Williamson County
Historical Commission

 

 


San Gabriel Masonic Lodge building

Georgetown, Texas





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San Gabriel Masonic Lodge building
Narrative by Clara Scarbough

(note this narrative was written some time back before the Lodge move to their new building ) view San Gabriel Lodge No. 89, A. F. & A. M

 

 The present home of San Gabriel Masonic Lodge is one of the handsome buildings on the Courthouse Square of Georgetown. Built 75 years ago, its four walls were erected by the time the famous Galveston storm hit September 8, 1900, and local citizens were concerned that the terrific hurricane winds would damage or tumble them. They needn't have worried. It was said then, and is still often repeated, that if Belford Lumber Com­pany built it, it was the best. Belford had contracted to put up the two story Masonic structure for $8,100 late in April of 1900. "The four sheer walls of the Temple" stood firm through the storm, no doubt enhancing the solid reputation of the construc­tion firm.

 THE MASONIC TEMPLE, as it was called, stands at the cor­ner of Seventh Street and Main Street in the middle of the proposed Historic District of Georgetown. The downstairs is oc­cupied by Atkin Furniture Company, which has been there since 1925, but the upstairs has always been reserved for the Masonic Lodge. The meeting and other rooms are approached by a rather elegant, wide stairway, with handsome light fixtures of the period on each side of the stairs.

 Prior to 1900, the Lodge had a two story wooden building on the same lot, used the upper story for meetings, and rented the first floor to the post office. When the Masons decided to erect the new building, they sold the frame one to the Knights of Pythias Lodge who moved the old frame structure to a location south of the present post office on East 8th Street, and the postal business was moved with it while the Masonic building was constructed.

 As construction progressed on the fine old building and the hurricane winds of September 1900 reached inland from the Galveston storm, Belford temporarily braced the free standing walls. The cornerstone lad been donated by Judge George W. Glasscock (son of the pioneer who gave land to Williamson County in return for selecting Georgetown as the county seat and naming the town in his honor). Masonic ceremonies for lay­ing the cornerstone were held July 6, 1900, and the building was completed December 8, the same year.

 THE POST OFFICE was promptly moved into the new building, occupying the smaller section on the northeast end,, which had its own separate entrance on the north adjacent to the doors leading up the stairs to the Masonic rooms. The post office remained here until 1912, when it moved to the Robertson Building on the north side of the Square, where Gold's and, until recently, Henderson's, were situated. Later, sometime in the 1920s, the office moved into the Miles Brothers building, then in 1932, into their new Federal Post Office Building, still in use.

 The other early occupant of the Temple was a drug store, first owned and operated by George Atkinson, later sold to. J. W. Long Druggist, who remained there until in 1925 when S. T. Atkin Furniture acquired the lease for the first floor.  J. Thatcher Atkin, son of Mr. and Mrs. S. T: Atkin, recalls that Mr. Long installed a soda fountain in his store, rectangular in shape, in the front (west end) of his store. This was one of the early cold drink fountains in town. A hall or passageway between the drug store and post office space was closed off, but after the post office left the building, the hall was opened and now leads from Mr. Atkin's main showroom to a storage area in the rear.

 SAN GABRIEL MASONIC LODGE found sufficient space in the building to rent offices at different times to three doctors. The first of these was Dr. Henschen, who had his office on the balcony of the drug store's upstairs — a balcony still in use.

 S. T. ATKIN, an inventor who patented a special kind of Flue and marketed it with considerable success, in 1925 moved his furniture business from the area east of the present Public Library into the Masonic Building first floor. About that time, his only son, J. Thatcher Atkin, received his degree from Southwestern University, and Mr. and Mrs. Atkin and young Thatcher took a trip into west Texas. While at Alpine, Mr. S. T. Atkin suffered a heart attack and died. Mrs. Atkin, who had assisted her husband in the business and was familiar with it,' continued to operate it. Thatcher had accepted a teaching position in Elgin for the fall, but after his father's death, he resign­ed that job and remained in Georgetown to work at the store with his mother. Thatcher was importuned by Southwestern' University to take a teaching position in freshman mathematics, during the mornings, which he accepted, but continued in the furniture business afternoons in the firm with his mother.

 SAN GABRIEL MASONIC LODGE San Gabriel Masonic Lodge No. 89 of Georgetown was the first Masonic Lodge to be organized in Williamson County. Eight men presented a petition to the Grand Lodge of Texas in 1851 asking that they be permitted to form a Lodge, and on May 10, 1851, the Grand Maier of the State Lodge signed a dispensation granting the request. Those singing the petition

and listed as charter members were men from several parts of the new county: C. C. Arnett, Joseph Rubarth, Samuel Patterson, C. C. Cook, J. A. Chism, J. T. Cook, James Armstrong, and E. F. Story.

