HISTORY OF BLACKMER LODGE NO. 127
A. F. & A. M.
MOUNT GILEAD, NORTH CAROLINA
AS WRITTEN BY: MARCUS B. ANDREWS
REVISED JUNE, 1995
This has been prepared per request of the Grand Lodge in preparation
for celebrating the 200th anniversary of Masonry in North Carolina in
1987. Several Brethren have assisted by counsel, preparation of photographs,
suggestions, and access to original minute books. Additional help has
come from Zion Church Historical Records, Montgomery County Register
of Deeds, published history books shown in footnotes (1)
and (2), the writer's personal knowledge, and contacts with non-Masonic
persons believed to be reliable.
FOUNDING OF BLACKMER LODGE
BLACKMERS YEARS AT ZION
MOVING TO MOUNT GILEAD
BLACKMER MOVES ABOUT MOUNT GILEAD
SCHOOL STREET BUILDINGS
BEGINNING BLACKMER'S SECOND CENTURY
The history of Blackmer Lodge is closely related to the settlement and
development of western Montgomery County. The valley of the PEE DEE
River and its two principal tributaries are the setting. This overall
geographical area is further described by references to the map, Fig.
1, Page 2.
Fig. 2, Page 3 shows
locations of the various meeting sites within the Town of Mt. Gilead.
Blackmer Lodge No. 127 under Dispensation first met in Lawrenceville
August 16, 1850 and under Charter in 1855. References and Charter show
Zion as permanent location. Zion is approximately four (4) miles from
Lawrenceville on 1986 roads. Lawrenceville was almost destroyed by fire
in 1836, and vanished as a town about 1900.
Various references to Lawrenceville and "Swift Island" cover
the same community about a ferry across the PEE DEE River.
The earliest recorded group settlements of the region were in the early
1700's. These were concentrated in the area east and south of the junction
of the YADKIN and UWHARRIE Rivers, below which the stream is the PEE
DEE. The area west and north of the river junction developed more completely.
The formation of Blackmer Lodge involved people and travel within the
area above described, plus detail shown in Fig. 1. For practical purposes
in this text, due to various prior records, the terms "Swift Island"
and Lawrenceville" are the same, whereas in fact there were two
distinct locations about one and one-half miles apart. (
The Morganton-Fayetteville Turnpike ran from Morganton eastward through
Salisbury and southward through Gold Hill, Lawrenceville, Zion, Pee
Dee, and Providence toward Fayetteville. Providence became Mt. Gilead
(pictures A and B)in
the early 1800s and the name of the incorporated own in later
years. In 1986, highways would be US 52 south of Salisbury and NC 73
east of Albemarle through Mt. Gilead. Zion Methodist Church was established
in 1786 and was the center of a growing community in 1850, followed
by decline during and after the Civil War. Zion and Blackmer both have
gone through difficult times and periods of suspension, but Zion celebrated
its 200th anniversary on the 22nd of June 1986.
FOUNDING OF BLACKMER LODGE
Authority for organizing this Lodge was by Dispensation issued Aug.
8, 1850. It was issued in Raleigh to L. Blackmer, P. M. of Palestine
Lodge No. 120 in Gold Hill; to organize a new lodge "at Zion in
Montgomery County". It took two weeks for the mail to bring the
document from Raleigh to Gold Hill.
The first meeting was held in Lawrenceville on August 16, 1850 with
L. Blackmer as W. M.; assisted by Brethren J. M. Coffin and Arch Honeycutt
of Palestine Lodge No. 120. Two petitions were received and both Preston
Wooley and George Makepeace received the first two degrees that day.
The organizers stayed overnight in Lawrenceville and the following day,
the first two candidates received the M. M. Degree. In addition, that
second meeting received two petitions from J. H. Montgomery, S. H. Christian,
R. I. Mebane, all of which were elected.
Newly raised candidates were installed as officers, thus:
PRESTON WOOLEY, W. M.
GEORGE MAKEPEACE, S. W.
