croix bear the name of another distinguished Scottish Rite Mason, Ill. Francis Marion Highley, 33°. Brother Highley spent most of his life in Philadelphia and forged there a distinguished career in the realm of finance and insurance. He held many offices in the Masonic Bodies in Philadelphia and at one time served as Secretary of the Scottish Rite Bodies in that Valley.
He was made an Honorary Member of Supreme Council in 1890 and in 1897 was elected an Active Member. He was appointed Chairman of the Committee on Dispensations and Charters and it was during this period that his great concern for Scottish Rite Masonry in Reading was developed. His influence as a member of the committee brought about a favorable reaction to the petition for a Dispensation to organize a Reading Lodge of Perfection and later a similar reaction to the petition for a Charter.
Other matters decided by Brother Schmehl and his group included choice of the following officers to serve the new Bodies: For the Council of Princes of Jerusalem: Adam H. Schmehl, Sovereign Prince; Henry H. Barr, High Priest; Joseph L. Gehris, Senior Warden; and Henry L. Sartorius, Junior Warden. For the Chapter of Rose Croix the same four brethren and in the same order, were selected for Most Wise Master, Senior Warden, Junior Warden, and Orator. Chosen as Treasurer for both new Bodies was Daniel J. Hendel, and for Secretary, Elmer A. Reeser.
On October 28, 1914, the first meeting of the C. Gilbert Steffe Council of Princes of Jerusalem, 16°, was held for the purpose of receiving the Dispensation and officially opening the new body. The document was delivered and officers installed by Ill. George W. Kendrick, Jr., 33°, a Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania and an Active Member of Supreme Council, who had been appointed to this official task by Ill. James I. Buchanan, 33°, Deputy for Pennsylvania.
Following the institution of the Council, a class of 87 candidates was balloted upon and the Fifteenth Degree conferred upon them in full ceremonial form. In the afternoon of this same eventful day a meeting, the first for the Francis Marion Highley Chapter of Rose Croix, 18°, was held, the Dispensation read, the Body instituted, and the officers installed. Brother Kendrick again acted for the Deputy for Pennsylvania. The Seventeenth Degree was then communicated and the Eighteenth Degree exemplified in full form.
The future of these two additional bodies of the Scottish Rite in the Valley of Reading seemed assured by the initial enthusiasm and interest. Succeeding years removed any doubt. Petitions for Charters were presented at the Pennsylvania Council of Deliberation meeting in Philadelphia on December 1, 1914, and approved. On September 23, 1915, the Supreme Council, sitting in Annual Session at Boston, approved the recommendation that permanent charters be issued. On October 25, 1915, Brother Kendrick, again acting for the Deputy for Pennsylvania, delivered the charters, constituted the bodies, and installed the officers. On this occasion Ill. J. Henry Williams, 33°, Grand Master of Masons in Pennsylvania was present and addressed the gathering of over 200 members and visitors.
At this point the membership began to envision another important step, that of establishing a Consistory Body. There were then six Symbolic Lodges within the City of Reading. The potential in Berks County and in the surrounding area was growing daily by reason of the increasing number of Blue Lodge initiates being received during this prosperous period. The potential was great; the enthusiasm unrestrained.
DISPENSATION GRANTED TO OPEN CONSISTORY
Accordingly, on the petition of 344 Consistory members residing in the Valley of Reading, Ill. Barton Smith, 33° Sovereign Grand Commander, was pleased to grant a Dispensation dated May 28, 1917 authorizing the signers to open and hold a Consistory, S.P.R.S., 32°, in the Valley of Reading, to be known as the Reading Consistory.
On the afternoon of Thursday, June 28, 1917, the Dispensation was delivered by the Deputy for Pennsylvania, Ill. James I. Buchanan, 33°, accompanied by many distinguished members of Supreme Council. The Dispensation was read, the Body instituted, and officers installed as follows: Henry H. Barr, Commander-in-Chief; Joseph L. Gehris, First Lieutenant Commander; Henry L. Sartorius, Second Lieutenant Commander; Daniel J. Hendel, Treasurer; and Elmer A Reeser, Secretary.
It was indeed an occasion to be long remembered. The addresses that followed were replete with words of congratulations and good wishes upon the institution of the fourth Scottish Rite Body in the Valley of Reading.
