1878 MASONIC TEMPLE                          1878 $20 BOND CERTIFICATE 
Palestine Lodge No.31, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons was chartered on May 1, 1848 by the Grand Lodge of Texas.  Since that time it has met continuously in Palestine, Texas.  The earliest Masons in the newly created town of Palestine were members of Lothrop Lodge No. 21 in Crockett, Texas.  On August 25, 1846 seven of them signed a petition to the Grand Lodge of Texas requesting a charter.  What they got instead was a dispensation creating Palestine Lodge No. 22 with Ferdinand Justus vonKirchhain being named the first Worshipful Master.  The second Master, Andrew Jackson Fowler who assumed the East for 1847, also became the first Master of Palestine Lodge No. 31 when it was chartered with twenty two Master Masons.   

The first meetings of the Lodge while under dispensation were held in the home of founding member and first tiler, Doctor Elijah James DeBard.  The Lodge met by candlelight on Saturday nights and which required Mrs. DeBard and her children to leave the house and remain gone until the meeting was concluded.  While this was somewhat of a hardship on the family what infuriated Julia DeBard even more was that after the meeting was over the brethren would raid her kitchen and eat up all the pies that she had spent most of the day baking for the family's Sunday dinner.  By the time a charter was secured changing Palestine Lodge No. 22 U. D. to Palestine Lodge No. 31, A.F. & A.M., Mrs. DeBard had had enough and told Dr. DeBard the Lodge would have to met someplace else.

And so it was that in 1848 the brethren started meeting in Tom Scott's general store on the southwest corner of Lacy and Church streets, the location of the parking lot of Foot's liquor store. 

                                              SCOTT'S STORE IS SEEN ON THE FAR RIGHT

Back in 1848 this corner was known as "Steamboat Corner" owing to the fact, that from this location the towns people could hear the sound of arriving steam boats arriving at Magnolia Ferry some eleven miles west.  With the Lodge growing quite rapidly, by November 1850 it had outgrown Tom Scott's one floor store and so a new building was built on the Rusk road that now occupies the address as 914 East Lacy street.  At the back of the two story building was added a kitchen which still stands to this day, the only part of the building to have survived the ravages of time.  The building was constructed with a dual purpose in mind from the very beginning.  While the Lodge occupied the top floor the bottom floor housed the first boy's school in town which was run and taught by members of the Lodge.
The truly first original purpose Palestine Masonic Hall as it was named in the minutes survived until 1946 when it was razed and William James constructed the present home on the same site.  By the end of 1851 membership in the Lodge had reached 68 Master Masons, 3 Fellowcrafts and 5 Entered Apprentices.  On December 27, 1851, John Earle Cravens, famous town lawyer, was installed as Master for 1852.  He would forever hold the distinction as being the only member of the Lodge to rise to the highest level in the Grand Lodge of Texas when he was elected and served as the Deputy Grand Master for 1857.  Brother Cravens would have been installed as Grand Master in January 1858 except he took himself out of the officer line to spend more time at home comforting a grieving wife, Mary, over the sudden unexpected death of their ten month old son Samuel who had died on October 10, 1857.

During the twenty eight years that the Lodge met on the Rusk Road the membership of the Lodge was a Who's Who of the leading and most important men of Palestine.  It was so that as some of the richest men in town became Masons, the finances of the Lodge increased as well and the brethren started dreaming of constructing a new building, the most elaborate and ornate in all the State of Texas - the magnificent 1878 Masonic Temple.  When completed the structure was the most overwhelming site in town.  The below photograph taken from street level gives a good insight as to what the building appeared to the approaching person.

 This stupendous edifice at Avenue A and Houston street, was begun with a cornerstone ceremony  on Thursday, August 29, 1878 with a Grand Ball later that evening held at the 1858 Female Academy building one block east.  The Masonic Temple was completed and a dedication ceremony was held on June 24, 1879.  The first meeting occurred in the lodge room on the third floor on that same day when the Lodge was opened in the 1850 Masonic Hall and a motion made to adjourn and move to the new building.  The first meeting opened in the new building occurred on July 12, 1879 with brother Robert S. Marsh in attendance.  He had been raised in Palestine Lodge back on July 8, 1876 just a few days after General George Custer's slaughter at the Battle of the Little Big Horn.  When Brother Marsh died on May 26, 1941, he was the last surviving lodge member who had been in attendance at that first meeting held 62 years earlier.