J. H. MONTGOMERY, J. W.
By late 1850, membership had passed 20.
Obviously, the organizers had traveled from Gold Hill, crossed the river
at the Swift Island ferry, and met in the town of Lawrenceville. Lawrenceville
was a formally laid-out town in rectangular shape with about 50-plus
houses, and the County Court House at the center. The courthouse burned
in 1836 and the town declined thereafter. ( 4
At the Court House in Troy, the Montgomery County Register of Deeds,
Book 16, Pages 366/7 shows an entry dated November 25, 1850. It shows
that Col. Edmond Deberry (1787-1859) sold a lot "on the east side
of the Turnpike --- at Zion." Buyer was Trustees of Blackmer Lodge
No. 127 jointly the trustees of "Sons of Temperance"; for
the purpose of erecting and "occupying a meeting hall."
The Charter of Blackmer Lodge No. 127 was issued on the 8th day of December,
1850. The first meeting after its receipt was on the 27th day of December,
1850. Approval was given to pay $10.00 for the Charter. Fig.
10, Page 26, shows the time damaged Charter on the wall in 1986.
Minutes from 1851 through 1855 show occasional brief notes indicating
that a building was in progress and that the meeting in Lawrenceville
was in 1855. The note at the top Fig. 3, Page 7, refers to moving from
"Swift Island" to Zion in 1855. That is the overlap between
the two names.
Figures 3, 3A and 3B, Pages
7, 8, and 9, list all Masters of Blackmer in to 1995 (note: our
Pastmasters Webpage is updated through the current year). Note that
the first four candidates served as W. M. within the first eight years.
That list notes moving to Mt. Gilead in 1876, but the first recorded
meeting there in 1878 noted the new building. The next to follow and
Fig. 2, Page 3, shows
seven locations within Mt. Gilead, all within eyesight distance of one
BLACKMERS YEARS AT ZION
Zion Churchs Historical Records of 1857 indicate an agreement
was made to conduct a public school in the nearby building jointly owned
by the "Sons of Temperance" and "Blackmer Masonic Lodge".
The second floor (occupied by Blackmer) was excluded from school uses,
whereas it was noted that the first floor was not being used extensively
and that the presence of the school would cause no interference. The
week-day school was conducted by the pastor of Zion through the winter
of 1858-59. He was a native of Pennsylvania and was not well received
in North Carolina with Civil War predictions abundant. He returned to
Pennsylvania in the summer of 1859 with no more school being held at
The Zion Church building in use in 1986 was constructed in 1854 at a
site east of Blackmer Lodge. It contained a balcony for the use of black
slaves who wished to attend. After the Civil War, the original Zion
donated land and assistance for the founding of AME Zion Church nearby.
(Directly on NC 73, at
the intersection with State Road 1112).
An 1854 agreement with Blackmer Lodge allowed Zions traffic to
share "horse and buggy hitching space" in the vacant lot between
the two facilities. Blackmer was active on a reduced scale during the
Civil War, with casualty losses of members. Minutes of the early years
show Brethren being taken to task by the Lodge for behavior outside
the Lodge. References on several occasions note activities of an O.
E. S. Chapter.
By 1875, it was noted that new homesteads were being established south
of Zion, some in Pee Dee, and more favorable attention being given to
Mt. Gilead. The Sons of Temperance had ceased by 1860. Minutes in early
1875 authorized the investigation and purchase of a site for re-location
in Mt. Gilead. The first purchase agreement did not materialize. Book
27, Page 279 in the Montgomery County Register of Deeds shows that on
June 26, 1875 the Trustees of Blackmer Lodge purchased at auction "Lot
No. 6 on the east side of the Turnpike in Mt. Gilead." No maps
have been found to confirm, but during the writers lifetime it
has appeared that the Lodge property could well have been the sixth
parcel south and east of the principal highway intersection of NC 73
and NC 731. The geometric layout of the town as a true circle, two miles
in diameter, is centered at that intersection. Refer to Fig.