On the following day the degrees of the Body were conferred upon a class of 328 candidates. Degree teams from the Valleys of Harrisburg and Philadelphia assisted in the work. Acknowledgement was made of the unending cooperation received from Ill. George W. Kendrick, 3rd, 33°, Commander-in-Chief of Philadelphia Consistory, and Ill. William S. Snyder, 33°, Commander-in-Chief of Harrisburg Consistory. The Consistory Choir from the Valley of Philadelphia added much to the event.
On September 20, 1917, on report of the Committee on Charters and Dispensations of Supreme Council, it was ordered: "That the Dispensation be continued in force until the annual meeting September, 1918."
In this report to the Pennsylvania Council of Deliberation meeting at Philadelphia in l9l8, the Illustrious Deputy stated, concerning the Valley of Reading: "On June 28, 1917, the Dispensation was formally delivered and work was begun under it. Pennsylvania Council of Deliberation on December 4, 1917, approved their receiving a charter which was granted at the recent annual meeting of the Supreme Council. Ill. Henry H. Barr, 33°, Commander-in-Chief, will hold a Reunion on December 5 and 6, 1918, and on the latter date Reading Consistory will be constituted in accordance with the ceremonial of the Supreme Council."
Despite the Spanish influenza epidemic rampant that year, causing the cancellation of many events, a meeting was held on December 6 and the body formally constituted and officers installed. The date of the charter of this Body coincides with the date of the Supreme Council meeting at which it was approved, September 19, 1918.
VICE PRESIDENT OF U.S. WAS SPEAKER
Of further interest is the fact that at the following June Reunion, the guest of honor was Ill. Thomas R. Marshall, 33°, Active Member of Supreme Council for the State of Indiana and Vice President of the United States. He is also fondly remembered for his comment, "What this country needs is a good five cent cigar." Membership on this date totaled in excess of 1,300 and the Valley of Reading was now well on its forward way. This steady progress continued. By 1920 the 2,000 barrier had been crossed. The prosperity of the twenties was enjoyed and the membership jumped to 3,000 in 1923.
Arrangements were made with Rajah Shrine Temple to share its facilities. This eventful move was made in 1955 after 50 years of occupying the lodge room and the Orpheum Theatre, later named the Plaza Theatre, located in the North 5th Street Masonic Temple. Now, for the first time in many years all Scottish Rite activities were housed under one roof. Membership had by this time increased to 6,000 so that larger quarters were sorely needed. Facilities at that time for holding reunions at Rajah Shrine Temple were more than adequate and the new, well equipped Scottish Rite office filled a long-felt want.
ANNIVERSARIES OF READING CONSISTORY
The Silver Anniversary Reunion of Reading Consistory was observed in June of l942. Present during this event were Ill. Melvin M. Johnson, 33, Sovereign Grand Commander; Ill. John S. Wallace, 33°, Deputy for Pennsylvania; and a score or more of distinguished officers from many branches of Masonry. The Consistory Anniversary year was also noted during the 1942 Fall Reunion when a special program of entertainment was arranged for members and their ladies.
The Golden Anniversary Reunion in November 1968 initiated a class of 178 candidates with Ill. William R. Lessig, 33°, Commander-in-Chief, presiding. The class was named for the late Ill. Burton R. Knerr, 33°, Valley Secretary for a dozen years. Ill. John K. Young, 33°, R. W. Grand Master of Masons in Pennsylvania was the guest of honor.
Membership in the Valley has reflected national and Masonic trends. In the 1930's the depression was felt and membership decreased from almost 4,000 to a few over 3,000. World War II made a further impact with the number decreasing to a low of 2,533 in l942. From then on, the statistics are more positive, reflecting the national economy, with 4,448 members in 1950; 6,217 in 1960; 7,143 in l970; 7,637 in l980; and 6,971 in l990. As of 1993 the Valley has 7,294 members.
A continuing program of events has maintained interest at a high and enthusiastic level. Membership activity is given special attention particularly insofar as contact with Symbolic Lodges is concerned. It is very unlikely that any eligible Master Mason in this Valley has failed to receive a cordial invitation to become a Scottish Rite Mason.
AN ORGANIZATION OF MANY ACTIVITIES
In addition to the Spring and Fall Reunions and the regular Stated Meetings, many other activities receive constant attention. Eight Scottish Rite Clubs, Good Fellowship, Lancaster County, Schuylkill County, Chester County, Ontelaunee, Hopewell, Pagoda, and George Washington have been organized through which local activities are enjoyed on a year-long schedule. This medium has been found to be an ideal way of maintaining contact with members residing in the various areas of the Valley. Under local management, these clubs arrange their own ladies' nights, members' dinners, picnics, etc. Membership activity is conducted to some extent through the groups, and local degree teams have also been organized.
