For years, I’ve been curious about the brick building at 634 High Street in Worthington. Unusual symbols painted on a sky-blue background peek out beneath the decorative dentil roof moulding. Below it, a circle of letters is carved in stone.
The Ohio Historical Marker in front reveals that the building is home not only to the Worthington Masonic Museum, but also to New England Lodge No. 4, chartered in 1803 and one of the six lodges which, in 1808, founded the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons in Ohio. Built in 1820, it’s the oldest Masonic Temple west of the Allegheny Mountains, the oldest lodge in continuous existence in Ohio, and the headquarters of the Grand Lodge of Ohio.
My curiosity turned to action when I made an appointment to tour this building on an action-packed Boxing Day and the Feast of St. Stephen. Inside, I discovered some amazing treasures.
Chad Simpson, director of program development at Grand Lodge of Ohio, was our tour guide. From the start, Chad exuded hospitality. When he shared how he celebrated St. Nicholas Day and other experiences he had while studying in Austria in college, we knew we had met a Teutonic kindred spirit. Then, over a cup of coffee, he personified great public relations, illustrating an impressive command of and enthusiasm for his subject matter as he gave an enlightening, excellent overview of Masonic beliefs and traditions.
Founded in London, England in 1717, Freemasonry is the oldest and largest fraternal organization in the world. Although its members might come from different religious, ethnic and social backgrounds, it unites men of good character who share a belief in a Supreme Being and the brotherhood of mankind. Freemasonry is a society with secrets, but it’s also an organization devoted to charitable work in the community, where members join together to improve themselves and their communities. No wonder Freemasons are proud not only of their traditions, but also of the distinguished men like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and George Washington who belonged to this fraternal organization.
Good behavior is big with me, so I listened with special interest when Chad described how moral uprightness, good character and the importance of fraternal friendship are key to Freemasonry. I learned how Masons gain knowledge and understanding not only about themselves, but also about their relationships with a Supreme Being and with others, as they progress through the three degrees of Freemasonry, known as Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and Master Mason. Loosely based upon the journeyman system used to educate medieval craftsmen, these three degrees represent the three stages of human development: youth, manhood, and age.
Chad also told us that Worthington was the center of Freemasonry in central Ohio during the early years of the 19th century. James Kilbourne, the Connecticut surveyor and leader of the Scioto Company who founded Worthington, saw Freemasonry as a uniting factor for the community, so he was granted a warrant in 1803 to start a new lodge in the Ohio wilderness that he planned to settle. In 1820, another Worthington settler named John Snow donated the land for the Lodge.
As Chad showed us the items on display in the museum, he indulged my love of art history when he described how Freemasons use symbolism to teach moral and ethical principles. For example, working tools used by stonemasons – such as the square and compass – demonstrate how Masons let their actions and conduct be guided by virtue. My favorite bee hives, those emblems of industry that remind us never to be idle in assisting others, were on several Masonic items in the museum’s collection, particularly on magnificent Masonic aprons, made both of lambskin and of silk. In the 19th century, Masons’ sweethearts decorated aprons for them, either hand-painting or embroidering Masonic symbols on them.
Chad also explained how Masonic certificates were essential to immigrants in establishing a new life for themselves in the United States. For example, an Irish Masonic certificate in the collection that was issued by the Grand Lodge of Ireland to Charles Ferguson in June 1812 proved not only that this new immigrant was a member of a Masonic Lodge, but also that he was a man of good character. He pointed out Masonic officers’ jewels, also loaded with symbolism; interesting documents like applications for initiation and a Master Mason’s diploma; and a copy of the installation ceremonies of the Lodge, written by Grand Master John Snow.
Upstairs, Chad showed us the room where these Worthington Freemasons meet as a Lodge. With chairs dating from the 1820s, hand-painted antique lamps, and other artistic furnishings, this room was something to behold.
Thanks to Chad, I have a whole new appreciation for the brick building at 634 High Street in Worthington and the traditions of the men of good character who meet there.
If you’d like to learn more about Freemasonry, Chad recommends reading American Freemasons: Three Centuries of Building Communities, by Mark A. Tabbert. By coincidence, “Solomon’s Temple Samplers: An Expression of Shared Ideals,” from the Winter (December) 2011 issue of Sampler & Antique Needlework Quarterly, by Aimee E. Newell, director of collections at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library in Lexington, Massachusetts, takes a look at British and American needlework samplers featuring various embroidered depictions of Solomon’s Temple, the temple that is central to Masonic ritual and teachings.
To learn more about Masonic history, I’ll also be re-reading “George Washington’s Embroidered Masonic Apron,” from the March/April 2005 issue of PieceWork magazine; researching Mozart’s The Magic Flute, an opera based on Masonic symbolism; and reading George Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation in a much more appreciative way.
To meet this man of good character and see the Masonic treasures about which he is so knowledgeable, make an appointment with Chad to tour the Worthington Masonic Museum weekdays from 9:00 am to 5:00 p.m.