Anderson in Anderson County, South Carolina — The American South (South Atlantic)
Masonic Temple -- 1889
This is the second Masonic Temple to occupy this location. After its organization in 1848, Hiram Lodge No. 68 met in the second story of a store building on the east side of the square for several years. The first temple was erected at this location in 1866. Its small auditorium was Anderson's first theater. The building also was used to house Anderson first hospital established during the Civil War as the Ladies Hospital Association. The present temple, once topped by a cupola, was dedicated with elaborate ceremonies in 1889. Its meeting hall served as Anderson's first opera house and civil auditorium. Plays presented by traveling stick companies and other cultural events took place here.
Location. 34° 30.167′ N, 82° 38.933′ W. Marker is in Anderson, South Carolina, in Anderson County. Marker is on East Benson Street west of South McDuffie Street, on the right when traveling east. Marker is located on the northeast corner of the temple, to the left Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 118 East Benson Street, Greenville SC 29601, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. In Commemoration of Black Pioneers (within shouting distance of this marker); Bank of Anderson Building - ca. 1891 (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); G.F. Tolly Building -- c. 1910 (about 300 feet away); The Four Way Test (about 300 feet away); Sullivan Hardware Co. -- 1875 (about 300 feet away); Portman Shoals (about 400 feet away); Portman Dam and Power Plant (about 400 feet away); Anderson County Court House -- 1898 (about 400 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Anderson.
1. Simple façade a mask to one building’s rich story
By Charmaine Smith-Miles
Sunday, June 14, 2009
It’s two stories stand there, showing little except plain windows, grayish brick walls and a sign. The exterior doesn’t hold a lot of clues as to the treasures inside. But thanks to a small metal sign, posted near the doorway, those walking by can catch glimpse into the story inside.
In small letters, the plaque tells the passer-by that this plain-Jane building has had many lives since 1889.
Welcome to 118 Benson St. in downtown
On this day, a small group gathered here and tried to tell its story, walking through its rooms and the place that once hosted Vaudeville acts. Anderson County Museum Curator Alison Hinman and two Masons — Charles “Spoon” Huggins and Jake O. Phillips — pulled out more details, expanding on the short tale contained on that metal plaque.
“What you are standing in is a barn,” Phillips said. “It is made of solid wood. We have beams that are cut from a single tree.”
It is the second Masonic lodge located in downtown Anderson. The first one was a log cabin, of sorts, built near where the Bailes Building is now, Phillips said. Traveling theater groups would use the building — performing in what is still this place’s prized room.
In fact, it is this room that has brought me here.
Once inside, I know why someone else requested that I write about this place.
Blue, like the moon, covers parts of the ceiling. Some places are yellow. Columns surround the walls, and royal blue-cushioned wooden chairs sit in rows along the rim the room itself. It’s a room of reverence, a place mixed with royalty and religion.
It is modeled
“Masons used to meet out in the open under the full moon,” Huggins said. “So now, Masonic lodges are called Blue Lodges. This whole room is full of symbolism.”
For years — well since 1889 — the city fathers met here. This was this building’s first purpose. It was one of two Masonic lodges in Anderson. In another room, there are rows of photos. Most are black-and-white framed portraits of those men long gone.
Names pop out even to the transplanted Andersonian. James Orr. G.F. Tolly. J.L. Tribble.
This city’s street names are under these photos. The men who made this town are here. G.F. Tolly was mayor for at least seven terms in Anderson. One of his descendants, Hinman said, is Fred Tolly, who served on Anderson County Council for a number of years.
Then another photo shows James L. Orr, the leader or past master of this lodge. He was also the governor of South Carolina. His funeral — the largest in Anderson — was attended by 2,000 to 3,000 people in this building, Hinman said.
Another man on this wall is W.W. Humphreys, also a past leader of this lodge. But a closer look at the beard on this man, at his stare, and he is recognizable as familiar face from today. For it is he who posed for the Confederate
The first picture here dates back to 1847-1848, when the lodge was founded.
Then along another wall are pictures in color. Modern movers and shakers here. Huggins’ and Phillips’ portraits hang here, too. Faces of city police detectives, businessmen and politicians are here. This is the fellowship hall.
“It’s like a Who’s Who of Anderson,” Hinman said.
According to A Brief History of Hiram Masonic Lodge, No. 68, the ornate room, the one built like a temple, was erected in 1916 and 1917. It is this room where it is believed the opera performances and later theatrical shows were held.
In Louise Vandiver’s History and Traditions of Anderson County, she writes, “The Masonic Temple was also comparatively new, having been erected in 1889 with ceremonies as elaborate as those attending the dedication of the new courthouse.”
Then a “little theater” was placed in the building, Vandiver writes, from around 1889 until 1913. There Vaudeville acts as well as operas were performed. Horses were brought into the building and housed on one of the floors, according to local history books.
But eventually a fire took the building’s third floor. And this then-fledgling town outgrew its opera house. A new “up-to-date” theater was built in 1913
“It had a formal opening and the newspapers of the time are enthusiastic over the happy culmination of dreams and aspirations of many years and states the interior of the house rivals fairyland,” Vandiver wrote.
With the moving of the theater, the building’s purpose then shifted to community center and Masonic lodge. A few thousand dollars, not even topping $10,000, built the lodge. Membership peaked several years ago with close to 1,000 members.
Now, those numbers hover around 467 members. Times, they are changing. But this place still holds its treasures. On this day, some of them were revealed. Others may die with the building, with the people who come here.
Such is the way, many times, with local history.
“Too many changes were made and not enough people are left to remember them,” Phillips said. “One day, maybe not in my lifetime but within a couple of decades, we will have to leave this place. But nothing lasts forever. Even the Temple of Solomon didn’t last forever.”
At least, we’ve glimpsed inside this place and learned a bit of the part it’s played in our tale.
— Submitted July 30, 2009, by Brian Scott of Anderson, South Carolina.