In early August the Valley holds its annual Workers and Service Club Picnic at a local picnic area. Invited to attend are those who have been active in some facet of reunion work and those who have secured the petition of a new member during the preceding year. An afternoon of good fellowship and food is concluded with the presentation of membership awards consisting of special lapel buttons. A recommender of 25 petitions receives the highest honor, a diamond Service Club emblem.
Since April 1, 1915, the Chapter of Rose Croix has observed the annual Feast of the Paschal Lamb on Maundy Thursday. In addition to the ritual observance for our departed brethren, outstanding clerics have been engaged as speakers. For many years the service was held in the ballroom of the Abraham Lincoln Hotel, then at Rajah Temple, and on April 9, 1987 for the first time in our own Cathedral. The only four exceptions were in 1981, 1983, 1989, and 1992 when Rose Croix sponsored a nine-scene Passion Play. A cast of 60 was bolstered by members' wives and children in appropriate roles. All performances were given to packed houses.
An annual picnic is one of the most popular events of the year, attracting as many as 4,000 brethren and their families. Here where the living is good, a notation was made in l957 concerning the consumption of picnic delicacies. Included were 2,144 quarts of ice cream, 30 half-barrels of birch beer, 50 cans of pretzels and uncounted gallons of coffee - all in addition to the overflowing picnic baskets provided by each family.
Also, an annual ladies' night program for many years has been repeated two consecutive nights in order to accommodate all members and their ladies. Name bands and top-flight entertainment programs are provided for this affair.
Recent additional activities include, since 1989, a Fall concert by the New Holland Band to benefit the Cathedral building program. Since 1990 the Valley has constructed its own float and participates about six times a year in local community and Masonic parades. The current Valley officers ride the 40 foot float along with depictions of King Solomon and George Washington to illustrate the timelessness of the Craft.
In October 1973 an important adjunct organization, the Ladies' Auxiliary, was formed with 65 members. Having grown to 318 members, the auxiliary is open to all female relatives of Reading Scottish Rite members. In its 20 years, the group's activities have expanded to include separate meetings with entertainment for the ladies during the Valley's Stated Meetings, full-day programs during Reunion Saturdays consisting of crafts and dinner-theaters, various fund raising projects, and costume repair and renovation. In addition to monetary contributions to the Cathedral, the Auxiliary also donated the kitchenette in the Candidates' Room.
The Scottish Rite Volunteer Committee (SRVC) was formed in December 1989. This group of brethren and their wives have undertaken to handle concession stands and security during building rentals, as well as general building maintenance.
Since 1969 the Valley of Reading has sponsored its own scholarship program. This endeavor was the idea and desire of Ill. Adam J. Althouse, 33°, and from its inception until today, at least three youths per year have been recipients. Although not unique, the program is unusual in that scholarships are not granted toward college education but rather for advanced manual arts training. As one brother succinctly put it, "I know where to call for a doctor or a CPA, but where can I find a good electrician or plumber? They are harder to find than the others!" In l993, five recipients received a total of $5,000 toward their advanced non-college training.
Also, a very successful incentive program for the Valley of Reading has been its "Workers' Award System." This plan gives points for each degree rehearsal or conferral attended by a worker, or hour spent in any of the Valley's other activities, such as choir, make-up, stage, electrical, properties, etc. A distinctive Scottish Rite badge is presented to each beginner worker, with the color ribbon indicating the number of points accumulated. A worker receives a special medallion with engraved bar at 400 points, and an engraved wall plaque at 1,000 points. There are currently 17 living recipients of the plaque and 90 living brothers who have earned the special medallion, revealing the widespread level of dedication to be found in the Valley of Reading.
The Valley of Reading has always pointed with pride to its outstanding ritualistic work. Following in the footsteps of Ill. Clifford R. Lyons, 33°; Ill. Ralph W. Kinsey, 33°; Ill. Benjamin D. Barr, 33°; and Ill. William M. Marr, 33°, this tradition is ably carried on today by a dedicated corps of degree workers headed by Ill. Lynn G. Brandt, 33°, Director of Work, and Christopher H. Tecklenburg, Production Manager.
