Preserving the Heritage of Freemasonry
Across Pennsylvania, from Olde City in Philadelphia, through historic Valley Forge and Gettysburg and on to the Pittsburgh area, nearly three centuries of Masonic history are reflected from stately buildings, statues, and monuments.
The Masonic Temple in Philadelphia, the "home" for Pennsylvania Freemasons and the headquarters for the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania the oldest Masonic Jurisdiction in America ranks among the top of the list. The magnificent Temple is unlike anything else in the nation, or even the world, according to architects and artists, structural engineers, and scholars. Not only is this grand structure recognized as one of the wonders of the Masonic world, but also it is rightfully entered on the National Register of Historic Sites and the National Register of Historic Architecture.
Though it was amidst difficult post Civil War economic times, preparatory to the purchase of a site for a new Masonic Temple, Samuel C. Perkins, then R.W. Senior Grand Warden and a member of the Building Committee, confidently reported to the Grand Lodge on April 7, 1869:
"There are doubtless many of the Brethren who would be glad to contribute according to their means to this cherished enterprise ... the noble structure, whose massive and solid proportions will be at once an ornament to the City, and an enduring monument of the dignity and power of the Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania and Masonic Jurisdiction thereunto belonging, and of the eternal principles of the Fraternity under the whole canopy of Heaven."
Brother Perkins was right. Through faith, dedication, determination, and fiscal acuity, those Masonic Brethren made the Masonic Temple a reality. It had been in 1867 that the Grand Lodge purchased the site, a full city block measuring 148 by 245 feet at Broad and Filbert Streets, for $155,000. Its Cornerstone was laid on St. John the Baptist's Day, June 24, 1868, and the Masonic Temple was dedicated on Sept. 26, 1873, the 87th anniversary of the independence of the Grand Lodge.
The Brethren planning and building for the future of Freemasonry in Pennsylvania were foresighted and farsighted in acquiring a choice property that was then a coal yard at the outer reaches of center city. Within a few years, Philadelphia's City Hall was under construction across the street. Through nearly a century and a half, the history, culture, and heritage of the Masonic Temple and City have stood forth as prime historical landmarks in Philadelphia.
There is an interesting descriptive booklet (c. 1954) that really is an extensive, well-written tour guide of the Masonic Temple by Bro. Robert J. Angney, P.M., Philadelphia Lodge No. 72 (now Philadelphia-Potter Lodge No. 72), who is identified as "Official Guide." The 32-page, pocket-size publication that was approved and authorized by Ralph M. Lehr, R.W. Grand Master (1954-1955) details the story of the Masonic Temple from the site selection to the completion of the splendorous interior.
Bro. Angney reported: "The choice of the architect to plan and carry out the important work of constructing a building desirable and suited for a Masonic Temple was decided by a competitive plan .... The unanimous choice of the Committee were (sic) the plans submitted by Brother James H. Windrim, a young man 27 years of age, who, ... was Master of Philadelphia Lodge No. 72 when the Temple was dedicated on September 26, 1873."
The magnificence of the interior décor has long been widely proclaimed and the history, culture, traditions, and heritage of Freemasonry permeating the seven lodge rooms, halls, Library and Museum, and function rooms are world-renowned. Bro. Angney's description as to how that came to be is quite interesting. He reports:
"Shortly after the dedication, the members of the Fraternity formed the Art Association, with the object of decorating and embellishing the various halls, giving them artistic, historic, and Masonic beauty. The funds for the purpose being supplied by its members from annual dues of one dollar each, contributions from individuals and from the various Masonic bodies meeting in the Temple. Its purpose, as stated, was to beautify, to dignify, to vivify the cold, dead walls, naked pillars, and blank ceilings, so that they might speak through the mystic symbols and historic figures which adorn them, and thus teach Freemasonry to the eye, while its ritualistic ceremonies teach it to both the eye and the ear and through them to the understanding and the heart.
"How faithfully our Masonic ancestors carried out the completion of the prophetic vision of Brother Vaux (R.W.G.M. Richard Vaux, 1868-69) and the ambitious plans of the Art Association is plainly visible to those who have eyes to see."
Each year, several thousand visitors, Masons and their families, and the public tour the grand Masonic Temple. Excellent audio-visual tours of the Masonic Temple are available by clicking here. A full-color descriptive booklet, Masonic Temple, Philadelphia, is available for purchase on-line from the Gift Shop.