My dear Masonic brethren and sisters of all Maonic Lodges, where so ever dispersed, and other Masonic affiliated bodies, Bro. W.A. Wells, KCCH of Danville, VA recently made an inquiry over the Virginia Masonic Home Page concerning Marshall Lodge's recent fire. On his behalf, the following is submitted on the subject. And I might add, "Have we become too complacent in the protection of our Masonic Charters, Lodge furniture, records, etc. that have accumulated over the many many years of our Maonic history." "We might, and really should all consider photographing everything in our Masonic facilities & providing a sound and safe place to safeguard our important papers, minutes, etc." Many of our buildings are just a heart beat away from being destroyed by an act of God or fire, or other misfortune."
When Marshall Lodge No. 39 burned Monday, 21 July 1997, Lynchburg lost a part of its history.
"It was like a member of the family died," said Geraline Robertson, who was initiated into the Order of the Easter Star in the lodge's large hall room. Masons built the lodge building, which stands on the corner of 9th and Church Streets, late in the 19th century, according to Bill Robertson, the lodge's secretary and Geraline Robertson's husband. An addition and neo-classical facade were built in 1925, though a subsequent remodeling added another aluminum-sided layer to the fašade.
Geraline Robertson remembers how it was decorated with stars in the ceiling. "When you were in it in there, they cut the lights down," she said. ""These blue lights came on in the ceiling and it was like you were in heaven". But Tuesday morning, as fire fighters continued to cool the building down by blasting water into it from a ladder truck, part of the second floor lay collapsed into the offices below. Above the crumpled wooden floor, metal ceiling tiles, furniture and other rubble, the building was open to the sky.
The 110,111 square-foot building was assessed at $200,000 by the city. The lodge owned $240,000 worth of insurance on it.
"It couldn't be replaced for a million dollars," Bill Robertson said. "That's why we won't know what to do until the insurance adjuster looks at it"
Part of the building will have to be demolished, according to John Jennings of the Fire Marshal's office.
Furniture in the newer part of the building, settees, chandeliers, the altar, the jewels were all lost, Robertson said.
Robertson hopes to salvage the older furniture, which was in the original part of the building, as soon as the fire marshal allows such a recovery. But the building also housed Masonic artifacts and antiques and the archives of the Academy of Music, stored in a vault in the basement.
The lodge received its charter from Virginia Masons Grand Master John Marshall, the nation's first chief justice of the Supreme Court in 1793. No. 39 is the mother lodge for three others in Lynchburg.
Some masons gathered on Tuesday to go through as much of the wreckage as they safely could to recover some of the artifacts. Recovered items included a Bible dating from the 1600s, which tradition says was used by George Washington, and the lodge's minutes. It had been stored in a case made of wood and glass.
"We saved the records, our minute books," Bill Robertson said. "Our original minute book started in 1793. That's in good shape. Some of them have smoke and water damage, but most of it's in good shape."
Because there once was a bank in the building, there was a vault in the basement, where the Masonic records were stored. When the Academy of Music established an office in the basement of the building, it also used the vault to store its archives, which date back to 1903, according to academy Secretary Kate Gray. When the academy's board of directors met last week in the basement office, one agenda item was discussing finding a larger space.
"We were thinking about October, maybe not this week," said acting chairman Clifton Potter. "I went down there last night," Potter said, "and I just kept saying to myself, "We will not give up. We will not be beaten."
When Academy supporters left the scene Monday night, they feared that all their archives - photographs, postcards, correspondence, old programs - had been lost.
"When we returned this morning," Potter said Tuesday, "there were all our records, in boxes, sitting on the sidewalk. Bless those firefighters, but they are not lost."
With the help of Tom Stephens, professor of theater at Randolph-Macon Woman's College and an academy board member, the colleges archivist allowed the records to be whisked to R-MWC where they have been placed in freezer. Freezing them, Potter said, prevents rapid drying as well as the attack of molds.
Efforts are already under way to get everything slowly dried and copied, he said. All the academy's computer records had been backed up onto disks stored elsewhere. The status of insurance to replace the computer hardware is not yet known.
"We are going to be like the phoenix and rise from the ashes," said Potter. "It was one of those wonderful little miracles, and we are grateful.
By Paul Bergen and Molly Roper Jenkins
The NEWS and Advance
RW Alfred G. Reed, PDDGM
25th Masonic District
111 Temple Circle
Lynchburg, VA 24502-2434