The Valley of Reading has been particularly favored by the dedication and longevity of the brethren who have served as Treasurer and as Secretary. Since 1905, only five men have held the office of Treasurer: John Barbey, 1905-07; Ill. Daniel J. Hendel, 33°, 1907-36; Ill. Henry Y. Stoner, 33┌, 1936-49; Ill. Edwin M. Fox, 33°, 1945-90; and G. Marshall Eaches, 1990 to the present. Likewise, the list of Secretaries is amazingly short but contains the names of some of the Valley's best loved and most devoted members: Ill. Elmer A. Reeser, 33°, 1906-40; Ill. William G. Brosman, 33° 1940-56; Ill. Burton R. Knerr, 33°, 1956-68; Ill. J. Merrill Oswald; 33°, (Acting) 1968-69; Ill. Irvin G. Snyder, 33°, 1969-88; Thomas E. Kisling, Jr., l989-90; and Ill. Frank E. Daniels, 33°, 1991 to the present.
NEED FOR OWN FACILITY IS DISCUSSED
By the early 1970's the need for the Valley's own facility was foreseen and preliminary discussions concerning land were held with the Masonic Center Foundation of Reading. This need was created by a lack of expansion room at Rajah Temple and older, manual stage facilities never designed for Scottish Rite work.
In August 1973 Commander-in-Chief Ill. Arthur R. Diamond, 33°, appointed a committee of seven to secure the necessary land for a Cathedral. They met with the Masonic Center Foundation of Reading to discuss possible land acquisition in West Reading, as in 1958 Reading Lodge of Perfection had donated $30,000 to the Masonic Center to aid in their land purchase. When the "new" Masonic Temple was built, local Masonic leaders envisioned the eventual construction of Scottish Rite and Shrine facilities on the same block.
Thus, in March 1974, 6.46 acres on the northwesterly corner of South 7th Avenue and Parkside Drive North were transferred to the Valley of Reading, with the stipulation that Scottish Rite build within 15 years or the tract would revert to the Masonic Center Foundation.
With growing enthusiasm in the Valley the Scottish Rite Cathedral Association of Reading was incorporated and held its first meeting on October 20, 1975. The corporate members consist of the Valley's elected officers, trustees, and nine directors. The original nine directors were Brothers Merritt W. Alexander, LeRoy E. Bechtel, Arthur R. Diamond, Edward A. Hagel, Gershom G. Krom, Harry W. Kuhlman, William R. Lessig, Jr., William M. Marr, and Frederick G. Sensenderfer.
In early 1976, the Cathedral Association appointed a Task Force of Brothers Harold H. Althouse, Robert C. Cremer, Wilmer H. Fisher, Richard E. Laudenslager, Harry E. Lorah, William M. Marr, Ralph D. Oberholtzer, John C. Schell, and Robert A. Swoyer to outline building requirements and make preliminary plans. As construction experts and professional engineers, they visited and examined Scottish Rite Cathedrals in Allentown, Bloomsburg, Harrisburg, Scranton, Williamsport, and Southern New Jersey during the year. Later, Brother Harold H. Althouse of Althouse, Martin & Associates, Inc., Ephrata, was signed as architect and Brother Robert A. Swoyer as Engineer.
APPROVAL GIVEN FOR CATHEDRAL PROJECT
A meeting of Reading Lodge of Perfection, chaired by T.P.M. P. Thomas Feeser, was held on May 30, 1979. The Cathedral Association Building Committee presented its report, along with working drawings, a cost figure, and a professional scale model constructed by Brother Carl W. Schaeffer, Jr. Following many questions and interesting debate, the motion to proceed was approved.
Another milestone was reached on Saturday, May 31, 1986 when the official moving day occurred. Answering the call for help, a sizeable number of brethren contributed a long, hot day's work, along with contributed moving vans, to relocate 80 years' accumulation of costumes, props, paraphernalia, office equipment, and some surprise items. Having enjoyed a close and harmonious relationship with Rajah Shrine for over 30 years, there were the mixed emotions of leaving well known quarters and moving into a new, strange, and unfinished home. By late afternoon the task was completed and the Valley of Reading was in its own Cathedral...a dream fulfilled.
FIRST REUNION IN NEW CATHEDRAL
Permission to use the structure was received from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry on Tuesday, November 18th and the first Reunion was held in the Cathedral on November 20-22, 1986. Although the facilities were unfamiliar to everyone and some amenities not yet installed, the enthusiasm and fraternal harmony of the members conquered many trial and error procedures. Highlight of the Reunion was the official naming of the William M. Marr Auditorium. If Brother Adam H. Schmehl was the Father of Scottish Rite Masonry in the Valley of Reading, so Ill. William M. Marr, 33°, was the Father of the Cathedral. As the prime mover for the Valley's constructing its own building, and as Chairman of the Building Committee, he provided great inspiration and ensured that we are here today.
