HISTORY OF BLACKMER LODGE NO. 127 A. F. & A. M.
Mount Gilead, North Carolina
As Written By: Bro. Marcus Andrews
Revised June, 1995
This has been prepared per request of the Grand Lodge in preparation for celebrating the 200th anniversary of Masonry in North Carolina in 1987. Several Brethren have assisted by counsel, preparation of photographs, suggestions, and access to original minute books. Additional help has come from Zion Church Historical Records, Montgomery County Register of Deeds, published history books shown in footnotes (1) and (2), the writer's personal knowledge, and contacts with non-Masonic persons believed to be reliable.
The history of Blackmer Lodge is closely related to the settlement and development of western Montgomery County. The valley of the PEE DEE River and its two principal tributaries are the setting. This overall geographical area is further described by references to the map, Fig. 1, Page 2. Fig. 2, Page 3 shows locations of the various meeting sites within the Town of Mt. Gilead.
Blackmer Lodge No. 127 under Dispensation first met in Lawrenceville August 16, 1850 and under Charter in 1855. References and Charter show Zion as permanent location. Zion is approximately four (4) miles from Lawrenceville on 1986 roads. Lawrenceville was almost destroyed by fire in 1836, and vanished as a town about 1900.
Various references to Lawrenceville and "Swift Island" cover the same community about a ferry across the PEE DEE River. The earliest recorded group settlements of the region were in the early 1700's. These were concentrated in the area east and south of the junction of the YADKIN and UWHARRIE Rivers, below which the stream is the PEE DEE. The area west and north of the river junction developed more completely. The formation of Blackmer Lodge involved people and travel within the area above described, plus detail shown in Fig. 1. For practical purposes in this text, due to various prior records, the terms "Swift Island" and Lawrenceville" are the same, whereas in fact there were two distinct locations about one and one-half miles apart.4
The Morganton-Fayetteville Turnpike ran from Morganton eastward through Salisbury and southward through Gold Hill, Lawrenceville, Zion, Pee Dee, and Providence toward Fayetteville. Providence became Mt. Gilead (pictures A and B) in the early 1800’s and the name of the incorporated own in later years. In 1986, highways would be US 52 south of Salisbury and NC 73 east of Albemarle through Mt. Gilead. Zion Methodist Church was established in 1786 and was the center of a growing community in 1850, followed by decline during and after the Civil War. Zion and Blackmer both have gone through difficult times and periods of suspension, but Zion celebrated its 200th anniversary on the 22nd of June 1986.
Founding of Blackmer Lodge
Authority for organizing this Lodge was by Dispensation issued Aug. 8, 1850. It was issued in Raleigh to L. Blackmer, P. M. of Palestine Lodge No. 120 in Gold Hill; to organize a new lodge "at Zion in Montgomery County". It took two weeks for the mail to bring the document from Raleigh to Gold Hill.
The first meeting was held in Lawrenceville on August 16, 1850 with L. Blackmer as W. M.; assisted by Brethren J. M. Coffin and Arch Honeycutt of Palestine Lodge No. 120. Two petitions were received and both Preston Wooley and George Makepeace received the first two degrees that day. The organizers stayed overnight in Lawrenceville and the following day, the first two candidates received the M. M. Degree. In addition, that second meeting received two petitions from J. H. Montgomery, S. H. Christian, R. I. Mebane, all of which were elected.
Newly raised candidates were installed as officers, thus:
PRESTON WOOLEY, W. M.
GEORGE MAKEPEACE, S. W.
J. H. MONTGOMERY, J. W.
By late 1850, membership had passed 20.
Obviously, the organizers had traveled from Gold Hill, crossed the river at the Swift Island ferry, and met in the town of Lawrenceville. Lawrenceville was a formally laid-out town in rectangular shape with about 50-plus houses, and the County Court House at the center. The courthouse burned in 1836 and the town declined thereafter.4 At the Court House in Troy, the Montgomery County Register of Deeds, Book 16, Pages 366/7 shows an entry dated November 25, 1850. It shows that Col. Edmond Deberry (1787-1859) sold a lot "on the east side of the Turnpike --- at Zion." Buyer was Trustees of Blackmer Lodge No. 127 jointly the trustees of "Sons of Temperance"; for the purpose of erecting and "occupying a meeting hall."
The Charter of Blackmer Lodge No. 127 was issued on the 8th day of December, 1850. The first meeting after its receipt was on the 27th day of December, 1850. Approval was given to pay $10.00 for the Charter. Fig. 10, Page 26, shows the time damaged Charter on the wall in 1986.
