Copyright 2012 Taft Midway Driller. Some rights reservedTaft, Calif. —
It started out as a historical project for the Taft-Midway Masonic Lodge's 100th centennial, but it turned into a much bigger project for Mason and historian Kenneth Cooper.
It turned into a huge book chronicling 266 total years of history for four lodges in the Taft area and with it, a huge piece of the history of Taft, the Westside and the oilfields.
Cooper's work is published in a book called “Freemasons in the Oilpatch, the Collective Histories of Four Masonic Lodges Chartered within Taft-Midway Lodge No. 426 Free&Accepted Masons.”
Cooper presented a program on the history at the centennial celebraion on Oct. 25.
A first printing of 250 numbered copies has been completed and the book is on sale for $30 at the Taft District Chamber of Commerce office, K.C. Photography and the West Kern Oil Museum.
Cooper spoke about the work Wednesday morning at the Chamber of Commerce Sit n' Sip.
After he started, he saw the scope of the work that laid ahead.
“I told my wife 'What have I done,” he said. “I started it so I've got to finish it.”
Cooper has strong ties to the community. He was born here in 1947 and lived here until he moved in the 1950s. He is the nephew of McKittrick rancher Stanley Cooper.
“I have very fond memories of Taft,” he said. “I put some of those in this book.”
Kenneth Cooper has experience as a Masonic historian. He chronicled a similar history for the Maricopa lodge, which grew out of the great California Gold Rush in the 19th century.
He drew parallels between Maricopa and Taft.
“There were two great epochs for California – the gold rush and the oil boom,” he said.
Taft was incorporated in 1910.
The first Masonic Lodge, Midway Lodge No. 426, was chartered the next year, and celebrated its anniversary in October,
As Taft grew, so did the Masonic brotherhood.
Before long, there were four lodges in the area – Maricopa, the Temblor Lodge in Fellows, the Midway Lodge and the Taft Lodge.
All four have since merged into one.
By the1920s, the Masonic Lodges were the center of social life.
Fraternal organizations were popular in the early 20th century, and the Masons and their related organizations – The Order of Eastern Star, Demolays, and Job's Daughters – served as a center for social life for many residents.
The list of Masonic officers in the local lodge reads like a who's who of Taft as the lodges and community flourished.
People like Milton Grant Ross, Walter Wahl, Robert Abner Smith, Weldon Jones, George Henry Stewart and Pete Gianopulos served as worshipful masters of the lodges.
They were also leaders in Taft's business, schools and local government.
“The lodge and the community fed off each other,” Cooper said. “The community gave it the members, and the lodges gave back to the community in the form of leaders.”
Cooper's book is an exhaustive history of Masonry in the area, with membership lists, photographs and photos of lodge leadership. It also carries accounts of some of the the biggest events in the 100 years of Masonry in Taft, including a visit by state worshipful Grand Master Earl Warren in 1936. Warren went on to be governor of California later Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
In 1940, a Masonic ceremony held at Mt. Abel drew 1,500 Masons to the mountains south of Taft.