From the outset things did not go exactly as planned by the brethren in regards to financing the payments due on their new lodge building.  The original plan was to rent out the bottom floor to three undetermined merchants with the space divided into 3 parts.  The second floor was designed as the city's first opera house and would be utilized as such for many years.  It was also converted to the city's first movie theater and in 1915 forever entered history as the nationwide first screening of famed director, D. W. Griffith's new movie, The Birth of a Nation.  It was quite a famous coup for a town the size of Palestine when the screening could have been held in New York City or any other much larger city, but Palestine was the winner!

The third floor was built as to form and character to house the lodge room.  It a most magnificent room and the only artifact used in that old room that still survives today was the large minute book from 1866 in which the Secretary recorded the procedures of the Lodge.  The result of not being able to keep the bottom floor rented out was that the Lodge soon got behind on their payments of the construction debt and by 1883 the brethren were in real trouble.  When the final bonds were presented for payment on January 1, 1884, the Lodge was unable to redeem the paper.  By June 25, 1885 all hope of retaining ownership of the Temple and paying the outstanding balance against it had vanished.  This was incredible owing that many of the brethren were some of the richest men in Palestine but they had they own financial obligations and besides many of the brethren were in favor of moving out because of a building, while quite ornate and imposing, was so poorly constructed that the roof was always leaking and the wall paper in the lodge room constantly peeling off the walls.  Throughout the time the lodge did occupy the building off and on from 1879 to 1907, the brethren were constantly having to repair the roof which was never fully successful.
                                     J. B. MCKNIGHT'S HALL (On right looking East up Avenue A)

From June 12, 1886 until meetings were held in member's Julius Becton McKnight's building across the street from the Masonic Temple.  Meeting on the second floor within eye distance of the magnificent old Temple proved to be a constant reminder of just what the brethren had so willingly and quickly given up.  On July 10, 1894  the Lodge moved back into the 1878 Masonic Temple and during that stated meeting, brother A. M. Brashers was instructed to purchase three additional oil lamps for the lodge room.  But once again the brethren discovered that the new owner, Morris Lasker, of the Temple had also not been successful in stopping the roof from leaking!  By 1907 many of the craftsmen had had enough of the deteriorating conditions and started looking for a new meeting place.  There were a few holdouts that wanted to remain in the Temple though composed notably of Past Master William Nance (1904-05) and current lodge secretary, John E. Douthit.  They even secured a promise of Lasker to repair the roof to their satisfaction and then purchase just the third floor for $2,750 or the entire building for the original cost of the construction back in 1878 at a price of $16,000.  But in the end they were defeated in their attempts.

On June 15, 1907 the lodge was moved to the top floor of the Colley-Wright building at the southeast corner of Sycamore and Spring streets.

Unfortunately the brethren were worse off than they had been in the leaky 1878 Masonic Temple.  For this building was located within 30 feet of the railroad tracks in town that whenever a train passed to the south the resulting noise was such that no one could hear anything!  Back at the turn of the last century the railroad was a BIG deal in Palestine and trains ran quite often all hours of the day and night.  It was almost impossible to hold a meeting without having to stop and wait for the trains to pass.  Meeting on the third floor of the above building the brethren quickly realized that once again they would have to move.

After just two meetings the brethren approached Dr. Colley, voiced their dilemma and obtained a early out of their lease and moved into the second floor of the Murphy-Parsons building at 309 West Oak Street.


Brother W. Lacy Adams whose building is seen next to the Murphy-Parsons building on the far right remembers entry was made into the second floor from a metal stairway on the west side of the building in the alley.  Later the stairway was removed after the Lodge moved out in 1934.  It was while meeting in this building that Palestine Lodge welcomed into the stated meeting held on April 24, 1919 the highest elected official ever to sit in the Lodge - Vice President of the United States Thomas R. Marshall.  But what stood out in the minds of the local townspeople was not the visit of the Vice President but rather the fire in the early morning hours of August 30, 1911 when the building caught fire destroying the lodge room on the top floor as well as all the furnishings and artifacts that had been in the Lodge's possession since 1848.  Fortunately the original 1848 Charter and five books of the minutes from 1866 to that time were saved by the quick action of Past Master William "Bud" Irving.