 The State Grand Master Andrew Neill appointed John T. Cook, First Master; James Armstrong, First Senior Warden, and Edward F. Story, First Junior Warden. Within a few days, on May 22, 151, a group of Master Masons met at Georgetown — J. T. Cox, E. F. Story, C.C. Arnett, James Roberts, C. C. Cook, Jos. Rubarth, Sam'l. Mather, A. H: Raines/ or Baines (found written both ways in early records), and W. H. Cushney. The Lodge continued under its special dispensation until January 21, 1852, when proceedings began for chartering San Gabriel Lodge. Charter was granted on January 23, 1851. At chartering, new officers were chosen: John T. Cox, First Worshipful Master, and James Armstrong, E. F. Story, I. K. Branch, N. B. Johnson, Sam Mather, Jos. Rubarth, and I. R. (? ) Fleming, other officers.

 THE "ROCK HOUSE" of the Lodge was mentioned in 1851, and in the October 18, 1851 minutes, the organization contracted to build a "Lodge Room" on their rock house. Other names appearing in the minutes for that year included N. B. Johnson, Fred R. Hile, Jas. H. Addison, Jas. W. Branch, J. S. Mercer, A. J. McKay, T. D. Allen, Jas. W. Crop, John W. Flemming, N. Beardsley, F. F. Miller and W. H. Fishmell. Those present at the December 1851 meeting were J. T. Cox, D. C. Cowen (sic.), E. F. Story, T. R. Burch, N. B. Johnson, Jos. Rubarth, Samuel Mather, Jno. W. Flemming, James Miller, R. Garves (sic.), J.

B. Harrell, Jas. Branch, J. P. Patterson, Jesse Mercer, and C. C. Cook. (Spelling from minutes is adhered to, although some is apparently incorrect: i.e., D. C. Cowan is correct.) 

Deed Book III, page 121 of Williamson County Deeds records that on January 29, 1852, Newton B. Johnson, owner of "a cer­tain stone house" located on the corner of Brushy and Oak streets (now Austin Avenue and 8th) in the west corner of the block south of the Square, consented for the. San Gabriel Lodge "to have erected on the top of the walls of said stone house. . . a Lodge Room comprising the frame building above the walls of said stone house" for the sole use of the Lodge for a considera­tion of $5. 

On March 27, 1852, Masters Degrees were awarded to W. G. Hubbard, John Miller, Noah McChristian, John Barton, R. L. Matthews, and John H. Mathews (sic.). Minutes of about this time indicate that there was a continuing interest in the gold fever in California. On March 2, 1852, "Bro. A. Beardsley being on his way to California, prayed for a demit which was granted him." In 1853, it was noted that dispensation for lodges had been granted for chapters at Round Rock and Gabriel Mills (Mount Horeb). 

In 1857, the Lodge was still meeting upstairs south of the Square, in the same building mentioned above, and by this time the lower floor was a saloon-ten pin alley "and had all the appearances that go with a frontier resort of this character," according to an undated clipping from the SUN. That same year, Colonel W. C. Dalrymple, a Lodge member, was praised in the minutes for his service in the Texas Rangers, Scouts, the Army of Sam Houston and battles on the frontier. A street had been named Dalrymple in his honor, later changed to Forest. Street. 

COLONEL DUDLEY H. SNYDER, well-known cattleman, received his Master Mason degree on January 12, 1858, from the Georgetown Lodge. On May 29, 1858, the Lodge purchased a lot from Dr. D. F. Knight on the east side of the Square. They paid $1,000 for this property and instructed workmen to "take anything necessary from the present Lodge to the new to make repair or to use therein." A note was given to Dr. Knight for the balance on the "building." It is assumed that the Lodge meant to make this their headquarters. 

Effects of the Civil War reflected in minutes of that period. A number of times, special action was asked for and generally taken to allow members to obtain their Master Mason -degrees prior to leaving for service in the war, as was the case in late October of 1861 with Ed H. Von Trees (sic.) who wished his degree in order "that he might proceed to Ken­tucky." Meetings were sprinkled with efforts to rent space or sell the "Old Lodge Room." In December 1861 the Lodge Room was rented as a public school for $5 a month, and the Old Room showed a deed of sale to a Mr. McKaughen. Members voted to lease the lower floor of their new building for at least $10 per month (October 21, 1865), or to sell the Lodge building for a practicable amount, and, after negotiating the sale to subscribe for shares in the Georgetown Male & Female Academy with the stipulation that a suitable upper room be provided in the Academy for a Lodge Room (December 16, 1866). A committee later reported that sale of the old building was not practicable, and instead it was rented for $15.

