Excelsior Lodge was founded in 1867 as the 261st Masonic Lodge to be chartered in North Carolina. It was founded in Charlotte, NC by Charlotte businessman and alderman Samuel Wittkowsky and former N.C. Governor, U.S. Senator, and Confederate General Zebulon B. Vance.
After the War Between the States, Vance was imprisoned for having served as governor of N.C. during the war. Following his release, on the encouragement of fellow Mason Wittkowsky, Vance began his new life as a civilian in Charlotte, where he set up a law practice. In Charlotte, Phalanx Lodge #31 was thriving – it was soon thriving even moreso with the addition of N.C.’s most famous politician (now civilian) attending lodge meetings.
Eventually, Vance and Wittkowsky chartered a second lodge in Charlotte, with the blessing and assistance of Phalanx 31: Excelsior. Meaning higher, always upward, Vance had no doubt drawn on his younger days as a Latin student, as well as the common use of Latin in law, to name this new lodge.
The newly formed Excelsior Lodge was composed of men from the Jewish and Christian faiths, as it continues to be today. Interestingly, over half of the charter members of Excelsior Lodge were Jewish, including Wittkowsky.
Zeb Vance is recorded in the early records as “Resident Mason – Not Member”. He kept his membership in good standing with his home lodge in Asheville, NC – Mount Hermon #118 where he was raised – until 1869, when he demitted to Phalanx 31.
At high noon on Thursday, April 14, 2005, 44 Masons and guests met on the 111th anniversary of Zeb’s death to carry out a long overdue (and proper) Masonic burial service for our esteemed brother. When Brother Vance died in 1894, he was not properly buried with Masonic rights (as all Masonic brothers should be). He was dug up and reburied, then dug up again and reburied back in the previous spot… all without a proper Masonic burial! It is a testament to Brother Zeb’s legacy that 111 years after his death, this oversight still mattered to his N.C. Masonic brethren and now, his final resting place is adorned with a marker acknowledging that he is “A HERO AMONG MASONS.”
The Excelsior 261 social hall today exhibits the full story of the lodge’s evolution. Treasures of Excelsior Lodge include paintings and photographs of Vance and Wittkowsky and their Charlotte homes, reproductions of the earliest Grand Lodge records, and information about three members who became N.C. Grand Masters of Masons.
Excelsior Lodge 261 is rich in history and is currently enjoying healthy growth as one of N.C.’s premier lodges. Zeb Vance would be proud of the lodge he co-founded nearly 140 years ago.
At age 18, Samuel Wittkowsky came to New York from his native country of Prussia (now part of Poland). He traveled to Charleston, S.C., before settling in Charlotte.
He worked as a store clerk, later formed several partnerships in retail businesses before forming a successful hat manufacturing firm in Statesville, N.C.
By 1879, Samuel Wittkowsky was president of Charlotte’s Chamber of Commerce. In 1883, he helped begin the Mechanics Perpetual Building & Loan Association, an organization that helped families finance the cost of building their homes. The Mechanics Perpetual Savings and Loan later became Home Federal Savings and Loan Association, which is still in operation.
Samuel Wittkowsky was well known for his friendship with North Carolina Governor Zebulon Vance. At the end of the Civil War, federal officers were ordered to arrest Vance. Wittkowsky intervened, and convinced the officers to let him deliver Vance to the train station, sparing Vance embarrassment.
Wittkowsky married Carrie Bauman in 1871. They had three children. The unusual Italianate-style house owned by Wittkowsky and his business partner, Jacob Rintels, stood on West Trade Street. It was moved to 1700 Queens Road where it still stands today.
The above section was taken in its entirety from this Charlotte-Mecklenburg Story website.