Minutes from 1851 through 1855 show occasional brief notes indicating that a building was in progress and that the meeting in Lawrenceville was in 1855. The note at the top Fig. 3, Page 7, refers to moving from "Swift Island" to Zion in 1855. That is the overlap between the two names.
Figures 3, 3A and 3B, Pages 7, 8, and 9, list all Masters of Blackmer in to 1995 (note: A current list of our Past Masters is available on this website). Note that the first four candidates served as Master within the first eight years. That list notes moving to Mt. Gilead in 1876, but the first recorded meeting there in 1878 noted the new building. The next to follow and Fig. 2, Page 3, shows seven locations within Mt. Gilead, all within eyesight distance of one another.
Blackmer's Years at Zion
Zion Church’s Historical Records of 1857 indicate an agreement was made to conduct a public school in the nearby building jointly owned by the "Sons of Temperance" and "Blackmer Masonic Lodge". The second floor (occupied by Blackmer) was excluded from school uses, whereas it was noted that the first floor was not being used extensively and that the presence of the school would cause no interference. The week-day school was conducted by the pastor of Zion through the winter of 1858-59. He was a native of Pennsylvania and was not well received in North Carolina with Civil War predictions abundant. He returned to Pennsylvania in the summer of 1859 with no more school being held at Zion.
The Zion Church building in use in 1986 was constructed in 1854 at a site east of Blackmer Lodge. It contained a balcony for the use of black slaves who wished to attend. After the Civil War, the original Zion donated land and assistance for the founding of AME Zion Church nearby. (Directly on NC 73, at the intersection with State Road 1112).
An 1854 agreement with Blackmer Lodge allowed Zion’s traffic to share "horse and buggy hitching space" in the vacant lot between the two facilities. Blackmer was active on a reduced scale during the Civil War, with casualty losses of members. Minutes of the early years show Brethren being taken to task by the Lodge for behavior outside the Lodge. References on several occasions note activities of an Order of Eastern Star Chapter.
By 1875, it was noted that new homesteads were being established south of Zion, some in Pee Dee, and more favorable attention being given to Mt. Gilead. The Sons of Temperance had ceased by 1860. Minutes in early 1875 authorized the investigation and purchase of a site for re-location in Mt. Gilead. The first purchase agreement did not materialize. Book 27, Page 279 in the Montgomery County Register of Deeds shows that on June 26, 1875 the Trustees of Blackmer Lodge purchased at auction "Lot No. 6 on the east side of the Turnpike in Mt. Gilead." No maps have been found to confirm, but during the writer’s lifetime it has appeared that the Lodge property could well have been the sixth parcel south and east of the principal highway intersection of NC 73 and NC 731. The geometric layout of the town as a true circle, two miles in diameter, is centered at that intersection. Refer to Fig. 2, Page 3, for detail.
After moving from Zion, that Lodge building deteriorated and the lot was used by the church on an amicable basis. In the 1970’s a written agreement was made to the effect that the Blackmer lot would practically belong to the church with the proviso that it would ultimately go to the survivor of the two organizations.
As part of the above agreement, the marker shown in Fig. 4, Page 10, was installed by Blackmer. It is located on the north side of SR 1112, about ¼ mile north and east of NC 73.
Moving to Mount Gilead
The building erected on the land purchased in 1875 is shown by photographs, Figures 5, 6, & 7, Pages 13, 14, and 15. The first meeting in the new building was recorded on April 13, 1878.
In the late 1800’s, the State of North Carolina gave local school authorities fixed tuition payments to cover two months’ instruction per year for those students whose families so elected. Various arrangements were made to accommodate those families who elected to pay for longer periods of study, at extra cost to the families.
The Mt. Gilead Academy was an arrangement between local school authorities and Blackmer Lodge. The building was planned and constructed to have school on the first floor and the second floor reserved exclusively for the Lodge.
The key personality for the newly established Mt. Gilead Academy was Professor (Bro.) Ransom Harris Skeen (1839-1905). Professor Skeen had several very capable assistants. The writer had conversations with numerous students of the academy who spoke well of their early schooling. The lifetime accomplishments of many in the group was living proof. One 85-year-old lady, Mrs. Winnie Richter, still is active in 1986. She has confirmed and contributed portions of this text.9 Classes were intermingled by age and subject, all related to class sizes, heat, light, and other factors. Professor Skeen was an excellent carpenter and cabinet maker. His pet carpentry student was a young man from Pekin whose last name was Blake. The Blake descendants from Pekin have included several carpenters and related industry activities.
