Volume LIIIMay 2006Number 2

The Many Meeting Places of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania

Under I-95 as it rushes along the Philadelphia Delaware Riverfront is the site of a wonderful old tavern that figured prominently in America's early history. Tun Tavern was Pennsylvania Freemasonry's first home, as it was for what became the U.S. Marine Corps, among other groups. The Indian King and Royal Standard taverns had also served as meeting places. In addition to providing support and encouraging a love of learning, a large part of Masonic life was social - eating, drinking and making merry. In those days, there were few places other than taverns that an organization could call home. The Tun was built in 1685, and when our story begins, owned by Bro. John Hobart, it was a natural place for the founding of the first Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania.

The first known evidence of a Pennsylvania Grand Lodge is found in Liber B, the ledger of St. John's Lodge, on the first page "...1731 June 24 To Wm Allen, Esq., Grandmaster £2 -6." Then, as follows from "the Pennsylvania Gazette No. 187, from Monday, June 19 to Monday June 26, 1732. Philadelphia, printed by B. Franklin, at the new printing-office, near the market: ...'Philadelphia, June 26. Saturday last being St. John's day, a Grand Lodge of the ancient and honorable Society of FREE and ACCEPTED MASONS was held at the Sun* Tavern in Water street, when, after a handsome entertainment, the Worshipful W. Allen, Esq., was unanimously chosen Grand Master of this Province for the year ensuing, who was pleased to appoint Mr. William Pringle Deputy Master. Wardens chosen for the ensuing year were Thomas Boude and Benjamin Franklin'." [* Misprint; should be "Tun."] Proceedings, vol. 1, xi-xii.

In 1755 with great ceremony, Deputy Grand Master Benjamin Franklin, PGM, dedicated the first building erected solely for Masonic use: Freemasons' Lodge. After a year's stay in City Tavern during the British Occupation (1777-1778) in the Revolutionary War, Grand Lodge returned to the Freemasons' Lodge.

Grand Lodge also met sporadically from 1769 to 1790 in a building in Videll's (or Lodge) Alley. It was probably here, on Sept. 25, 1786, that the colonial Grand Lodge voted to close, and reopen the next day as the independent Grand Lodge F.& A.M. of Pennsylvania and Jurisdiction Thereunto Pertaining, as it is known today.

In 1790 Grand Lodge moved to the Free Quaker Meetinghouse, which was deemed "a more convenient place to meet" (Proceedings Aug. 16, 1790), where they stayed until 1799. Built in 1783, the Meetinghouse still stands at the corner of 5th and Arch streets, just across from Bro. Franklin's grave in Christ Church burial ground.

1799 January 21 Proceedings: "A Plan referred to this R.W.G.L. for erecting a structure wherein the different Lodges in this city may perform their labors was received and read....[then] referred to the Officers of the Grand Lodge and the Masters of the several Lodges..."

From 1800 until 1802, Grand Lodge met in the State House (Independence Hall, completed in 1756). It is thus the oldest still-standing meeting place of Grand Lodge, on Chestnut Street between 5th and 6th.

A building farther west, which was named Pennsylvania Freemasons Hall, and dedicated Dec. 27, 1802, became the home of Grand Lodge for the next eight years.

Finally, the original desire expressed in those Minutes of 1799 was fulfilled. A beautiful Masonic Hall with a tower was built and dedicated June 24, 1811. Unfortunately, it was gutted by fire on March 9, 1819, taking with it many records except the membership books (1789-1911). A five-octave melodeon and a bench, now in the Museum, were also saved. Grand Lodge moved back to Pennsylvania Freemasons Hall until the "Chestnut Street" Masonic Hall was rebuilt, without the tower. Grand Lodge rededicated the building Nov. 1, 1820, and stayed there until 1835.

After a 20-year stay in Washington Hall (1835-1855), Grand Lodge completed a stunning "New" Masonic Hall on the site of the older burnt one. There Grand Lodge stayed until 1873. However, this building became too complicated and costly to care for (constant basement flooding, inadequate rooms, etc.), so the decision was made to construct another hall. "The Hall Committee" had said, among many other things in its long, detailed report, "The Committee believe that no building can be erected suited in detail to all the wants of the Society, without having every part of it 'from turret to foundation stone,' appropriated to the distinctive purposes of the Order...They believe that the practical wants of the age demand that a temple...should not only have lodge-rooms properly constructed, ornamented and ventilated, with all the necessary chambers for its various officers and committees, but that it should have conversation, library and lecture rooms..." (Proceedings, Dec. 18, 1865).

The population of the city and membership in the Fraternity had grown after the Civil War. By Dec. 17, 1866 (Proceedings of that date), the choice of the location at Broad and Filbert streets had been made. The Grand Lodge Officers probably had no idea that it would soon be prime center-city real estate! On St. John's Day, June 24, 1868, the cornerstone was laid. Completed in 1873 and dedicated in a huge ceremony on Sept. 26th of that year, the Masonic Temple has remained the magnificent headquarters of our Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania. As Grand Master Vaux said when called for the work to begin (Proceedings, Dec. 27, 1867): "Let us have then a new Temple for Pennsylvania, which expresses in the language of architecture, the historic origin of our Order. Let it be in entire harmony with its hoary antiquity. Make it the ark of safety for our esoteric mysteries, which, since the earliest of days have proved the fraternity to be their only custodian, preserver, protector and teacher. Let us have a Temple on which the student, the scholar, and the craftsman from all nations and of all tongues may look and learn its purpose, and understand its origin, proclaimed by every word of its architectural language, from porch to pinnacle!"

His order was fulfilled in what has continued to be our beloved Masonic Temple, displayed on the cover.


Tun Tavern, 1732-1734


Indian King Tavern, 1735-1748 & the Royal Standard Tavern,
1749-1754


The Freemasons' Lodge,
1755-1768; 1778-1785


The City Tavern, 1777-1778


Building in Videll's Alley, 1769-1790


Free Quaker Meeting House,
1790-1799


The State House
(Independence Hall),
1800-1802


Pennsylvania Freemasons Hall,
1802-1810 & 1819-1820
Masonic Hall,
1811-1819
Masonic Hall,
1820-1835
Washington Hall,
1835-1855
New Masonic Hall,
1855-1873
Article by Glenys Waldman, Librarian, and Dennis Buttleman, Curator, The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania. Photographs were provided courtesy of The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania.

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