2, Page 3, for detail.
After moving from Zion, that Lodge building deteriorated and the lot
was used by the church on an amicable basis. In the 1970s a written
agreement was made to the effect that the Blackmer lot would practically
belong to the church with the proviso that it would ultimately go to
the survivor of the two organizations.
As part of the above agreement, the marker shown in Fig.
4, Page 10, was installed by Blackmer. It is located on the north
side of SR 1112, about ¼ mile north and east of NC 73.
MOVING TO MT. GILEAD
The building erected on the land purchased in 1875 is shown by photographs,
Figures 5, 6, & 7,
Pages 13, 14, and 15. The first meeting in the new building was recorded
on April 13, 1878.
In the late 1800s, the State of North Carolina gave local school
authorities fixed tuition payments to cover two months instruction per
year for those students whose families so elected. Various arrangements
were made to accommodate those families who elected to pay for longer
periods of study, at extra cost to the families.
The Mt. Gilead
Academy was an arrangement between local school authorities and
Blackmer Lodge. The building was planned and constructed to have school
on the first floor and the second floor reserved exclusively for the
The key personality for the newly established Mt. Gilead Academy was
Professor (Bro.) Ransom Harris Skeen (1839-1905). Professor Skeen had
several very capable assistants. The writer had conversations with numerous
students of the academy who spoke well of their early schooling. The
lifetime accomplishments of many in the group was living proof. One
85 year old lady, Mrs. Winnie Richter, still is active in 1986. She
has confirmed and contributed portions of this text. (
9 ) Classes were intermingled by age and subject, all related to
class sizes, heat, light, and other factors. Professor Skeen was an
excellent carpenter and cabinet maker. His pet carpentry student was
a young man from Pekin whose last name was Blake. The Blake descendants
from Pekin have included several carpenters an related industry activities.
Prior to the political election system being used to select members
of local school boards, the Mt. Gilead board always included a good
representation of Masons.
In conducting a school in a Lodge building, there was the ever-present
problem of keeping students out of Lodge quarters. Refer again to figures
5 and 6. It is not difficult from the appearance of the structure to
understand the following arrangement: A door inside the building led
to a stairway to the Lodge on the second floor. Any tampering with the
door or the lock was very dangerous because "the Masons" kept
a very large and mean goat in their rooms on the second floor. Any disturbance
to the door on the first floor would stir up the goat; he would come
down and go after the person causing the disturbance while wrecking
When this writer was barely of walking age, his mother took him with
her to attend an afternoon meeting of the Order of the Eastern Star
(OES), scheduled on the second floor of the school building. Ascent
of the steep stairs was a combination of crawling, pushing, pulling,
crying and howling. It took an assortment of OES members to find out
what was upsetting this writer. It was remembrance of hearing about
the goat. Some consolation by a trusted OES member who promised to go
and control the goat solved the problem. During the meeting, many of
the ladies wore very unusual dresses with glittering ornaments.
Professor Skeen was very active with the school and community from 1878
into the early 1900's. (5) His successor was Professor
(Bro.) R. C. Cox. The State of North Carolina began to phase out the
subsidy program to private schools. In 1916, a new brick building was
opened as a "graded" school, fully financed by taxpayers.
The combination of obsolescence, loss of tenant, etc., led to Blackmer
Minute Book entry in 1917 to sell or dismantle the 1875 structure. Several
later entries suggest various plans which indicated lack of completion
of earlier efforts. A combination of events obvious to this author,
plus several related records, indicate:
Refer again to Fig. 6 and note the one-story extension at the rear of
the main two-story building. That structure was detached and moved to
the south edge of the lot, closer to the street than previously, and
it was reset the front substantially parallel to the street; the main
structure sat with the front due north and south; whereas the street
(Turnpike) runs 19° - 35' SE. The larger main portion of the 1875
building was dismantled in 1919. (6)
The small section noted above was used as Blackmer's meeting hall for
a period from 1919. It later had a front porch added and became a rental
residence (7) and has been so used ever since.