Prior to the political election system being used to select members of local school boards, the Mt. Gilead board always included a good representation of Masons.
In conducting a school in a Lodge building, there was the ever-present problem of keeping students out of Lodge quarters. Refer again to figures 5 and 6. It is not difficult from the appearance of the structure to understand the following arrangement: A door inside the building led to a stairway to the Lodge on the second floor. Any tampering with the door or the lock was very dangerous because "the Masons" kept a very large and mean goat in their rooms on the second floor. Any disturbance to the door on the first floor would stir up the goat; he would come down and go after the person causing the disturbance while wrecking the school.
When this writer was barely of walking age, his mother took him with her to attend an afternoon meeting of the Order of the Eastern Star (OES), scheduled on the second floor of the school building. Ascent of the steep stairs was a combination of crawling, pushing, pulling, crying and howling. It took an assortment of OES members to find out what was upsetting this writer. It was remembrance of hearing about the goat. Some consolation by a trusted OES member who promised to go and control the goat solved the problem. During the meeting, many of the ladies wore very unusual dresses with glittering ornaments.
Professor Skeen was very active with the school and community from 1878 into the early 1900's.5 His successor was Professor (Bro.) R. C. Cox. The State of North Carolina began to phase out the subsidy program to private schools. In 1916, a new brick building was opened as a "graded" school, fully financed by taxpayers. The combination of obsolescence, loss of tenant, etc., led to Blackmer Minute Book entry in 1917 to sell or dismantle the 1875 structure. Several later entries suggest various plans which indicated lack of completion of earlier efforts. A combination of events obvious to this author, plus several related records, indicate:
Refer again to Fig. 6 and note the one-story extension at the rear of the main two-story building. That structure was detached and moved to the south edge of the lot, closer to the street than previously, and it was reset the front substantially parallel to the street; the main structure sat with the front due north and south; whereas the street (Turnpike) runs 19° - 35' SE. The larger main portion of the 1875 building was dismantled in 1919.6
The small section noted above was used as Blackmer's meeting hall for a period from 1919. It later had a front porch added and became a rental residence7 and has been so used ever since. On May 9, 1986, this structure was the subject of photograph Fig. 7, and is among the oldest buildings still in Mt. Gilead. For several years, it and the adjoining land on the north side have been owned by Bro. J. A. Evans.
Blackmer Moves Around Mount Gilead
Minutes of the Lodge do not completely record all of the moves nor their timing. This author well remembers the short stay in the small building noted in the preceding chapter. Reference Fig. 2, shows all the locations to July, 1986.
The next location was the second floor of the McAuley Bros. store at what is now 100 South Main Street, at the southwest corner of NC 73 and NC 731. Access to the Lodge was through the store sales area to a stairway. Both McCauley’s were members of Blackmer Lodge.
About 1931 - 32, Blackmer moved to the second floor of another retail store building at what is now 105 North Main Street. Here it remained until April, 1945, when a fire in the store below damaged some Blackmer furnishings and made the building unusable. Improvised meeting areas in member’s homes sufficed until July 3, 1945, when a definite location was established on the second floor above another retail store at 113 North Main Street.
On June 4, 1946, the first meeting was held on the second floor, southwest corner room of the High School (1916) building on the west side of School Street. That was no doubt with the help of the Principal, Professor (Bro.) H. A. Nanney, and several Board members.
Many changes have occurred in Mt. Gilead between 1875 and 1986. As with the nation, ways of life, employment, senses of values, social customs, laws, and other factors have all affected Blackmer Lodge. Many prominent men have been members of Blackmer as natives and newcomers, while others with Blackmer connections have Masonic membership elsewhere.
Bro. J. A. Ausley, P. M. 1935 - 40, told the writer that he often had difficulty in securing minimal attendance necessary for meetings. The economy was such that many members could not raise dues money and temporary suspension was necessary. Others had to be found or travel afoot because the cost of telephone and transportation was beyond their reach. (Bro. Ausley was fortunately an employee of Carolina Power and Light Company whereas most of the members were farmers, timber men, and merchants, all without steady money income.)
