Masons’ Hall

Masons’ Hall is the oldest building in the United States erected for Masonic purposes and continuously used for that purpose.  Due to its age, history of uses and association with important personages, Masons’ Hall at 1807 E. Franklin Street is one of Richmond’s most significant buildings.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What is the Masons’ Hall and why is it important?

Due to its age, history of uses and association with important personages, Masons’ Hall at 1807 E. Franklin Street is one of Richmond’s most significant buildings. Built in 1785, its history is so closely intertwined with the early history of Richmond that it is at times impossible to separate them. The leaders of Masons’ Hall (including John Marshall and Edmund Randolph) were leaders on the national stage, honing the governing principles and building the governmental institutions that are the foundations of our nation to this day. They built this country like they built Masons’ Hall – on the Masonic principles of faith, hope, charity, and civic engagement – and Masons’ Hall serves as a reminder of the impact of those principles on our early years as a nation. The masons of Masons’ Hall built Richmond too – laying the cornerstone of the Virginia State Capitol, as well as the cornerstones of many of Richmond’s other historic structures. As one of the two largest meeting spaces in the early years of our city, Masons’ Hall hosted the delegation to the Constitutional Convention, Richmond City Courts and Richmond City Council. Masons’ Hall was opened not only for governmental functions, but also to religious groups unwelcome elsewhere.

  • Age: Masons’ Hall is the oldest building in the United States erected for Masonic purposes and continuously used for that purpose. Built in 1785 by Richmond Lodge Number 13 (now, Number 10) of the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons and now owned by Richmond Randolph Lodge Number 19, Masons’ Hall is one of Richmond’s few 18th century buildings to survive the vagaries of war, age and finance.
  • History: Richmond Randolph Lodge Number 19, founded in 1787, shared the Masons’ Hall with Richmond Lodge Number 10 until 1878 when Lodge Number 10 moved to a different location. Masons’ Hall also served as the Grand Lodge of Virginia for almost a century. Richmond Randolph Lodge has owned Masons’ Hall since 1883. Each of Lodge Number 10 and the Richmond Randolph Lodge has had a long and interesting history closely intertwined with the affairs of the city.
  • History of Civic Uses: Richmond’s citizens met in Masons’ Hall to instruct the delegation to the Constitutional Convention. In addition, for many years, Richmond City Courts (including the Hustings Court, a predecessor to the current Circuit Court) and City Council met in Masons’ Hall. During the 19th century, religious groups unwelcome elsewhere conducted services in Masons’ Hall. During the War of 1812, the structure served as a hospital.
  • Association with important personages: John Marshall (who received some of the earliest judicial training in Masons’ Hall when it served the Hustings Court and who later as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court established the judiciary as a co-equal branch of government) and Edmund Randolph (Virginia Governor, delegate to the Constitutional Convention, first U.S. Attorney General and second U.S. Secretary of State), were two of the distinguished members elected to be Grand Masters. Solomon Jacobs, one of Richmond’s early mayors, a noted businessman and president of his congregation, also was a Grand Master associated with Masons’ Hall. Some say that the actress Eliza Poe, mother of Edgar Allen Poe, gave one of her last performances at Masons’ Hall. Also, the Marquis de Lafayette and his son visited Masons’ Hall in 1824 and were made honorary members. Their signatures are to be found in the lodge register. When Federal troops entered Richmond in 1865, a Union general (also a Mason) ordered a guard for Masons’ Hall to prevent its being burned. The future English King Edward VII attended a lodge meeting at Masons’ Hall.
  • Located in the Shockoe Valley, the valley where Richmond began, Masons’ Hall was built on a lot purchased from Gabriel Galt. Title to the lot became somewhat confused as Galt died three years after the purchase without making a deed. In 1792, a Henrico County Court entered a decree directing Galt’s heirs to draw up a deed to the property.
  • Masons’ Hall was planned in August of 1785, but its construction was plagued by financial difficulties. A lottery designed to raise money failed in its purpose, and the builder had to sue for payment. Construction was begun in brick, but funds ran out after the completion of the first floor. With the addition of a temporary roof, the building was used from 1786 to 1787. In 1787, the cube-shaped hall was finished as a frame structure. The cornerstone was laid by James Mercer, Grand Master, assisted by Edmund Randolph.
  • Although subsequent changes were not well documented, the exterior of Masons’ Hall has been altered from its original 18th century exterior and interior appearance. Completed in 1787 and insured in 1802 by the Mutual Assurance Company, the exterior was altered, probably in the mid-nineteenth century. The interior has been altered and the rooms have been redecorated in the 20th However, the original Palladian canopy made to cover the Masonic Master’s chair (attributed by some to Clotworthy Stephenson and William Hodgson) survives with its entablature moldings and Ionic capitals, similar to those found in the Virginal Capitol.
  • Masons’ Hall reflects the social, cultural and historical impact of Freemasonry on Richmond, on Virginia, and on our country. The building serves as a lesson for future generations of the importance of the Masonic principles of faith, hope, charity, and civic engagement, and as a reminder of the impact of those principles on our early years as a nation.
  • Masons’ Hall is listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places and, in 2017, City Council approved designating Masons’ Hall as a City of Richmond Old & Historic District.