On May 9, 1986, this structure was the subject of photograph
Fig. 7, and is among the oldest buildings still in Mt. Gilead. For
several years, it and the adjoining land on the north side have been
owned by Bro. J. A. Evans.
BLACKMER MOVES ABOUT MT. GILEAD
Minutes of the Lodge do not completely record all of the moves nor their
timing. This author well remembers the short stay in the small building
noted in the preceding chapter. Reference Fig. 2, shows all the locations
to July, 1986.
The next location was the second floor of the McAuley
Bros. store at what is now 100 South Main Street, at the southwest
corner of NC 73 and NC 731. Access to the Lodge was through the store
sales area to a stairway. Both McAuleys were members of Blackmer Lodge.
About 1931 - 32, Blackmer moved to the second floor of another retail
store building at what is now 105
North Main Street. Here it remained until April, 1945, when a fire
in the store below damaged some Blackmer furnishings and made the building
unusable. Improvised meeting areas in members homes sufficed until July
3, 1945, when a definite location was established on the second floor
above another retail store at 113 North Main Street.
On June 4, 1946, the first meeting was held on the second floor, southwest
corner room of the High School (1916) building on the west side of School
Street. That was no doubt with the help of the Principal, Professor
(Bro.) H. A. Nanney, and several Board members.
Many changes have occurred in Mt. Gilead between 1875 and 1986. As with
the nation, ways of life, employment, senses of values, social customs,
laws, and other factors have all affected Blackmer Lodge. Many prominent
men have been members of Blackmer as natives and newcomers, while others
with Blackmer connections have Masonic membership elsewhere.
Bro. J. A. Ausley, P. M. 1935 - 40, told the writer that he often had
difficulty in securing minimal attendance necessary for meetings. The
economy was such that many members could not raise dues money and temporary
suspension was necessary. Others had to be found or travel afoot because
the cost of telephone and transportation was beyond their reach. (Bro.
Ausley was fortunately an employee of Carolina Power and Light Company
whereas most of the members were farmers, timber men, and merchants,
all without steady money income.)
SCHOOL STREET BUILDINGS
Minutes and several verbal accounts indicate that as early as 1941,
thoughts of a new building for the Lodge were discussed and studied
by Blackmer's leadership. It appears that the 1875 land purchase south
of Main Street (Turnpike) was being considered as the site, it being
sill owned by the Lodge. Study efforts resulted in a formal written
offer on June 4, 1946, whereby Blackmer would erect a building on the
1875 land, give the American Legion Post #92 a long term lease on the
first floor, and reserve the second floor exclusively for Blackmer.
That was the last of several prior verbal discussions along the same
line. The result was indecisiveness by the Legion.
The Montgomery County Register of Deeds shows that on June 18, 1948,
Bro. J. W. Batten (P. M. seven times and a leader in the new building
idea) sold a lot 75' x 149' on School Street, across from the High School,
to American Legion Post #92. The Legion started erecting a brick building
and got the walls above street floor level before running out of money.
The uncompleted building then became an involvement of Blackmer Lodge.
A non-profit "Community Service Corporation" was formed to
take over the building. The American Legion Post #92 was joint owner
of the corporation with Blackmer. The latter arranged for completion
of the building and gained exclusive use of the second floor. Legion
and community activities used the street floor and lower basement. By
1980, it was apparent that Legion activity was dwindling.
Moving out of the High School building and into the Blackmer - Legion
building across the street occurred on November 15, 1949. The first
meeting was held in the new location that night.
BEGINNING BLACKMER'S SECOND CENTURY
Blackmer's move into the new building on November 15, 1949 is technically
short of it's 100th birthday. For practical purposes, it began a new
era of activity.