School Street Buildings
Minutes and several verbal accounts indicate that as early as 1941, thoughts of a new building for the Lodge were discussed and studied by Blackmer's leadership. It appears that the 1875 land purchase south of Main Street (Turnpike) was being considered as the site, it being sill owned by the Lodge. Study efforts resulted in a formal written offer on June 4, 1946, whereby Blackmer would erect a building on the 1875 land, give the American Legion Post No. 92 a long term lease on the first floor, and reserve the second floor exclusively for Blackmer. That was the last of several prior verbal discussions along the same line. The result was indecisiveness by the Legion.
The Montgomery County Register of Deeds shows that on June 18, 1948, Bro. J. W. Batten (P. M. seven times and a leader in the new building idea) sold a lot 75' x 149' on School Street, across from the High School, to American Legion Post No. 92. The Legion started erecting a brick building and got the walls above street floor level before running out of money. The uncompleted building then became an involvement of Blackmer Lodge. A non-profit "Community Service Corporation" was formed to take over the building. The American Legion Post #92 was joint owner of the corporation with Blackmer. The latter arranged for completion of the building and gained exclusive use of the second floor. Legion and community activities used the street floor and lower basement. By 1980, it was apparent that Legion activity was dwindling.
Moving out of the High School building and into the Blackmer - Legion building across the street occurred on November 15, 1949. The first meeting was held in the new location that night.
Beginning of Blackmer's Second Century
Blackmer's move into the new building on November 15, 1949 is technically short of its 100th birthday. For practical purposes, it began a new era of activity.
Bro. D. T. Scarborough (W. M. 1956) was some time ahead of petitioning when instructed by his employer, R. B. Jordan, Jr. (W. M. 1951 - 52 and 54) to assist Bro. A. J. Lowdermilk (W. M. 1921) in moving furniture one afternoon. It was the move from the second-floor southwest corner room of the High School building to enable Blackmer to meet across the street that night. Bro. Scarborough has related the following for recording in this text:
- Per Bro. A. J. Lowdermilk, the gavel stands in use in 1986 at the W. M., S. W. and J. W. stations, along with the altar, were all moved from the original lodge at Zion and have been in continuous use. The two columns at the S. W. station were from the 1875 building, but earlier history is unknown. The chairs at each station were made approximately 1954 - 55. The craftsman was Mr. Lawson Furr (not a Mason).
The seats along the walls were obtained from previous use in a Biscoe, NC theatre (the seats were replaced with padded benches in 2004). Many nights were spent removing chewing gum. These seats were all rebuilt and re-upholstered by several Brethren under the direction of Bro. E. H. Strider (W. M. 1982 and 1985) and Bro. B. R. Johnson.
In the 1930's and 40's, and early 50's, one of the most faithful and knowledgeable on matters of Masonry was Bro. A. J. Lowdermilk. He was often the only member capable of conducting degree work and instructions to candidates for several years.
The Lodge became very active in the 1950's. As a result of Bro. Lowdermilk's efforts, Blackmer achieved the distinctive status of having three certified lecturers all at the same time; Bros. Tom Greene (W. M. 1962), W. F. Haywood (W. M. 1963) and D. T. Scarborough (W. M. 1956). During the 1950's, Bro. D. T. Scarborough served as District Deputy Grand Master. That office was filled again by Brother Tom Greene; and in both 1983 and 1984 by Bro. Kenneth R. Fritts (W. M. 1973).
Bro. R. B. Jordan, Jr. served as County Commissioner for many years. His son, Bro. R. B. Jordan, III, a Blackmer member, was the featured speaker for the November 2, 1985 LADIES NIGHT dinner. He was elected to Lt. Governor of North Carolina in 1984.
Bros. Albert McAuley and D. T. Scarborough are serving now, and have served several terms as County Commissioners (1986).
In 1980, Blackmer presented 60 year pins to Bros. C. T. Haywood and Robert Maynor. For 26 years. For 26 years, Bro. Haywood served as Secretary.
In mid 1986, negotiations started, after a long lapse, to have Blackmer Lodge take over full ownership of the School Street building. The American Legion Post #92 has been erratic in action; with all expenses in recent years being covered by Blackmer as self preservation. Hopefully, the Legion will agree to accepting a limited use arrangement with Blackmer having full use or control of the basement and second floor, and ability to determine use of the street floor. Blackmer members have rejuvenated the basement into a kitchen-dining area in recent years.
Fig. 8 shows the exterior of Blackmer's building on the 12th of May, 1986. The front doors were donated in 1980 by his family as a memorial to Bro. W. C. Parsons.
Figures 9, 10 ,11 and 12 are four views inside the Lodge. Note in Fig. 10 the fire-damaged Charter from 1850.