 NOTES OF TRAGEDY entered the minutes of early years. On December 20, 1862, a resolution of sympathy and respect began, "Whereas, we have been informed of the death of Bro. James H. Tankersley, who was killed by the Indians on a date unknown in July, 1862. . . ." It was announced that George W. Counts, Steven A. Boyce and C. C. Ake lost their lives in the ser­vice of the Confederate Army, and that Confederate General E. H. Von Tress (sic.) was killed by lightning. Memorial services were preached by Bro. J. W. Ledbetter on July 16, 1865.

 The Eastern Star, beginning July 16, 1867, was permitted to occupy the Lodge Room. It was also noted in the minutes of that year that the building east of the Hall should provide a secure lot and shed for the horses or horse-drawn vehicles for the use of Lodge members. This spot eventually developed into one of Georgetown's busy livery stables.

 Housing continued to be a problem, as April 17 and November 30, 1869, minutes suggest. J. C. S. Morrow, J. R. Peay and J. J. Stubblefield were appointed to "find what could be attained for purpose of erecting a building for a Lodge, School & Church." In May, the same year, Thos. P. Hughes and Sam'l. Mankins were added to the Lodge-hunting committee. On November 30, the members agreed to rent their "store room" to W. J. Montgomery "on the best possible terms." 

Masons have long participated in the laying of cornerstones of public buildings, and the erection of Georgetown College in 1870 provided one of those occasions. At their July 4 meeting, the brothers ordered the purchase of special items needed for the affair, and decided to invite Mount Horeb (at Gabriel Mills), Post Oak Island, Salado and Austin lodges to be present. The solemn ceremonies took place July 16, 1870, on the University Avenue site of what, in turn, became Georgetown College —"Texas University" — Southwestern University, then the Preparatory School for Southwestern after its main campus moved to the east on the same street, and finally the site of Georgetown High School (in 1975 to be replaced by a new High north Highway 81). Officers of San Gabriel Lodge in charge of the 1870 cornerstone ceremonies were Norton Moses, W. G. Westfall, W. J. Montgomery, J. E. Walker, J. W. Posey, J. M. Denson and J. J. Stubblefield.

 PERHAPS IN CELEBRATION of its twentieth year as a Lodge, although the reason was not stated, minutes for February 18, 1871, say that at the close of the regular session, the members repaired to the Alamo Hotel for an "elegant repast prepared for the occasion." The following month, a committee was asked to negotiate with E. H. Napier in regard to the Old Lodge, room rents, etc., the old building being the one south of the Square on the northwest corner of the block. Napier had operated a saloon in the building for some time.

From post-Civil War days until almost the end of the century, the local Masons were periodically looking for better meeting quarters, and related matters. For instance, a committee was authorized to rent a suitable Lodge room (December 21, 1872); another was appointed to sell the old building, but not the lot (October 18, 1873); the committee reported that the building had been sold for $300 to "Bro. Albright" (February 21, 1874), but the purchaser died soon thereafter; on March 6 and 20, 1875, members discussed building a new Hall, and on June 5, a com­mittee was designated to consult J. C. S. Morrow about renting the second floor of his store_( in 1975 Henderson's Appliance Store at Austin Avenue and Seventh Street) and on July 3, upper floor of the building was rented to them for $10. Minutes do not in­dicate for how long. By November 6, 1875, a new committee —J. C. S. Morrow, F. L. Price and R. H. Montgomery — were em­powered to rent another hall for lodge meetings in conjunction with the Odd Fellows. Negotiations were completed January 1, 1876, with D. Love for this joint rental, and in April, the two lodges worked toward purchasing the cemetery.

 ANOTHER COMMITTEE was named January 5, 1877, to work with I. 0. 0. F. and the Southern Presbyterian Church to con­sider ways and means of building a hall. Early the next year, the Masons sold the "Albright House" to Dr. F. A. Mood for $364.55, and the following November 2, 1878, contracted for the construction of a Lodge Room. It was begun by meeting time, December 21. The job must have been a hasty one, for by May 9, 1881, minutes report that the building needed repairs, including the installation of columns along the floor which should, in turn, support a beam running the entire length of the building. The next year, the building was insured for $1,000 and the lower story was rented; the members also authorized the purchase of "spit-boxes" (1. e., spittoons). Whether done in seriousness or not, the members passed a motion in January 1884 prohibiting smoking and chewing while the Lodge was "at labor," but the action was rescinded at a subsequent meeting.

San Gabriel Lodge made plans on February 7, 1885, to par­ticipate in flying the cornerstone of the new state Capitol In Austin. 