Bro. D. T. Scarborough (W. M. 1956) was some time ahead of petitioning
when instructed by his employer, R. B. Jordan, Jr. (W. M. 1951 - 52
and 54) to assist Bro. A. J. Lowdermilk (W. M. 1921) in moving furniture
one afternoon. It was the move from the second floor southwest corner
room of the High School building to enable Blackmer to meet across the
street that night. Bro. Scarborough has related the following for recording
in this text:
----- Per Bro. A. J. Lowdermilk, the gavel stands in use in 1986 at
the W. M., S. W. and J. W. stations, along with the altar, were all
moved from the original lodge at Zion and have been in continuous use.
The two columns at the S. W. station were from the 1875 building, but
earlier history is unknown. The chairs at each station were made approximately
1954 - 55. The craftsman was Mr. Lawson Furr (not a Mason).
The seats along the walls were obtained form previous use in a Biscoe,
N. C. theatre. Many nights were spent removing chewing gum. These seats
were all rebuilt and re-upholstered by several Brethren under the direction
of Bro. E. H. Strider (W. M. 1982 and 1985) and Bro. B. R. Johnson.
In the 1930's and 40's, and early 50's, one of the most faithful and
knowledgeable on matters of Masonry was Bro. A. J. Lowdermilk. He was
often the only member capable of conducting degree work and instructions
to candidates for several years.
The Lodge became very active in the 1950's. As a result of Bro. Lowdermilk's
efforts, Blackmer achieved the distinctive status of having three certified
lecturers all at the same time; Bros. Tom Greene (W. M. 1962), W. F.
Haywood (W. M. 1963) and D. T. Scarborough (W. M. 1956). During the
1950's, Bro. D. T. Scarborough served as District Deputy Grand Master.
That office was filled again by Brother Tom Greene; and in both 1983
and 1984 by Bro. Kenneth R. Fritts (W. M. 1973).-----
Bro. R. B. Jordan, Jr. served as County Commissioner for many years.
His son, Bro. R. B. Jordan, III, a Blackmer member, was the featured
speaker for the November 2, 1985 LADIES NIGHT dinner. He was elected
to Lt. Governor of North Carolina in 1984.
Bros. Albert McAuley and D. T. Scarborough are serving
now, and have served several terms as County Commissioners (1986).
In 1980, Blackmer presented 60 year pins to Bros. C. T. Haywood and
Robert Maynor. For 26 years. For 26 years, Bro. Haywood served as Secretary.
In mid 1986, negotiations started, after a long lapse, to have Blackmer
Lodge take over full ownership of the School Street building. The American
Legion Post #92 has been erratic in action; with all expenses in recent
years being covered by Blackmer as self preservation. Hopefully, the
Legion will agree to accepting a limited use arrangement with Blackmer
having full use or control of the basement and second floor, and ability
to determine use of the street floor. Blackmer members have rejuvenated
the basement into a kitchen-dining area in recent years.
Fig. 8 shows the exterior of
Blackmer's building on the 12th of May, 1986. The front doors were donated
in 1980 by his family as a memorial to Bro. W. C. Parsons.
Figures 9, 10
,11 and 12
are four views inside the Lodge. Note in Fig.
10 the fire-damaged Charter from 1850.
(1) Patterns of Timeless Moments - A History
of Montgomery County by Mabel S. Lassiter, 1976, Pages 279/280.
(2) Montgomery County Heritage by the Montgomery County Historical
Society, 1980, Pages 46/51; 110/112.
(3) The Montgomery Herald of
November 16, 1978, Section 2, Page 1.
(4) There was, before the Lake Tillery Dam
in 1927/28, a real island in the Pee Dee River, approximately 1/2 mile
downstream from the 1986 location of the NC 73 bridges. A ferry crossed
just upstream from the island. The ferry was sometimes called "Lowder",
after it's owner, but more popularly the "Swift Island Ferry".
The river was narrow, swift, and deep between tall hillsides, and notoriously
hazardous, with casualties of people, animals and equipment.