William Irving lived about 4 blocks north of the building at the southeast corner of John and Lacy streets and was awaken at 2 a.m. and seeing the flames leaping from the top of the building, ran and rushed inside disregarding his own safety to rescue what he considered irreplaceable, the Charter and Minutes.  His home stills stands today that he had built back in 1901 at 612 North John street.  He was also able to save some of the petitions, most notably that of John H. Reagan.  The building was repaired and the lodge continued to meet here until 1934.  A second fire occurred on September 24, 1943 when the top floor was completely destroyed.  It was never rebuilt resulting in the buildings present appearance in 2014.  While meeting in the Murphy-Parsons building a motion was made by N. H. Hunt at the stated meeting on April 10, 1923  to create a Past Master photo gallery in the lodge room with the photos that had been collected since Robert A. Millar's had been received on May 9, 1911.  The photo frame made to house those photos is still in the Lodge's possession in 2014.  

On October 26, 1926 the Lodge purchased the Hodges Dry Goods building at 204 West Crawford street for $40,000 as a means of obtaining some rental property.  By 1933 the brethren of the lodge decided to remodel the top floor for a lodge room to avoid having to continue to pay rent in the Murphy-Parsons building.
The first meeting held in the new building which was named "Masonic Hall," the same name used back in 1850 for the building on the Rusk Road, was held on June 12, 1934.  Furniture for the new lodge room was constructed by non mason, Wayne Carter who was a Master carpenter working for his uncle, lodge brother Alfred Richardson.  With assistance from his cousin Clarence Rosson, Wayne constructed the three chaired Master's Station, the Senior and Junior Warden's chairs, the Alter and Secretary's desk as well as three podiums for the several stations of the Lodge.    Eleven years later Wayne would also construct more furniture for a auxiliary lodge room in the 1946 Masonic Temple.  Wayne died on April 1, 1978 having never becoming a mason but he left a lasting legacy of his love for masonry and woodworking that the brethren still enjoy today.
On January 20, 1945 a called meeting was held for the purpose of considering purchasing the former First Congregational Church building at the northwest corner of Queen and DeBard streets.  Built in 1918 it had served as a church until the congregation disbanded in 1937.
 By 1945 the brethren had outgrown the 1934 Masonic Hall and finding a vacant three story building close at hand entered into negotiations to purchase it for ten thousand dollars.  With the purchase came all the fixtures and furniture of the old church, its pews, pulpit, and piano.  27 pews were later sold as well as the piano.  To cover the red brick, lodge brother Lawrence B. Weatherly applied stucco that, still in place some 69 years later, is a testament to the expert workmanship of his skill.  The following year Brother Weatherly affiliated with the Lodge and became Master in June 1954.  Once again the brethren of Palestine Lodge revisited history to name their new building after a former building.  And so it was that the new building was named the "Masonic Temple" after that magnificent structure that had been built back in 1878.  During the 1957 the lodge room was extensively modified and updated.  The windows in the east were sealed up and carpet installed over the wooden floor.  Eighty-eight new chairs were also purchased by the membership which are still in use to the present day.

For the past 68 years the 1946 Masonic Temple has been regularly maintained.  Within the quarries there was found our own Hiram Abiff - brother Tom Ashley!  A master craftsman who can design and build most anything to beautify and adorn the Temple, during the years of 2006 - 2014, many improvements and upgrades to the building have been accomplished.  The most significant addition to the outside of the building grounds was the erection of a Texas Historical Marker.


On October 30, 1996 at 1 p.m. brothers Bill Rodgers, Richard Thornton, Jim Currie, W. L. Broughton and Charles Steen met at the Masonic Temple to accept delivery of the historical marker.  It was erected and set in the front of the building on November 15, 1996 by a working party composed of craftsmen; Jiles "B" Upton, W. L. Broughton, Davy Broughton, Cush Reeves, Bill Owens, Stewart Swinford and Charles Steen.
The marker was formally unveiled on November 19, 1996 by Virginia Goodrow of the Anderson County Historical Society and James D. Ward, Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Texas in a ceremony marking the Sesquicentennial of the founding of Palestine Lodge in November 1846.

During the first fourteen years of the 21st Century, the Masons of Palestine Lodge No. 31, A. F. & A. M. have embarked on the most aggressive remodeling program since 1957.  Many of the improvements have resulted in a library, new secretary's office, expanded Lodge Museum and a vastly improved banquet hall with multi gendered restrooms.  The Palestine Masons of 2014 are continuing the traditions and landmarks put in place by their ancient brethren to foster brotherly love and affection towards all who seek out the light and knowledge of Freemasonry.  The history of Palestine Lodge is a continuing story in the age old quest of taking good men and making them better men!