Originally printed in the Jan. 29, 2003 edition of the Illinois Valley News
The town of Kerby has a long and energetic history. It began in 1855 when James Kerby settled on a Donation Land Claim. Together with Dr. D.S. Holton, for whom Holton Creek is named, Kerby founded the town and Dr. Holton’s house became the first building. The Josephine County seat was in Kerby from 1857 until 1886 when it was finally located in Grants Pass. Old photographs of downtown Kerby show two prominent two story buildings on the main street which are still there today. Both were built to house fraternal organizations or lodges in the upper story and businesses would be found on the ground floor. The Odd Fellows Lodge built their building in 1876 and today that same building is occupied by Kauffman Wood Products showroom and It’s A Burl using the top story.
The second building, directly north of the first, was built to house the Masonic Lodge.
This building was constructed in 1907 and today is occupied by Jerry Work and his furniture shop, called The Dovetail Joint. The Masonic Lodge in the Illinois Valley, was first organized in 1857 as Western Star Lodge #18. They met in Dr. Holton’s barn until 1864 and then moved into a building which has since burned down. This was located where the Stoney Front Tavern is today. Another Masonic Lodge was organized in 1859 at the old mining town of Browntown, located above the Holland Store. This lodge was named Belt Lodge #26. In 1864 the two lodges combined into one, using the name Belt and the number 18. By the way, the number is the sequential order in which the lodges are chartered by the Grand Lodge of Oregon. There are at present about 138 Masonic lodges in Oregon, but the last one chartered had the number 226 because of combinations which have occurred throughout the state.
Belt Lodge #18 moved into their third location in 1907, which is the second building still standing in Kerby. They remained there until 1974 when they moved to the present Belt Building which was the old Kerby School. This building is also occupied by Rogue Community College and many college classes are held there as well as other community functions.
Present Masonic leaders can not explain for sure why the name of Belt was used for the lodge. Old records, which would have given an accurate explanation, have been burned in an early fire.
However a little search has turned up a probable explanation. Census records from 1850 and 1860 do not show a person named Belt living in Josephine County, but records of Oregon Trail wagon trains show a Belt family arriving in Oregon in the year 1850. The father was a physician named Alfred M. Belt , his wife named Nancy and they had six children when they arrived. The Belts established their home and medical practice in Salem, Oregon where he remained for 25 years. He also taught medical classes at Willamette University Medical School and served as surgeon – general during some of the Indian wars of Oregon. During the years of 1856- 1857 he served as the Grand Master of the Grand Masonic Lodge of Oregon. This was just prior to the organization of the Belt Lodge in Browntown. In a discussion with the Grand Historian of the Grand Lodge, he said there was no positive proof , but in all probability Belt Lodge was named for Dr. Alfred M. Belt. He was born July 23, 1804 in Kentucky and died Aug. 18, 1881 and is buried in Independence, Oregon, between Monmouth and Salem. He was a great asset to the Masons, the Willamette Valley and the state of Oregon. The Masons and the Belt Building have been a major asset to the Illinois Valley.