History of Belle Point #20

In our 150 years of existence, it would be impossible to write a comprehensive history of Belle Point Lodge. An effort of that magnitude would entail more hours of research and several large volumes to properly document its illustrious past. During its century and a half of service to the Fraternity, city and state, Belle Point was, and continues to be, one of the most progressive Masonic leaders in Arkansas. We have been very fortunate indeed to have many of the greatest and most influential men in our community as members of our lodge. They have provided great leadership to the Lodge as well as playing a large role in the development of Fort Smith from a dusty frontier trading post, to a modern city composed of businesses, churches, parks, excellent schools, and a diverse manufacturing base. In addition, the surrounding area, for miles around, has been influenced and uplifted by the teachings of this great organization.

When soldiers and traders, pushed into the vast wilderness that shrouded the West in mystery, they discovered a beautiful spot at the junction of the Arkansas and Poteau Rivers that the French voyageurs called Belle Point. It was in this beautiful location that Fort Smith was founded.

Old Belle Point! Set in a beautiful valley between ranges of mountains to the north and south. No wonder Albert Pike, listed among the greatest Masons of them all, chose the rolling Ouachitas for his retreat and there wrote his masterful works on Masonry.

Among the soldiers, traders and pioneers were many Masons, and the life on the frontier joined them together in a common bond of Fraternalism. Shortly after garrison life in Fort Smith had settled down to a peaceful routine the first Masonic Lodge was organized.

On December 10, 1847, a dispensation was granted under the name of W. Claud Jones, Worshipful Master, Captain John Rogers, the founder of Fort Smith, George S. Birnie, Joseph H. Bailey, Leopold Lowenthal, S. L. Griffith and C. F. I. Heims were charter members. The name given the Lodge reflected the beauty of the region. Thus Belle Point Lodge No. 20 came into being, and became and still remains, the lodge that has exerted the most powerful influence in Masonry in Western Arkansas. Grand Master J. L. Baldwin granted a charter on November 15, 1848. S. L. Griffity became its first Worshipful Master upon receipt of the charter.

In its early days, the Lodge held its meetings in the upper rooms of the officers quarters in the old fort. Following the end of the Civil War, these rooms were burned and meetings were then held in the attic of the old St. Charles Hotel. Sometime later, the Lodge rooms were moved to the third floor of the Kennedy Building, which later became part of the LeFlore Hotel.

After several years, the first truly Masonic Building was erected at the junction of North 6th and C Streets. The building became known as the B. Baer Memorial Masonic Temple and was dedicated on December 6, 1889. At the time of the dedication only two charter members still living. They were Leopold Lowenthal and S. L. Griffith. Lodge officers at this time were C. C. Ayers, Worshipful Master, S. J. Klein, Senior Warden, Joseph M. Hill, Junior Warden, J. D. Southard, Secretary, John Vaile, Treasurer, E. E. Bryant, Senior Deacon, Elmo Caruthers, Junior Deacon, Samuel Lawrence, Steward and R. J. Hayes, Tyler. This beautiful new Temple housed Belle Point as well as the other various Masonic bodies for many years. On the morning of September 4th, 1919 the Temple was destroyed by fire. The fire also destroyed all the priceless records, paintings and other valuables leaving a deep void in our Lodge's history.

Even before the still smoldering ruins had been put out, the officers of the Knights of Pythias, in a display of true fraternal sprit, offered us the use of their hall and equipment. The Worshipful Master immediately accepted this kind offer. The Lodge met there for several months until a lease for the third floor of the Progress Club Building was obtained. For the next two years meetings were held here while plans for a new Masonic Home were being formulated.

When fire destroyed our Temple, we had been trying to resolve a problem in the benefit clause of its contract. This clause was rapidly assuming an ever-increasing burden with each passing year. The problem was that although the Buildings title was in the name of the Grand Lodge of Arkansas, a $10,000 contribution from the estate of B. Baer still had first consideration in any insurance payment. Worshipful Master A. W. Forby asked for, and received permission from the membership to ask the Grand Lodge to join with us to obtain permission to return the money to the estate. A hearing was held in Chancery Court, and Belle Point was ordered to return the money and was forever released from any further payments to the Memorial Fund.

The Memorial Fund took the money and entered into a contract with Sebastian County to build a tuberculosis hospital at the County Farm for the counties poor. The county agreed to maintain the hospital, which was a worthy act of charity on their part.

`Upon the resolution of this legal problem, the way was now cleared for Belle Point to own a home of their own. The Master then called a Called Communication to advance this idea, and the Masonic Building Association was formed. On August 3, 1920 a charter was granted, with the following officers A.M. Forbey. President, Gordon L. Oliver, Vice President, Robert Lee Secrest, Secretary and W. B. Nichols, M. H. Reed, John Archer, Leon Guthrie, I. H. Nakimen as directors.

An active campaign was undertaken to raise the funds needed to erect a new Masonic Temple. This campaign was highly successful and late in the summer of 1921, it was decided to purchase and remodel a building at North 8th and A Streets. Upon completion of the work, the Lodge held its first meeting there on December 27, 1921. The Most Worshipful Grand Master Leoniadas Kirby and other Grand Lodge Officers officially dedicated the new Temple to Masonry. This was truly and memorable occasion with Masons from nearly every Lodge within 150 miles of Ft. Smith in attendance to help celebrate our new home.

The new Temple served us well for several years. However, with the continuous growth of the city coupled with an ever-increasing membership, it was decided that we should erect a new and lasting building. On February 3, 1928, a 1/2-block site located on North 11th St. was purchased for $49,250.00. Ground was broken on June 25, 1928. Brother Gordon Walker (of Little Rock) was the contractor, and the architects were Brother George R. Mann (of Little Rock) and Brothers Haralson and Nelson of Ft. Smith. Belle Point played a leading role in the erection of the new Temple. On Tuesday, September 10, 1929 we had the honor of holding the first meeting in the new Temple, which was officially dedicated by the Grand Lodge of Arkansas on September 16, 1929.

Probably the greatest accomplishment of Belle Point Lodge from the standpoint of service to humanity, was its sponsorship of children's building at the Arkansas Tuberculosis Sanatorium at Booneville, Arkansas. How many lives were saved, how much suffering this project eliminated, and how many works of genius it has donated to humanity cannot be determined.

On the evening of December 10, 1922, Belle Point Lodge celebrated its seventy-fifth anniversary. At June Stated Communication, a committee was appointed to arrange a program for the occasion. Brother Tilles was appointed chairman, together with Secretary R. L. Secrest, W. B. Nichols and Eugene Bly. An open meeting to celebrate Belle Point's Diamond Jubilee was the result. At the banquet, given to celebrate this event, Past Master Judge Joseph M. Hill, addressed the Lodge and noted the great benefits that had come to mankind through the efforts of the Lodge and its membership.

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