In London, in June 1717, the Grand Lodge of England was formed and this marks the beginning of Freemasonry as it is known today. A few years later, the Grand Lodges of Scotland and Ireland were organized. With the establishment of these high-governing bodies, subordinate lodges were established throughout England, Scotland and Ireland. It was only natural that the American colonies should receive their charters from their mother country, or work under the Grand Lodges of Great Britain and Scotland. While Freemasonry may have existed in the infant colonies earlier than 1730, it is definitely known that it was at work that year. In the decade following, the Masonic institution was firmly established in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Georgia. On October13,1778, the Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons in Virginia was formed at Williamsburg, the state capital.
Although Lexington was one of the earliest settlements in Kentucky, it was not until 1785 that it assumed the appearance of a frontier village, its growth having been retarded by Indian warfare. At this time, seven years before Kentucky became a state, Lexington consisted of only three rows of log cabins. Two years later, in August 1787, John Bradford published the first newspaper west of the Alleghenies – the Kentucky Gazette, in a little log cabin near the corner of Broadway and Main Streets. The haunting dread of Indian attacks began to gradually fade away, and by the fall of 1788, this “budding metropolis contained “about fifty houses, partly frame and hewn logs, with the chimneys on the outside. . . and at most 350 inhabitants.”
The history of the human race does not record a more amazing episode than the deluge of emigrants, who, pouring through the Cumberland Gap at the close of the eighteenth century, spread over all the boundaries of the present State of Kentucky, and within the short period of twenty years converted a boundless wilderness into prosperous farms and commodious villages.
To be found among the inhabitants of this frontier metropolis, was a small group of Masons, many of whom had served in the Revolutionary War and who had now come westward to build up their fortunes, or establish their claims to the rich Bluegrass lands which were rapidly being opened up. These pioneer Masons who settled in Lexington, being far removed from any lodge, were desirous of establishing one of their own. So, after some months of delay, they petitioned the Grand Lodge of Virginia, as Kentucky was still a part of Virginia and most of the Masons had come from that state.
At a Grand Lodge, holden by adjournment at the Mason’s Hall, in the city of Richmond, on the 17th day of November, 1788 … a petition of Green Clay, in behalf of sundry Brethren residing in the district of Kentucky was read, praying that leave be granted to them to hold a regular lodge at the town of Lexington, in the district aforesaid.
Ordered, that a charter be granted to Richard Clough Anderson, John Fowler, Green Clay, and others, to hold a regular Lodge of Free Masons at the town of Lexington, in the district of Kentucky, by the name title, and designation of the Lexington Lodge, No. 25…. (Signed) Alex Montgomery, G.M., p.t. Teste William Lambert, G.Sec’y, pro tem.
The three men named in the record were of some stature in both the profane and Masonic worlds. Richard Clough Anderson, the first Master of Lexington Lodge No. 25, was a native of Hanover County, Virginia. He was a captain in the Virginia Continentals during the Revolution and crossed the Delaware in the first boat at the Battle of Trenton in 1776. He also saw service at Brandywine, Germantown, and Savannah before being taken prisoner at Charleston in 1780. After the war he moved to Kentucky and became a principal surveyor of bounty lands to be entered for veterans of the Revolution. Anderson eventually established his residence on a farm called “Soldier’s Retreat” near Louisville. Anderson was a member of the first electoral college and a member of the Kentucky legislature. He married Elizabeth Clark, the sister of George Rogers Clark. His children included Richard Clough Anderson, Jr. for whom Anderson County was named, and Civil War (Union) Brigadier General Robert Anderson. Richard Clough Anderson died in 1826.
Accordingly, the Grand Lodge of Virginia saw fit to grant a charter to the little band of Masons “at the town of Lexington, district of Kentucke.” Thus the first lodge in the western country was established in Lexington the “Athens of the West” four years before Kentucky was admitted into the Union.
It is an interesting fact and one that shows the importance Masonry played in the early settlement of Lexington, that out of the party of eight pioneer hunters who located the site of the city, three were Masons; Robert Patterson, Levi Todd and John Maxwell.
The return for the year 1794 is the earliest one extant, and shows its membership consisted of 19 Master Masons, 17 Fellowcrafts and 9 Entered Apprentices. The first Masonic Temple or “Masons Hall” as it was then called, in Lexington and in all that country west of the Alleghenies, was a small log house of primitive style built on land donated to the lodge by Brother William Murray, afterwards the first Grand Master of Kentucky. This deed, dated December 16, 1795, from William Murray and wife was made out to several brothers, as trustees of “Lexington Lodge of Ancient Masons” and was in consideration of five shillings. By June 1796, the membership of the Lodge had grown so, that an annual “St. John’s day was celebrated with considerable display.”
