PINE GROVE MASON LODGE # 226

Est. 1900 

      Pine Grove Mason Lodge #226 (the Hall) was constructed by the elders of the community known as Pine Grove.  The Hall sat southwest of the present Pine Grove Baptist Church.  The Masons, Oddfellows, Ruths, and Heroines met in the Hall.  No children were allowed to enter.

SECRETS

     In the beginning children were not allowed inside the Hall, because of the secrets and passwords of the organizations.  On one occasion in 1917, a member of the Ruth organization was allowed to bring in her 2-year old child.  The child MONNIE LEE RAYSON-THOMPSON, born April 19, 1915, was allowed in only because there was no one to care for her, and it was important that her mother be present. The Ruths thought the child was too young to understand what was going on. The child played on the floor as the ladies went about their activities.  As the child played, her eyes watched, and her ears listened to everything.  Later that night at home while sitting around the fireplace with her young sibling, the young child revealed one of the Ruths’ secrets.  She was never allowed in the Hall again.

RELOCATED

     In 1943, the Old Masonic Hall moved behind Pine Grove Baptist Church adjacent to the Holland Quarters Cemetery.  By now the Oddfellows and Ruths had dispersed.  The Masons and Heroines were still active.

     The Masons held high regards for the Hall.  Their privacy and independence were very important.  Only the Masons were allowed upstairs, no one else was ever given permission to go upstairs. 

     Elderly male citizens of the “Quarters” who at one time were Masonic brethren, would only smile and shake their heads when I asked the question, what was the big secret about the upstairs in the Hall? and what does the saying “ride the goat” mean?  

LAND DEED

     On October 6, 1947, Pinnie Westmoreland deeded to Pine Grove Lodge #26 Negro Masons and Beauty Lady (presently known as Beautiful Ladies) Court #8 Heroines for $50.00, the land for the hall. 

Fall 1954/1-1955 - OPEN

     Now with the incompletion of West Side Elementary School, the children of the fifties made a difference.  The Old Masonic Hall was now open to teach the children.

     Professor Andrew Jackson “A. J.” Hudson, and Mrs. Annie Lou Rayson-Lister were allowed to take their classes inside the Hall.  Mr. Hudson taught 3rd and 7th grade on the west side of the lower level.  His roll top desk sat in the far west corner of the room.        

     Even though Mr. Hudson was much older and larger in size than Mrs. Lister, she had the largest number of children to teach.  Mrs. Lister stands only 5’1” tall, and most of the 40+ students of the 5th and 6th grade were larger in size than she was. She was small in size, but big on teaching. 

     When the heavy rains came in November of 1954, Mrs. Lister took her students to the church to join Mrs. Johns and Mrs. Lucas.  Mr. Hudson remained in the Hall with his students.

1955/1986 - REMAIN OPEN

     The Old Masonic Hall remained open to a very active community, where meetings and special activities took place.

    There were no modern facilities other than electricity in the Hall, but there was more life than life itself, thanks to the people of this great community.

1965 - GREAT TIMES

     Smiles reveal a very active community, enjoying activities in the lower level of the Old Masonic Hall.

1989 - SHUT DOWN

Old Masonic Hall

     Worshipful Master Oscar McWilliams died.  The Masons carried on, but no other meetings were ever held in the Hall again.  At last, the Hall closed its doors to the community.

     Through the years the building was never vandalized.  That could be because of the old wives’ tale the forty- and fifty-year-old children of today remember and why they feared the building.  The children misunderstood “goat” for “ghost”.  The old saying was, you have to “ride-the-goat” to become a member.

     The students’ desks were left in the Hall by the teachers, because they were there when they entered the Hall.  The roll-top desk was the original desk that Andrew Jackson “A. J.” Hudson used.  The windows were broken out from age; there were no rocks inside to show vandalism.

     If walls could talk, this old building would ramble on for years telling of our ancestors’ dreams.

THE OLD MASONIC LODGE

     Research into the Old Masonic Lodge (the Hall) was like walking on grounds paved in gold.  I found the Hall to be one of the most important links into the pass, because of the respect the community held for it.   With the completion of the research on the Hall I talked with citizens in the community.  I wanted to get a feel from the people, I wanted to know how they felt about restoring the Old Hall into a useful Culture Center for the children and the community.  Everyone I talked to was in favor of doing something with the Old Hall.  If it was possible, they wanted the Hall restored, because most of them remembered when the Hall was open and full of life. The question they all wanted answered was “where is the money coming from”?  I told them I had been looking into getting a grant.  They looked at me sort of strange, and said “okay”. 

     With the stores and school shut down, the only activities being viewed were automobiles passing as the head of the household went to work.  The school buses carried the children away from the “Quarters” to attend school.  On Sunday morning, as a tradition, you have a choice of six churches to attend. 

     Pictures reveal the Old Hall as it peeked up into the horizon making its presence known.  Shining like a beacon in the sky reflecting the history and lives of great people who once entered its doors.  The spirits of the ancestors have protected the Old Hall with

their strong arms, the same as the descendants are protecting the land.  The Old Hall stood tall, hidden within the trees, watching over the descendants as sun light reflected against it.  As the baby boomers make ready for retirement, the Old Hall held on to life waiting for the next generation to improve upon its looks.