THREE LOCAL MEN received their first degree status on April 2, 1887, all three attaining some prominence in local or state history. Robert A. John became assistant Attorney General of Texas, having also been County Attorney for Williamson County and a prominent local lawyer. R. E. Brooks became Judge of the 26th Judicial District, then helped form the Hogg-Swayne Syndicate, a corporation to develop oil properties at Spindletop. This syndicate laid the ground work for the Texas Company. The first meeting of a group planning this company is said to have been held in the rear of what is now Burkhart's Newsstand. The third man to receive his first degree was W. Y. Penn, a Georgetown jeweler and bookseller, later Mayor of Georgetown, and still later a real estate dealer in San Antonio. The new Young Ladies' Annex at Southwestern' University was the site of another Masonic cornerstone ceremony on September 22, 1887. This Annex was on the site of the present Kuykendall Hall, the earlier Annex having burned. The San Gabriel Lodge also had charge of laying a cornerstone on December 8, 1894, for the City of Georgetown Free School Building, later known as Annie Purl School, In the center of the Citizens State Bank block. This building was designed by architect Bert McDonald; contractor was Francis Fisher, and superintendent of the city schools was F. P. Leveret.

NEWFANGLED CONVENIENCES were appearing rapidly in Georgetown at the end of the century, and San Gabriel Lodge was not long in considering them. A committee was appointed to look into the installation of electric lights, the fixtures to cost $60.50 (June 9, 1894); at the July meeting, the members voted to pay $28 for installation of the lights, and also contracted for ob­taining running water from the local Water Company. On January 12, 1895, the Lodge ordered sewage installed in, the Lodge Building.

Between 1895 and 1899, members firmed up their determination to construct a new hall, sell the old building they occupied, and rent another meeting place "more comfortable" than the one they were using until the new structure was finished. They also voted to secure "another house for the post office," which had rented the first floor of their building, with the understan­ding that the post office would move into the first floor of the new building when it was finished. On February 10, 1900, the old building was sold to the Knights of Pythias, who moved it, and plans were, ordered for a two story structure which would reach to the alley on the same site. On April 28, 1900, the contract was let to Belford Lumber Company for $8,100, with B. Walters as superintendent of construction. The stone temple was to be completed in five months. When the cornerstone was laid, July 6, 1900, the following were officers of san Gabriel Lodge: S. M. Strayhorn, Robert A. John, Dan S. Chessher, G.

 Foster, P. C. Harty, C. I. Harris, W. J. Flanagan, M. P. Dutton and W. J. Wayman. As already detailed, the walls stood hurricane winds in September, and the building was ready for occupancy by the end of the year.

 THE TWENTIETH CENTURY has seen this Lodge lay cor­nerstones for the Courthouse on October 6, 1910, and for the Southwestern University Science Building on June 17, 1916. In 1918, the Lodge supported financially the local Icings Daughters Sanitarium, Georgetown's first hospital. That same year last rites were read for D. W. Queen, who died as a result of an a-plosion on an American ship sunk by a German submarine. As the controversy about the Ku Klux Klan raged over the nation and in this county, the San Gabriel Lodge on October 11,1921, categorically denied any support of that group by the Lodge. The final note on construction costs of the Temple was-paid on 1 April 11, 1924.  

The meeting room contains a fine, invaluable collection of large photographic portraits of many of the prominent citizens of this area who were Masons. All are nicely framed and hung on freshly painted walls, where they form an impressive array of men who helped build this county. This writer hopes that ex­cessive light (which fades photographs) can be kept at a minimum on them, and that they sometime can be given more permanent and readable identifications so that the chance of irrevocable loss will be avoided. The collection is certainly a remarkable one.

 IN ITS 123 YEARS, the following men have served San Gabriel Lodge as Worshipful Master (the highest local office): J. T. Cox (1852), Sam Mather (1853), also Grand Master of Tex­as 1862-63; J. -B. Harrell (1854); A. J. Strickland (1855), Ed Stephenson (1856), A. S. Walker (1857), R. Sansom (1858) De Witt C. Booth (1859).

 Those serving (including re-elected officers) 1860 until 1900 were Wm. E. Bouchelle, D. C. Booth, Sidney Seymour:. D. C. Booth, Wm. E. Bouchelle, W. J. Montgomery, T. P. Hughes, G. W. Leseure (sic.), J. W. Posey, B. E. Chrietzberg, J. C. S. Morrow, R. H. Montgomery, Dan S. Chessher, Sr., S. W. Strayhorn, J. It. McCormick, Thomas Irvine, Dan S. Chessher,' Sr., G. W. Glasscock, W. M. Key, T.B. Cochran, (Grand Master of Texas 1.0 3), George Irvine, S. S Sansom, A. S Y. Penn, R. A. John, G. W. Foster, W. T. Starnes, L. F. Chapman, L. B. Walters, and Dan S. Chessher, Jr.

 


 
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