During the summer of 1796, a joint lottery, authorized by law was held, and $2,250 was received each by the lodge and the city trustees. With this money, Lexington Lodge No. 25 replaced its log meeting place with a two story brick building on the same location; the new Masonic Hall being completed and occupied during the late fall of 1796. At this time there “were as many as twenty-five brick buildings being erected in Lexington.” Here, in this “Masons Hall” Lexington Lodge No. 25 continued to meet under its Virginia Charter. Hunters in buckskins and lawyers, doctors, surveyors, printers, statesmen and members of other professions were wont to assemble and “meet upon the square.” Here too, “they parted upon the square” to go out into the world, and carry into practice in their daily lives the tenets of tolerance, justice and brotherly love they professed.
Other lodges were established in the neighboring Bluegrass towns, by the Grand Lodge of Virginia, namely: Paris Lodge No. 35; Georgetown Lodge No. 46; Frankfort – Hiram Lodge No. 57 and Abraham’s Lodge U D. at Shelbyville.
Distance and dangers, coupled with the unsatisfactory means of communication suggested the desirability of asking permission from Virginia to sever connections and to establish a Grand Lodge of Kentucky. Permission was given, and in 1800, the five lodges in the Bluegrass assembled in the “Masons Hall” in Lexington, and on the sixteenth day of October the Grand Lodge of Kentucky was formed. James Morrison, a Lexingtonian and the oldest past master present was asked to preside.
By virtue of Lexington Lodge No. 25 being the oldest lodge in Kentucky, it then became known as Lexington Lodge No. 1 upon the rolls of the newly organized Grand Lodge of the state. The other lodges likewise took new charters and numbers: Paris Lodge No. 2; Georgetown Lodge No. 3; Hiram Lodge No. 4 (at Frankfort) and Solomon’s Lodge No. 5 at Shelbyville. The formation of the Kentucky Grand Lodge in Lexington cemented the bonds that ever bound the cities of the Bluegrass together, for these men were the foremost leaders of their day in everything that pertained to the welfare of their respective communities.
On March 9, 1819, the Lexington Masons suffered the loss of their hall by fire At that time, the Grand Lodge of Kentucky, Lexington Lodge No. I and a sister lodge of the city, Daveiss No. 22 were jointly occupying the building. “By the munificence of the Craft, aided by the contributions of the fellow citizens, said the Kentucky Gazette, September 3, 1819, “a sum of money was raised, sufficient to rebuild the lodge hall; and such has been the zeal and activity of the superintendents, that the rafters for the roof, were raised this day. A spacious suite of rooms fifty six by thirty, is being raised, which when completed, will render it one of the most roomy and elegant structures in the city.”
Next year, 1820, was an interesting one in the annals of Lexington Freemasonry, for that year, Henry Clay was Master of Lexington Lodge No. 1 and also Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Kentucky. This unusual honor that was conferred upon the illustrious “Harry of the West” has never before or since, been extended to another Kentucky Mason.
With four Masonic bodies and the Grand Lodge of Kentucky meeting in Lexington, the stronghold of Freemasonry in the western country, it was decided in 1824 to erect a “commodious edifice” suitable for the needs of the Craft. The small brick “Masons Hall” had become too small to adequately house the Masonic bodies. After several months of deliberation it was decided to erect a very handsome building “which would stand for all ages and should, in some degree, indicate to posterity the state of the arts at he period of its erection.” A prize of $400 was offered for the best design submitted, which was won by Matthew Kennedy, local architect, who was employed to superintend the erection of the building. With pledges from Masons, the Masonic bodies and public spirited citizens, which “were all set down in specie,” ground for the new hall was broken, and on June 1,1824, amid a great gathering of Masons and spectators, Asa Kentucky Lewis, Grand Master, laid the corner stone, pronouncing “it well formed, true, and trusty.” Robert J. Breckinridge, Grand Orator, delivered a suitable oration and a collection was taken up for the workmen and placed on the corner-stone.
In May 1825, during the construction of the Grand Masonic Hall, General Lafayette, the last surviving major-general of the Revolutionary War visited Lexington. Lafayette, a member of the Masonic Order, was royally entertained by his brethren and citizens of Lexington, and a Masonic Ball was given in his honor in this partially completed building. Lafayette took his seat at the banquet table in front of a large castellated cake, surmounted by the American and French flags, and covered with Masonic designs. This cake was the splendid workmanship of his fellow-countrymen, the well known restaurant-keeper and culinary artist Mathurin Giron, immortalized by James Lane Allen in his “King Solomon of Kentucky.”
After a bounteous repast was served and suitable speeches and toasts for the occasion delivered, the remainder of the evening was devoted to dancing to the strains of Anton Phillipe Heindrick’s masterpieces. The dancing lasted far into the night, but the old general, still lame from the wound he received in the war, was able to tread out but a few of the measures, and left the hall about eleven o’clock “to indulge in those thoughts and feelings which must occupy the mind of such a benevolent man, and which must consecrate his day to peace and happiness, and the day was over for him.”
