Architectural Heritage + Masonic Community + Extraordinary Venue
The Need for a Home
The challenge at the time was that Mt. Hermon lodge had never had a permanent home since its founding nearly a century before and the popularity of Masonry in Asheville was so strong that the lodge counted more than 500 men as members. Thus the Temple project began in the summer of 1909 out of necessity when Mt. Hermon Lodge No. 118 and Asheville Chapter No. 25 of the Royal Arch together purchased the lot on Broadway. Three years later the Mt. Hermon Lodge and the Asheville Lodge of Perfection No. 1 devised the means for the building of a new Masonic Temple. The plan was for a large four-story building that would provide meeting and ritual space for a variety of Masonic bodies including Mt. Hermon, the York Rite, the Scottish Rite and others. The plan also provided club-like facilities for the brothers to meet outside of work and home.
Construction Background: 1913, Samuel Isaac Bean
In July 1913 stonecutter Samuel Isaac Bean supervised the laying of the 3200 lb cornerstone for the new Masonic Temple on the corner of Broadway and Woodfin Streets in downtown Asheville. Bean was a member of Mt. Hermon Lodge 118 and also a respected stonemason in Asheville. Bean had come to the city in the late 1880s to serve as one of the lead stonecutters for the building of George Vanderbilt’s chateau, Biltmore, and like so many who spent the better part of six years of their lives building the massive estate, he stayed in Asheville after its construction and built a new life in the mountains. His company, S.I. Bean and Company, came to be the city’s most-respected stone contractor credited with many of Asheville’s most impressive buildings including the Drhumor, Central Methodist Church, and St. Lawrence Catholic Church and in the years the following the laying of the temple’s cornerstone Bean would be the stone contractor of many more including the Jackson Building, the Flatiron, and the Public Services building.
Architect: Richard Sharp Smith
Bean had been selected for the work by the architect of the Temple, Richard Sharp Smith. Smith and Bean’s relationship went back to the building of Biltmore in the 1890s. Originally from Yorkshire, England, Smith moved to the United States in 1883 to work as an architect and six years later Richard Morris Hunt hired him to be the on-site architect for the construction of Biltmore. In the three decades that followed Smith designed many of Asheville most iconic buildings and houses. From a private resident for Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan to the Young Men’s Institute to the Langren Hotel, and the Loughran & Legal buildings, to name but a small few, Smith transformed the face of Asheville. He was both the best Freemason and man for the job.
April 1915: Opening
It took some 21 months to build, but on April 29, 1915, almost a century ago to the day, in ceremony in this very room, the building was accepted from the contractor and was opened for the good of Masonry.
About the Design
The architect, Smith, being well versed in the latest building technologies from his work at Biltmore, had designed a state-of-the-art steel structure which featured many of the latest amenities of the day including indoor bathrooms and linoleum flooring and in 1922 the Temple installed one of the city’s earliest elevators. In truth there is quite of bit of Biltmore in this Temple. Additionally, to the trained Masonic eye, Smith included a rich array of Masonic symbols, some direct like the beautiful doorknobs, others hidden but in plain sight.
The new temple featured a large 200-seat dining hall, a stunning lodge room, and a 250-seat theater featuring hand-painted sets by the traveling Masonic artist from Chicago, Thomas Gibbs Moses.
A History of Health and Restoration
In the years following the completion of the Temple, the Masonic bodies opened the temple to sojourning sick brethren coming to Asheville because of its reputation as a Health Resort. This led to the founding of Asheville's Good Samaritan Mission and set the stage for opening the Temple during the Spanish influenza outbreak in 1918 that swept through the country. In fact, the members turned over the entire Temple as a hospital for ailing African Americans in Buncombe County, who at the time, were not welcome at the area hospital.
In the decades that followed its opening, Masonry flourished in the Temple, hosted hundreds of blue lodge meetings, dozens of Scottish Right Reunions and York Rite initiations. The theatrical support that the Temple provided Scottish Rite and York Rite led to degrees of legend throughout the East Coast. In addition to Master Masons, the temple also hosted the Ester Chapter of Eastern Star and the founding court of Amaranth in North Carolina as well the founding chapters of DeMolay and Rainbow girls.
For many years the Asheville Masonic Temple was a hub of Masonry in North Carolina, but with the national decline in interest in fraternal organizations in the 1970s and 1980s, the bodies meeting in the Temple and the Temple itself declined, reaching a low point in the early 2000s when several bodies barely had enough members to meet and preparations were being made to sell the Temple to developers. Through the hard work of dedicated masons in Asheville and outstanding support by the Grand Lodge, the building was saved and a new century’s journey began.
In 2009, the Asheville Masonic Temple, Inc. was organized and in 2010 it opened the Temple’s doors to the community. The result has been threefold: today a great community need is being meet in terms of facilities, second the Temple has a steady stream of income to support the costly maintenance of a massive 100 year old edifice, and the masonic bodies in the Temple have been flourishing as more men, women, boy, and girls, have come knocking on the door.
Today the Asheville Masonic Temple houses eight Masonic bodies, the Blue Lodges, Mt Hermon, 20th Century PHA and Veritas, the York Rite, the Scottish Rite, Amaranth, and newly reformed DeMolay and Rainbow chapters.
Today the Asheville Masonic Temple Board is redeveloping the Temple’s business plan in support of its newly adopted mission statement.
“The mission of the Asheville Masonic Temple, Inc. is to preserve and protect the Masonic and architectural heritage of the historic Temple by encouraging and promoting its continued Masonic use and by offering the public an extraordinary and unique event venue.”