The First Hundred Years (1844-1946):
The early history of Milwaukee Chapter (now Kilbourn) is obscure. It appears that the officers at that time did not estimate the real value of keeping a record of their proceedings or their membership; if so they were lost, and it is impossible to obtain a list of its charter members.
By the records of the General Grand Chapter as furnished by Past Grand High Priest Swain, we learn that Joseph K. Stapleton, Deputy General Grand High Priest, on the 16th day of February, 1844 granted a dispensation to Companion A.D. Smith and others for the purpose of constituting a chapter. A charter was granted by the General Grand Chapter in session at New Haven, Connecticut, on September 11th, 1844.
The first convocations of this Chapter were held in the Cottage Inn, at the time the leading and most noted hotel in the then village of Milwaukee, situated at the corner of East Water and Huron streets (now N. Water and Clybourn); in December, 1844 removed to “Birchard’s new block” which was occupied until January, 1849. Rooms were then rented in Whitnall’s building, opposite Second Ward Bank. This and Westmore’s building, southeast corner of Third and Prairie streets (now N. Old World Third and Highland), were occupied until February, 1859, when a hall was rented in Mack’s building, corner of East Water and Wisconsin streets (now N. Water and E. Wisconsin) and was occupied until the Masonic Temple was built by that zealous and devoted Mason and benefactor, Byron Kilbourn, on the site now known as Realty building, 740 N. Plankinton avenue.
On December 27, 1859 the beautiful hall provided by that generous brother Byron Kilbourn was dedicated to the Lodge and Chapter; and the lease under which the Chapter occupied this hall was executed by Bro. Byron Kilbourn and his wife to Milwaukee Lodge #3, F&AM and Milwaukee Chapter #1 RAM, dated October 24, 1859, for ninety-nine years at the nominal rental of one dollar per year, the Lodge and Chapter paying one third of the taxes and insurance on the entire building. This then continued to be the home of Kilbourn Chapter for more than a half century, or until the hall was destroyed by fire on February 22, 1910. It then became necessary to secure meeting quarters wherever possible until Kilbourn Masonic Temple located at 827 N. 11th St was dedicated on December 27, 1911. The records of the General Grand Chapter would contain a list of the first officers of Milwaukee Chapter, but for the fact that S. G. Risk of Louisiana, elected General Grand Secretary in 1859, took them to New Orleans, and died during the war for the Union, in consequence of which they were lost and have not since been found. The written records date from 1848, at which time Dwight F. Lawton was High Priest; and they show a somewhat primitive method of transacting business, and also a presumption that the laws governing the Fraternity were not so well defined as at present.
Milwaukee Chapter in its earlier period of existence was not without its manifold trials and tribulations, it was through heroic actions of such masons as D. F. Lawton, Byron Kilbourn, Morris Louis, Jasper Vilet and others that saved it from ceasing to be a factor, and the usefulness as an organized body becoming lost to the fraternity. In 1850 the Grand Chapter of Wisconsin was organized by Milwaukee Chapter No. 1, Washington Chapter No. 2 (located at Platteville) and Southport (now Kenosha) No. 3, Milwaukee Chapter sending 6 delegates, and Milwaukee Chapter then ceased to be an immediate constituent of the General Grand Chapter. In February, 1851 some difficulties among the members culminated in the organization of Wisconsin Chapter, permission therefore being granted by Milwaukee Chapter ; but in the following April, after the dispensation had been granted a resolution was adopted remonstrating against granting the charter, without avail, however. The withdrawal of so many members left the body in a crippled condition, and for two or three years after 1853 there appeared to have been no convocations, and the Chapter was practically suspended. At the session of the Grand Chapter in 1856 it was
"Resolved that from and after this date the powers and authorities of Milwaukee Chapter No. 1, under its charter, be suspended."
But in 1857 the arrearages of dues to the Grand Chapter were paid, and on the petition of Byron Kilbourn and others, permission was granted to resume labor, and from that time harmony and prosperity have prevailed. By a resolution of the Grand Chapter adopted on February 5th 1862, the name of Milwaukee Chapter was changed to Kilbourn Chapter No. 1, since which time it has taken its proper place in the front rank of the subordinate’s Chapters of this jurisdiction. This Chapter furnished to the Grand Chapter its first Grand High Priest (Dwight F. Lawton), and its first Grand Scribe (Byron Kilbourn).
In 1944 the Chapter celebrated its centennial with a banquet and entertainment at the Schroeder Hotel on October 28th 1944 where many notable guests were present including Companion Miller W. Leary, Grand High Priest of Wisconsin, who made the principal address of the evening.