Next morning, General Lafayette and his suite attended a Masonic breakfast in the grand hall, where he was addressed by John Ward: “Excellent and venerated Brother! Patron of our Country and of National Freedom wherever man exists – The Fraternity of Masons in Lexington greet and welcome you!” General Lafayette’s visit to Lexington was less than two days, yet in that short space he was elaborately entertained in the Masonic Hall on two occasions.
After numerous delays, occasioned by a shortage of material and money, the Grand Masonic Hall which had been in the course of construction for two years, was completed and dedicated “in ancient form and usage” on October 26, 1826. This three story brick building, with its one and one-half story spire was quite an imposing structure in the little town of Lexington – the “Athens of the West.” Before the building was half completed, it was seen that the original estimate was far too low, and the pledges and money on hand would not nearly pay for its completion.
Permission was then obtained from the Legislature to raise money by lottery for the work on the new hall. Several small lotteries were held as the work on the building progressed, and upon its completion a “grand lottery with a first prize of $20,000” was held to make the final payment on the building. When the final drawing took place, it was found that Dr. Lewis Marshall, of Woodford County, holder of ticket no. 17,400 had won the first prize of $20,000. Payments in those days were made largely in script or paper of individual banks, and were often quite worthless. Dr. Marshall refused this script and sued the lottery managers for his payment in gold. Part of this money was raised and paid him, the remainder being secured by a mortgage on the newly erected hall.
After nine years Dr. Marshall foreclosed on his mortgage, and when the hall was put up and sold, it was bought in by the mortgage holder – Dr. Marshall on November 4,1835, at a cost of $6,000. Thus the “unfortunate lottery” robbed the Lexington Masons of their hall, the very thing it was intended to build. On the evening of August 29, 1836, at a quarter to nine, fire was discovered in a carpenter’s shop in the rear of the building. The local fire engines, “Kentuckians,” “Resolution,” and “Lyon,” made their appearance, but the fire was beyond control and by midnight, the Grand Masonic Hall was totally destroyed “leaving nothing but tottering walls and smoking ruins.” The Masonic lodges of the city, as well as the Grand Lodge were still occupying the building, and lost all their furniture, jewels, and archives. In an attempt to rescue the charter of Lexington Lodge No. 1, John McCracon was nearly suffocated by smoke and was unsuccessful in his attempt. The hall “cost between $30,000 and $40,000,” said the Kentucky Gazette, “and no insurance, but as it was purchased low, it is supposed the ground and remaining materials are fully worth the purchase.”
During the life of this Masonic Hall, 1826-1836, the whole country was swept with a great movement threatening to wipe out Masonry in general, commonly called the “Morgan episode,” or the anti-masonic campaign. The whole temple of Masonry in the United States, which had seemed to the common eye, impregnable, was shaken to its very depths by the commotion that followed. Two Grand Lodges, Michigan and Illinois, went down under the strain. Several other Grand Lodges stood for a time on the verge of dissolution, and seriously contemplated suicide. Even in Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee, far removed as they were from the theatre of action, there were sad inroads into the ranks of the Fraternity. It was the members steadfast loyalty that kept the alter fires burning and it is hard to tell what might have happened to Freemasonry had not these martyrs stuck so firmly to their principles.
Since that time the Grand Lodge has resided in Louisville and is currently located on the Louisville campus of the Masonic Homes of Kentucky.
For Lexington Lodge No. 1 in 1836, the outlook was pretty discouraging. Asiatic Cholera had swept Lexington three years before, when one out of every seven persons was carried off by the pestilence. Added to this was the loss of their hall and the ten years of anti Masonic move meet, which had paralyzed the order and almost caused its death. However, the Lexington Masons rallied with a grim determination and, after several years of hard work laid the cornerstone, July 3, 1840, for another Masonic Hall, on the site of their first log building. It was completed and dedicated on September 1,1841, at a total cost of $20,774. From then on, Masonry in the Bluegrass was on the upward trend; several sister lodges being established in the city and the Grand Lodge still held its meetings in Lexington.
During the Civil War, when brother turned against brother the hall was seized by the Union army, and used as a hospital, recruiting office and later as a prison. All of their records, furniture and archives were either lost or destroyed during its occupancy by the Yankee soldiers.
Having become badly dilapidated and in great need of repairs, the old Masonic Hall was torn down in December 1891. The property subsequently passed to the Central Christian Church upon which had been built the first building devoted to Masonic purposes in Kentucky.
Prior to 1900 the Grand Lodge had for many years ceased to use the Masonic Hall and had moved to the city of Louisville, Kentucky for its annual meeting and regular business. On December 1, 1900 an amendment to the article of incorporation provided for the purchase of land and construct buildings on the purchased property.
Sources of Information: “200th Anniversary Lexington Lodge No. 1 F.&A.M. Lexington, Kentucky 1788 – 1988”
“Book of Constitutions of The Grand Lodge of Kentucky”, Twelfth Edition, Prepared by Joseph R. Conway, P.G.M., Grand Secretary, J.C. McClanahan, P.G.M., P.G.S., Roland T. Stayton, William A. Buckaway, Jr.