     With the prospect of restoring the Old Hall, the children of the baby boomers would have taken the next step in the tracks of their ancestors.  These steps added to the footprints where their parents left off would be the steps for the next generation to pick up.

     After consulting with members of the community, I then went back to the deacons of the community’s first church and discussed the possibility of a grant to restore the Old Hall.

     On February 25th, to enhance public awareness of African American historic and endangered sites, I made a video tape of the Hall to make local officials aware of the Old Masonic Hall, and to show even in the rain how well preserved the building was. 

     After lunch and a brief meeting, we viewed the video tape.  Inside the Hall revealed no holes in the floor and no damage from vandalism.  The antique student double desks were in good shape with no sign of broken tops.  Weather had not destroyed the desks.  Even though it had rained the day before, dust proved that it did not rain inside the Hall.  There was no fear that the structure was unstable.  

     The officials asked “how much matching money do you have”?  Money, we don’t have any money, I replied.  They asked, “what do you have to offer”?  I told the group that we have the will and the determination to see this project completed.  Instead of paying

someone to do the labor, we would do it ourselves.  As the meeting came to an end, the presence of God was within our hearts.  As we spoke of the need to restore the Old Masonic Hall, several of the officials spoke of ways they could help.  In closing we spoke of how the entire county could benefit from restoring the old site.

    As I worked to complete the grant proposal, I called upon several people from the community for suggestions.  Official’s like County Judge John Cordray, Mrs. Leila Bell LaGrone-founder of Carthage’s Historical Center, Chamber of Commerce, Tommy Ritter Smith, William E. Edward (president of the Heritage Foundation), and others prepared letters to accompany the proposal.

     The Hall was being viewed by many as I prepared a grant proposal for $25,000.00 to restore the Old Masonic Hall back to its original state with some modern improvements, to be used as a  Culture Center.

     In late March, I completed the grant proposal with thirteen (13) supporting concerned citizen’s letters and submitted the entire packet by mail to a foundation in Dallas, Texas.

     The first response from the foundation was received the following week dated April 4, 1997.  The letter stated that after a preliminary review they would notify me if any additional information was needed. 

     In the meanwhile, concerned citizens called offering their help; material was being donated.  Additional information was being gathered to be placed in the upper historical level of the Hall.  Those who were too frail and too weak from age to help, would call just to say they were praying for hope.   You could hear the joy in their voices

as they spoke of days-gone-by when the Hall was open.

THE DESTRUCTION

     On Monday, July 21, 1997, around 8:30 p.m. I received a call informing me that the Old Masonic Hall was on the ground.  With no regard for the history surrounding the Old Hall, nor for the descendants of this great community, the 14th Pastor of Pine Grove Baptist Church, Earnest O. Springs, Jr., a non-descendant of the “Quarters”, a person who doesn’t live in, work in, or care about the progress of the community, decided to take it upon himself to change history.  If he had roots in this community, there is no way he would have destroyed this historical site. 

     Now demolished was the most elegant place to see standing in the “Quarters”.  It was “highly unlikely” that the Old Hall would have fallen to the ground on its own.  This violent attack against the Hall took man-made machinery to pull, not push, the Old Hall to the ground.  The spirits of those who had gone on before cry out, making their presence known, pleading, speaking through the ground, mourning as they held on to the old Hall.  He tied on to the inside beams, it took several attempts to bring the Old Hall down.  Ancestors have watched over the Old Hall for nearly a hundred years.  For the last 54 years, the structure stood next to their gravesites, with their arms around the old building holding it up.  It was as though they were begging and pleading not to destroy what they had struggled so hard to leave for their children.  As strength gave way, it came straight down, taking care especially not to disturb the gravesites of the caretakers.  Tragically, the end of an era came when the Old Masonic Hall was put to death, the foundation still intact.  The roll top desk that was on the lower level can still be seen through the rubble.  The blocks on which the Hall stood still stand in place, months later.

     His hate broke the circle, people from near and far can only wonder why! why! a person would destroy a building with such sentimental value. People who destroyed footprints into history simply because of their hate for others, have no dreams nor visions.  May God forgive him, because I will never understand why a man that was paid a salary to preach the gospel, could use his hate in such a hellish way. 

     Being a historian, dreams are sweet ones, when angels are watching over you.  Even though we face difficulties of today and tomorrow, I have a dream, that one day all African Americans shall unite together as one, and stop the hate among themselves.  I never claimed to own the Hall, or any other building I do research on.  But I am a direct descendant of the original 43 slaves that settled here in 1842.  That gives me more than the right to love and care about the well being of a community that my ancestors developed.

     Embarrassed and greatly dissatisfied by the senseless act of destroying public property, I notified city officers and the foundation of the destruction.   

     An elder of 101 years old remembered the Old Hall back in 1909 when she was only 13 years old.  Her parents would carry her by wagon to the “Quarters”.  In a very solemn voice she asked, “what gave him the right to tear down the Old Hall? It’s nothing else left now”.

     A third letter, dated Wednesday - July 23, 1997, was received from the foundation:  The letter ended by saying “However, you are welcome to submit a new request after a year.  Although we cannot assist you at this time, we encourage you to continue your efforts to improve the quality of life in your community and wish you well in all your endeavors”.