The first extracurricular activity utilizing the Cathedral facilities was a Live Nativity Scene on four December weekend evenings. Approximately 80 costumed brethren, wives, and children participated. Twelve persons appeared at a time in the spotlighted tableau, which also included sheep and a pony. The activity was well publicized and received a fine response. Subsequently, the Live Nativity was incorporated into the Scottish Rite Family Life Week program. Activities during the four evenings have increased each year to now include a 600 square foot train yard operated by the Reading Model Railroad Club, a fish pond, and a Santa Claus. Refreshments feature both traditional Hanukkah and Christian treats. Family attendance has grown to approximately 1,000 persons per night.
The memorable Cathedral Cornerstone-Laying Ceremony and Service of Dedication on Saturday, June 27, 1987 was attended by several hundred members and their families. The R.W. Grand Master, Carl W. Stenberg, Jr., assisted by the Grand Lodge officers performed the ancient Masonic cornerstone-laying, followed by a Service of Dedication conducted by Ill. Francis G. Paul, 33°, Sovereign Grand Commander of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, A.A.S.R. Also participating were Ill. Charles F. Greevy, 33°, Deputy for Pennsylvania and Ill. Roscoe J. L. Houser, 33°, Reading's Commander-in-Chief. Other highlights included tours of the new facility, a souvenir plate, a Valley history booklet, and an evening dinner-dance.
Actual Cathedral construction has been thus far divided into a four-phase program. Phase I consisted of the basic shell for the lobby, temporary Valley office, auditorium, stage, and basement constructed from March 1983 to March 1984. Finishing and furnishing this 50,000 square foot area was designated Phase II. Phase III, built from May 1988 to November 1988, added a 5,000 square foot wing containing the Candidates' Room and main rest rooms. Lastly, Phase IV, a 17,000 square foot addition containing an additional entrance facing Parkside Drive North, permanent Valley office, kitchen, wardrobe, make-up room, dressing rooms, and another meeting room was constructed from May 1992 to May 1993. The enthusiasm for "our own building" is evidenced by the fact that over 5,000 individuals and local Masonic Bodies have contributed finances, time, or talent.
Salient features of the Cathedral include an auditorium with comfortable seating for 1,300 persons, energy-efficient gas heat, and complete insulation. The 40-foot by 55-foot visual area of the stage is ideal for Scottish Rite work and contains a counterweighted rigging system. This ensures that a backdrop can be raised or lowered by one person. In addition, a grid, approximately 65 feet in height, permits a total of 36 backdrops to be raised flush, or without being rolled up.
With the most modern auditorium in Berks County and over 300 on-site parking spaces, the Cathedral has become a desirable facility. In June 1988 the first outside rental was made by the Berks Ballet for a formal reception. Since that time such organizations as the Alpha-Omega Players, Reading Choral Society, United Methodist Church, Reading Area Community College, Ringgold Band, Junior League of Reading, and the Reading Hospital School of Nursing have rented the auditorium for stage productions, seminars, and graduation ceremonies.
VALLEY OF ABINGTON MERGER
In October 1990 a letter was received from the Valley of Abington raising the question of a merger with the Valley of Reading. Because of membership limitation constraints, Abington discussed merger possibilities with three Southeastern Pennsylvania Valleys. In April 1991 they advised Reading of their desire to join with us. At Reading's Stated Meeting of May 28, 1991 the merger was approved, to become effective on August 1. At that time the Valley of Abington consisted of a Lodge of Perfection, chartered November 19, 1966; Council, November 19, 1968; Chapter of Rose Croix, November 19, 1968; and George Washington Consistory, September 28, 1971. Both The Pennsylvania Council of Deliberation and The Supreme Council for the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction ratified this action. During the summer Abington's equipment, ritual paraphernalia, and costumes were moved to the Cathedral and the Valley of Reading welcomed 724 transferred Brothers. Our newest county club, the George Washington Club, was organized to serve the members in Abington's former area.
There is no more appropriate close than to quote Brother Burton R. Knerr's words of 1967. "We have had fair weather and foul, squalls and calm, joys, heartaches and tears, yet we find ourselves advanced numerically, financially and we hope, spiritually - perhaps a bit closer to that universal Brotherhood of Man we all strive for."