What is the threat to the Masons’ Hall?
  • In early 2015, a roof truss began showing signs of distress and a temporary truss was installed to support the roof. While the roof truss is the most pressing priority, Masons’ Hall has a long list of preservation projects and restoration needs.

What does Historic Richmond want to see? What is the solution?
  • Historic Richmond, like the Masons, wants to see the Masons’ Hall preserved as an important historical, cultural and architectural resource.
  • The first step towards a successful preservation effort is conducting a structural roof investigation to identify the structural issues to be addressed and produce designs for a more permanent roof stabilization.

What is Freemasonry (Masonry)?
  • Generally, Freemasonry (or Masonry) is one of the world’s oldest and largest secular fraternal organizations. It is not known where Freemasonry began. According to one theory, Freemasonry originated with the operative stonemasons who built the great cathedrals and castles in Europe. These stonemasons had lodges in which they discussed trade affairs. They had simple initiation ceremonies and – as there were no City and Guilds certificates, dues cards or trade union membership cards – they adopted secret signs and words to demonstrate that they were trained masons when they moved from site to site. In the 1600s, these operative lodges began to accept non-operatives as “gentlemen masons”. Gradually these non-operatives took over the lodges and turned them from operative to ‘free and accepted’ or ‘speculative’ lodges.
  • Freemasonry’s symbolism is primarily drawn from the manual tools of stonemasons – the square and compass, the level and plumb rule, and the trowel. These symbols are found throughout Masons’ Hall.

What does it mean to be included on the Preservation Virginia Most Endangered List?
  • The goal of Preservation Virginia’s Most Endangered Historic Places Program is to bring greater public awareness of the value of a historic resource. The list engages historic preservation and other community advocates and helps educate about the value of historic resources for preserving the power of the places that make Virginia unique. Inclusion of a resource on the list demonstrates its value to the community in which it resides, which should be viewed as a statement of not only its significance, but also of a commitment by advocates to work to successfully preserve Virginia’s most significant resources.
  • It is important to note that listing of a site is intended to raise public awareness and recommend solutions, and is not a negative characterization.

What is Historic Richmond’s involvement?
  • Historic Richmond has a history of proactively and positively partnering with owners of historic structures to see those historic structures to a brighter future.
  • The Shockoe Valley is critically important to our understanding of Richmond’s and our nation’s cultural history. We have researched the cultural significance of many structures in the Shockoe Valley and believe that there are several structures, which because of their age, architectural style, association with historic events or persons, or other factors are more historically or culturally significant than others. Masons’ Hall is one of the most important structures in the Shockoe Valley. As such, Historic Richmond has been monitoring developments relating to the Masons’ Hall for many years and, from time to time, has provided advice and assistance relating to the preservation of this important structure.
  • The Masons have worked valiantly within their membership to care for and maintain Masons’ Hall, but the demands and anticipated costs of extensive restoration work are daunting.
  • For more than a year, Historic Richmond has been working with the Masons to help develop solutions for this historic structure, including providing technical assistance related to the preservation of the structure. Historic Richmond recently has agreed to help Richmond Randolph Lodge Number 19 (and an associated foundation, Masons’ Hall 1785) to advance the preservation of Masons’ Hall by providing financial and technical assistance with respect to a structural roof investigation.
  • The structural roof investigation was conducted by Balzer and Associates, Inc. to identify the structural issues that should be addressed and designs for roof stabilization are now in process. Historic Richmond has funded the roof investigation and has raised a portion of the funds needed for the permanent stabilization.
    • Many thanks to the Matthew and Genevieve Mezzanotte Foundation for its generous grant to support the permanent stabilization.
  • Historic Richmond also is working with the Masons to develop a plan to implement the recommendations of the structural roof investigation and a fundraising campaign prioritizing implementation of those recommendations.
  • In addition, Historic Richmond has worked with Prologue Systems to obtain 3-D laser scans of Masons’ Hall to document the historic attic framing prior to commencing work on the permanent stabilization. A brief video showing a quick look at certain scan data of the attic and second floor is available here.
  • Historic Richmond and the Masons also have worked cooperatively towards implementing additional preservation protections on this important structure, including the recent designation of the Masons’ Hall as a City of Richmond Old & Historic District.
  • Richmond’s historic buildings – from landmark civic buildings like Masons’ Hall to its most humble dwellings – define Richmond’s distinctive character. Maintaining that unique sense of place is fundamental to Richmond’s bright future.
  • Historic Richmond is grateful to our donors, whose generosity and financial support are vital to Historic Richmond’s efforts to preserve, protect and promote those historic buildings and places that make Richmond unique, beautiful and authentic.
  • For more information on how you can help support our work to preserve the Masons’ Hall, please contact our office. Please join us as we unlock the secrets of this national treasure!

photo credit: Cook Collection, The Valentine

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