Southwest Times Record

Tuesday, November 3, 1998


150 Years of Fellowship


Members of Masonic Temple Belle Point Lodge No. 20 will be on hand at Saturday's open house to enlighten the public on the duties and beliefs of the Masonic organization.


Members of the Masonic Temple Belle Point Lodge No. 20 of Fort Smith will celebrate 150 years of fellowship and community pride Saturday.

Don Hall, junior warden, said he and his fellow officers will host an open house at the lodge, 200 N. 11th St., from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday in recognition of the anniversary.

"We're wanting the public to come down and take a look inside the lodge -- it's on the National Historic Register -- and join us in celebrating 150 years of being here."

Hall said Masons will be on hand during the open house to help enlighten the public on the duties and beliefs of the Masonic organization.

Literature from the Masonic Information Center in Silver Springs, Md., defines a Mason as a member of the oldest fraternity in the world, which is known as Masonry. Although the origins of the fraternity have been lost over time, many members believe it was started by the guilds of stonemasons constructing the cathedrals and castles during the Middle Ages.

It is also believed the Masons could have been influenced by a group of Christian warrior monks, known as the Knights Templar, that formed in 1118 to help protect pilgrims making trips to the Holy Land, according to records from the Masonic Information Center.

The first Masonic Grand Lodge, which is the administrative body in charge of Masonry in a geographical area, was formed in England in 1717, Masonic records indicate.

In Fort Smith, the Belle Point Lodge No. 20, which is one of three lodges in Fort Smith, was chartered Nov. 15, 1848, and was originally located at North Sixth and C streets, said Hall.

On the morning of Sept. 4, 1919, a fire destroyed the lodge and a number of the organization's valuable records and documents, according to current lodge records.

Lodge members later agreed to purchase a new building to house the lodge at North Eighth and A streets. This location served members for a number of years until the lodge's existing one-half block site on North 11th Street was purchased for $49,250 on Feb. 3, 1928.

Ground was broken for the existing temple June 25, 1928, and the Grand Lodge of Arkansas officially dedicated the Temple Sept. 16, 1929. On the National Register of Historic Places, the building is known in Fort Smith as a former movie theater and the structure with the Art Deco exterior and Egyptian Revival accents.

Although the Masons are a fraternity and their meetings and ceremonies are conducted in private, their commitment to community is well known. Last year, the Grand Lodge of Arkansas in Little Rock, with the help of lodges from across the state, raised $20,000 to help fund educational workshops. Bost Human Services and Abilities Unlimited, both in Fort Smith, each received $1,000 to conduct workshop training for area individuals.

Members of the Belle Point Lodge have also helped pay for transportation of burn victims over the years to hospitals and burn centers in Texas, St. Louis and other areas, Lewis said.

"We do this at no cost to the families," he said. "We're here to help others in need. It's our mission to act as a service to humankind."

Hall, Lodge Worshipful Master Paul Moore, Secretary Bud Rosenberg and Treasurer Jesse Lewis agreed that the group's greatest accomplishment was its sponsorship of the children's building at the former Arkansas Tuberculosis Sanatorium in Booneville.

Lewis said that although the lodge's current membership is about 500, during World War II as many as 2,000 active members participated.

"We used to get a lot of soldiers from Fort Chaffee back then and also during the Korean War," he said.

Hall said getting new members is difficult because Masons are not allowed to solicit for membership. Individuals wanting to become a member must approach a Mason and request a written application.

"We will have a committee look at the application, go meet that person and their family, and then the entire lodge body votes to accept the person as a new member," he said.

As for qualifications, Masons search for individuals with strong character and who will faithfully serve the lodge and his fellow members, Hall said.

"Character is a big part of looking at (potential) members," he said. Potential members need to share the belief that service to humankind comes before all else.

In addition to community service and conducting monthly business meetings, Masons also participate in "cornerstone ceremonies" for ground-breakings and grand openings of new buildings and facilities, Moore said.

"And we can have a funeral ceremony for a parting brother, if the family requests it," he said. "This service can be held at the funeral home or at graveside services."