The case of the Mysterious Missing Moose photo…

BeeLines - March 28, 2018

By Marybelle Beigh, Westfield Town & Village Historian

The case of the Mysterious Missing Moose photo…

…or will someone, PLEASE! PLEASE! PLEASE! fill in the G-A-P?

Recently, your Westfield Historian received an email request from a former “client” who is now the proud owner, and restorer, of one of our historic homes on North Portage Street – that of the late Dr. Storms. Faithful readers may recall a BeeLines that told the history of the home at 56 N Portage, and the several different Doctors and their families who lived there. Immediately across the street from #56 is a barren lot at 55 North Portage, which, from 1920 to 1975 was the home of the Westfield Moose Club – L.O.O.M. #118.

Quoting from the client’s email, “I have been told that the Moose (L.O.O.M.) lodge used to be across the street from 56 N Portage Street, and that it burned down some time ago. My simple internet searches are not turning anything up and was wondering if you could tell me when it burned down, and if there are any exterior photographs of it.”

Research located some brief history about the Moose club in the “History of Westfield – 1802-1997” and a few articles located in the Westfield Republican archived newspapers on microfilm. The first thing noted is that the building did not burn down.

Chartered in June 1909, and dedicated September 10, 1909, the first “dictator” (they call them “governor” now) was J. H. Prendergast. In 1920, 55 North Portage was purchased as the Lodge Home, formerly owned for many years by a Dr. Seymour. (Another Doctor? How interesting!) According to the history book, in 1974, the Moose lodge cleared the building/site on Clinton Street that had been occupied by the Locker Plant from the mid-1940s, and later by Barmon Dress Factory, where they built a new hall (currently still occupied by them), dedicated in 1975 to Joseph T. Howson. At that time, the former Moose lodge building on North Portage was razed to provide a parking lot, and the lodge governor was Robert L. Hess.

The newspaper articles in 1974-1975 provided a few more details, and even one June 5, 1974 photograph, which showed some water connections being excavated at the new Moose club construction site. The caption under the photo stated: “The Clinton Street property purchased this past winter by the Westfield Moose Lodge was the location for water line connections in preparation for the new club rooms to be constructed this summer. Groundbreaking is expected to take place next week, according to Earl G. Robins, Governor of the lodge.”

The notes with the 1974 photo continued: “The property was formerly the location of the frozen food locker plant constructed just after World War II. It later became the Villager Bargain Center and more recently was the Barmon Brothers dress factory location until they ceased operations in Westfield at the end of 1973. The Westfield Lodge purchased the property and razed the [locker-plant/dress-factory] building last winter. The property connects with the Maple Street parking lot currently [1974] owned by the Moose Club.”

Indeed, the June 19, 1974 newspaper headlined, “Moose Lodge Breaks Ground For New Home.” According to this story, a more details of the history are clarified. “A few days after Westfield Lodge 118, Loyal Order of Moose has reached its sixty-fifth birthday anniversary, ground was broken at 19 Clinton St. for a spacious new Lodge Home…The present Lodge Home, at 55 N Portage St. was first occupied in the Fall of 1921.” A brief description of the new lodge followed.

December 15, 1974 was the grand opening of the new club, which was described in glowing detail in the newspaper the week before that also noted Joseph Howson as the building project chairman. The following week’s article stated that present Governor, G. Earl Robbins commented that no definite plans had been made for the previous Moose Lodge building on North Portage, at that time.

The new building was dedicated at the “official” opening of the Moose Lodge on February 23, 1975, honoring the late Joseph T. Howson, a Past Governor, Pilgrim and a 10-star secretary, who had been the chairman of the building committee for the new lodge. Howson had also held the position of Superintendent of the Village Water and Sewer Department for 29 years and had a total of 35 years with the Village of Westfield. At the time of the dedication of the new Moose Lodge, the old Moose lodge was being demolished to make way for additional parking.

I remember the building, with the moose head in a window near the entry, I think, from my childhood and teen year as I walked past that place for years, living at 169 and 221 North Portage from 1949-1962. My dad, Don Blackburn, was a longtime (probably lifetime) member of that Moose lodge until he passed in 1969. According to my mother’s diaries, both he and my mother attended all sorts of activities there from at least the late 1930’s until daddy’s death.

Several times in the past few years as Westfield Historian, I have unsuccessfully attempted to locate a photograph of the first Westfield Moose Lodge house on North Portage. And as yet, even though the current governor has searched the boxes of historic photos and documents in the basement of the current lodge for several hours, there are no photos there of either the former or the current lodge buildings.

But there may be light at the end of the tunnel to fill the gap in the photo of 55 North Portage where the old lodge used to be… a former resident at the upstairs apartment at that location between 1944 and 1964 is on the search team… BUT! If anyone else has a photograph of the building from when it was the Moose lodge between 1920 and 1975, PLEASE! PLEASE! PLEASE! Contact the Westfield Historian or the editor of the Westfield Republican, and THANK YOU VERY MUCH!