Lawrenceville was a town laid out in a geometric pattern of rectangular
lots, centered about the Montgomery County Courthouse, in the early
(5) This author obtained much information about
Mr. Skeen by listening and asking questions as a youngster. "The
Masons" obtained the services of Mr. Skeen by inducing him to move
from Mt. Airy, NC to Mt. Gilead. In 1878, Mr. Skeen purchased 30 acres
of virgin timber land on the east side of the Turnpike, about 1/4 mile
south of the "Academy". From the forest, lumber was prepared
to build Mr. Skeen's home.
That house was the birthplace of this author. The quality of construction
of the house and adjacent meat storage building was such that they are,
in 1986, structurally sound and not sagged in shape. It is now owned
by Mr. Skeen's great, great grand daughter and is listed as 213 South
This author's father's first marriage was to Mr. Skeen's daughter. They
had four sons and lived with the elder Skeens. After the death of Mr.
Skeen in 1905 and his daughter in 1910, the writer's mother came by
marriage in 1912. The writer was born in 1915 and lived in the Skeen
house until leaving for college in 1932. Mrs. Skeen lived into 1917
at the home.
Mr. Skeen's Masonic Bible was seen frequently in the house between 1915
and 1932. Mr. Skeen, being an excellent cabinet maker and carpenter,
had built most of the furniture in his house, and much of it was in
use as late as 1940. This author has several small items, including
a cabinet maker's saw used by Mr. Skeen.
In 1974, this author purchased most of the land from
Mr. Skeen's grandsons and received the hand written 1878 deed; for the
purpose of erecting a retirement home place at 215 South Main Street.
(6) The physical dismantling of the 1875 -
78 Masonic building was in 1919. Discussions were under way on the subject
in 1917, but action was slow. Lodge records do not show when it took
In November, 1918, this author was standing in the front yard of a house
across the street and saw men emerging from the front door of the "Old
School House" (Lodge Building). The men came near wearing white
aprons and carrying Masonic equipment. Inquiry to his mother as to what
and who was in prospect, the answer was: "They are Masons and are
coming here where we are as part of your Uncle Doc's funeral".
Soon, the men formed arches, lines on each side of the walk, and casket
passed through. The procession then proceeded to Zion.
(7) The first occupants of the small building
that was changed from Lodge Hall to residential use was the family of
Moses Richter. He was a Russian immigrant merchant who arrived in Mt.
Gilead in 1919. In 1921, Blackmer rejected his petition. As the years
went by, Mr. Richter became known as a very kind to anyone in need and
a merchant who emphasized fair dealing with true representation of his
goods. He became involved in various business ventures. When the local
economy virtually collapsed in the 1930's, he established a textile
factory which, through changes, has been the economic back bone of the
area in 1986.
The second family to occupy the small house was that of Mr. J. C. (Knocker)
Hartsell. His daughter, Hazelene, is the wife of Bro. Hobart Morris
(P. M. 1966).
(8) This author is the grandson of Rev. (Bro.)
W. H. H. Lawhon (1841 - 1926), Charter member, 33° and P. M. of
Carthage Lodge No. 180. His picture is on a wall in that Lodge in 1986.
The author graduated from Mt. Gilead High School in 1932, General Motors
Institute of Engineering and Management in 1936 and 1967. Additional
studies at other institutions was throughout a career in industrial
In 1951, he became a charter member and seventh candidate of Cuyahoga
Falls (Ohio) Lodge No. 735, and transferred to Blackmer Lodge No. 127
(N. C.) in 1978. (Brother Andrews was presented a 50 year pin in 2001
by Brother Gil Haywood who was W. M. at the time.)
(9) Mrs. Richter was the "prime mover"
in getting the book, Montgomery County Heritage (Footnote 2) successfully
concluded by publication in 1980.
* History continues to be made at Blackmer Lodge and we
plan to update this page as time allows. In the interim, read about
our latest history making event: Masonic History
Made in Mount Gilead.
Blackmer Lodge meets the first and third Tuesdays
of each month. Dinner is served at 6:30 pm with the Lodge opening at
7:30 pm. Visiting Brethren are welcome!