(1) Patterns of Timeless Moments - A History of Montgomery County by Mabel S. Lassiter, 1976, Pages 279/280.
(2) Montgomery County Heritage by the Montgomery County Historical Society, 1980, Pages 46/51; 110/112.
(3) The Montgomery Herald of November 16, 1978, Section 2, Page 1.
(4) There was, before the Lake Tillery Dam in 1927/28, a real island in the Pee Dee River, approximately 1/2 mile downstream from the 1986 location of the NC 73 bridges. A ferry crossed just upstream from the island. The ferry was sometimes called "Lowder", after its owner, but more popularly the "Swift Island Ferry". The river was narrow, swift, and deep between tall hillsides, and notoriously hazardous, with casualties of people, animals and equipment.
Lawrenceville was a town laid out in a geometric pattern of rectangular lots, centered about the Montgomery County Courthouse, in the early 1800's.
(5) This author obtained much information about Mr. Skeen by listening and asking questions as a youngster. "The Masons" obtained the services of Mr. Skeen by inducing him to move from Mt. Airy, NC to Mt. Gilead. In 1878, Mr. Skeen purchased 30 acres of virgin timber land on the east side of the Turnpike, about 1/4 mile south of the "Academy". From the forest, lumber was prepared to build Mr. Skeen's home.
That house was the birthplace of this author. The quality of construction of the house and adjacent meat storage building was such that they are, in 1986, structurally sound and not sagged in shape. It is now owned by Mr. Skeen's great, great granddaughter and is listed as 213 South Main Street.
This author's father's first marriage was to Mr. Skeen's daughter. They had four sons and lived with the elder Skeen’s. After the death of Mr. Skeen in 1905 and his daughter in 1910, the writer's mother came by marriage in 1912. The writer was born in 1915 and lived in the Skeen house until leaving for college in 1932. Mrs. Skeen lived into 1917 at the home.
Mr. Skeen's Masonic Bible was seen frequently in the house between 1915 and 1932. Mr. Skeen, being an excellent cabinet maker and carpenter, had built most of the furniture in his house, and much of it was in use as late as 1940. This author has several small items, including a cabinet maker's saw used by Mr. Skeen.
In 1974, this author purchased most of the land from Mr. Skeen's grandsons and received the hand written 1878 deed; for the purpose of erecting a retirement home place at 215 South Main Street.
(6) The physical dismantling of the 1875 - 78 Masonic building was in 1919. Discussions were under way on the subject in 1917, but action was slow. Lodge records do not show when it took place.
In November, 1918, this author was standing in the front yard of a house across the street and saw men emerging from the front door of the "Old School House" (Lodge Building). The men came near wearing white aprons and carrying Masonic equipment. Inquiry to his mother as to what and who was in prospect, the answer was: "They are Masons and are coming here where we are as part of your Uncle Doc's funeral". Soon, the men formed arches, lines on each side of the walk, and casket passed through. The procession then proceeded to Zion.
(7) The first occupants of the small building that was changed from Lodge Hall to residential use was the family of Moses Richter. He was a Russian immigrant merchant who arrived in Mt. Gilead in 1919. In 1921, Blackmer rejected his petition. As the years went by, Mr. Richter became known as a very kind to anyone in need and a merchant who emphasized fair dealing with true representation of his goods. He became involved in various business ventures. When the local economy virtually collapsed in the 1930's, he established a textile factory which, through changes, has been the economic back bone of the area in 1986.
The second family to occupy the small house was that of Mr. J. C. (Knocker) Hartsell. His daughter, Hazelene, is the wife of Bro. Hobart Morris (P. M. 1966).
(8) This author is the grandson of Rev. (Bro.) W. H. H. Lawhon (1841 - 1926), Charter member, 33° and P. M. of Carthage Lodge No. 180. His picture is on a wall in that Lodge in 1986. The author graduated from Mt. Gilead High School in 1932, General Motors Institute of Engineering and Management in 1936 and 1967. Additional studies at other institutions was throughout a career in industrial activities.
In 1951, he became a charter member and seventh candidate of Cuyahoga Falls (Ohio) Lodge No. 735, and transferred to Blackmer Lodge No. 127 (N. C.) in 1978. (Brother Andrews was presented a 50-year pin in 2001 by Brother Gil Haywood who was W. M. at the time.)
(9) Mrs. Richter was the "prime mover" in getting the book, Montgomery County Heritage (Footnote 2) successfully concluded by publication in 1980.