Friday, August 24, 2012

The Entrepreneurial Spirit Of Freemasonry . . .

St. Joseph Lodge (IL)  Yup, a century later it's still there.
Back in the olden days, Masons didn't always build their own meeting places.  Local Masonic Lodges met in a lot of different places.  They might meet in a member's home, a warehouse, or even a barn or carriage house.  It might be a different place each month.  And it was very common for them to meet in rooms they rented over a public house--or as we like to say today, a tavern.  And, of course, after the meeting, you might imagine where the members might adjourn too.  That wasn't always a good thing for the early reputation of Freemasonry, but there are a lot of examples of that. 

At some point, Masons got tired of not having a permanent home, and probably got tired of paying rent to the taverns they met in, so they began building their own lodges.  Of course, the question was--how are we going to pay for it, and how are we going to sustain it?  That's when the entrepreneurial spirit of Freemasonry kicked in--we've always had that resource.  We have always had the reputation of attracting very industrious members.  The solution to that problem may go back to how they began--meeting in rented rooms over public houses.  Who knows who did it first--but at some point, Masons realized it was better to be the landlord than the tenant.  There are probably tens of thousands of examples that demonstrate this still in existence today.  Masons built their lodges on the second floor, usually in a commercial area of town, and rented out the first floor to the local mercantile merchant, barkeep, restaurant, or apothecary.

The Gryphon Tea Room, Savannah, GA
Few customers know there's a
 Masonic Temple upstairs.
The first picture that accompanies this article I took myself--it's a good example.  It's St. Joseph Lodge No. 970 (IL).  They have a beautiful lodge upstairs, and two retail stores below.  It was built in 1914.  A few miles away, there's another example, built about the same time--doing business out of the first floor of that lodge is the local post office, an insurance agency, and out the back of the building, a trucking company.  The rent goes to the lodge--it helps pay the insurance, utilities, and upkeep on the building, and what's left is used, along with the dues that Masons pay, and all those pancake breakfasts and spaghetti dinners, to support the causes that Masons believe are important. 

I've written about a few of these places in my novels--in my novel One Last Shot, my protagonist, Levi Garvey used to visit the Gryphon Tea Room, when he lived in Savannah, Georgia, and mentioned that right upstairs was the place where he became a Mason.  Now that's fiction, but both of those places are real.  I've been there.  I've had tea at the Gryphon, and toured the Savannah Scottish Rite Temple--while I was still an Entered Apprentice myself.  In my second novel A Shot After Midnight, one of these 100-year-old lodges in a small town was being restored in the background of the main story--that was based on a true story as well.

Savannah Scottish Rite Temple entrance. 
 Masons have always been builders, but not in the way you might think.  Sure, we've built many grand buildings, but that is a result of our main goal.  Long before it was common for young men to attend college, Masonic Lodges were places of learning.  Members learned how to become a better man--a better husband, a better father, a better member of society.  And it was one of the few places available for many young men to learn about leadership--and there are few colleges to this day that do a better job teaching that subject than Masonic Lodges do, because when done correctly, it's not a four year leadership course, it takes at least twice that. 

And while that learning was going on upstairs, the rented space downstairs often housed businesses that helped build the communities they were in.  These simple buildings and the men that met there, and businesses that hung their shingle on Main Street were often the incubator for towns, cities and villages that are still around today. 

There has always been a entrepreneurial spirit to Freemasonry.  We're builders.  We start one man at a time.  And those men, the more famous of which I have so often profiled in my books, build strong communities, businesses, get involved in government, the military, entertainment, they write, they create music, they contribute their unique talents to the greater good, and each, in their own way, make the world a better place to live. 

And even as impressive as some of the individual accomplishments may be, the Fraternity itself has become a force in making lives better--there are many examples today, but the most readily identifiable is the Shriner's Hospitals.  But that's just one.  Every single day, Masons raise over 1 million for numerious charities.  That's an impressive number.

Just look up--sometimes the signs are
 just over your head.
But I still believe the most important contribution Freemasonry makes in the world starts with that prime directive--to make good men better.  It certainly changed my life.  Everything Freemasonry has been able to accomplish beyond that is the result of taking a good man, and showing him what he is capable of.  Freemasons have played the most successful game of small ball in world history, because it starts with a strong grip that raises a single man at a time.  And it's what he does, and not what we do that makes it work.  It is the cumulative result of this effort that has made us strong.

If you doubt me--look for the signs of Freemasonry around you.  I guarantee it is there whether you are in the big city, or a small town.  You need only look for it.  And when you find it--take a picture of it, and send it to me.   With your help, and your stories, I'm going to talk about his more.

~TEC

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