King Hiram’s Lodge, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons | Cape Tip Sportswear
It always pays to look up beyond the store window. Here, you’ll find the square, the compass and the “G” — geometry, God, grand architect of the universe — that mark this as a home of the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons. King Hiram’s Lodge, which received its charter in 1795 from Paul Revere, is the oldest continuously operating institution in town. Its members are so tied into early Provincetown history that its early rolls read like a directory of street names: Atkins (and Mayo), Atwood, Conant, Cook, Dyer, Freeman, Johnson, Ryder and Young. Members still meet every first Monday in an ornate lodge room adorned by nearly life-sized trompe-l’oeil Masonic symbols, like the twin pillars and a virgin weeping over a broken column.
Paul Revere — silversmith, patriot, subject of one of Copley’s most beautiful portraits and one of Longfellow’s most stirring poems — was also a Mason. He served as the grand master of Massachusetts from 1795 through 1797, during the infancy of the American republic, when 23 new lodges were chartered in the commonwealth.
The name of Provincetown’s lodge honors the king of Tyre who helped Solomon construct the First Temple. John Young (1766-1828), a shipwright who had already initiated the Old Colony Lodge in Hanover, was its first master. Other charter members who later served as masters were Jonathan Cook (1753-1835), a ship owner, and Allen Hinckley (1769-1861), a carpenter. The first meeting was held 20 December 1796 at the home of Jonthan Cook’s brother [?], Solomon Cook, at what James Theriault identified as the site of 292 Commercial Street in his exhaustive and indispensable bicentennial memoir, Every First Monday: A History of King Hiram’s Lodge, Provincetown, and Its Members; 1795-1995. Being Masons and all, the members lost no time whatever in getting to work on their first lodge, under the supervision of Hinckley.
Lumber arrived in late February 1797. “The brothers, in a body, carried all of the timber, planks and boards from the shore to the site, on their backs,” Herman Jennings said in Odds and Ends From the Tip End. The two-story structure, which also included rooms for a school, was standing one month later. It is still standing today, in fact. Theriault and other sources commonly situate the original lodge at 119 Bradford Street, but I happen to think a better case can be made for 118 Bradford Street, now the Clarendon House. They remained there until the early 1830s, when Provincetown succumbed to the general anti-Masonic fever gripping much of the country in the wake of the Masons’ supposed murder of the critic Thomas Morgan, who was preparing an exposé of the organization. Masons could not afford in those years to meet notoriously, so the lodge essentially went underground.
By the time the fervor of the Morgan affair abated, the old lodge was deemed less than useful, so the Masons began meeting at Marine Hall, the home of Marine Lodge No. 96 of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, 96 Bradford Street. But Masons are builders, not tenants. Planning was quickly begun for a magnificent lodge at Commercial Street and Masonic Place, where the group met formally for the first time on 6 January 1870. Theriault described it concisely: a three-story structure in Second Empire style, built of white oak, with mahogany trim. Given its height and volume, King Hiram’s Lodge dominated the streetscape for many years. “The first floor was designed to accommodate two commercial shops to provide a regular income for the lodge. The second floor featured an enormous banquet hall complete with stage and dressing rooms which would figure largely in Provincetown’s social life for the next three decades. The third floor was the lodge room itself.”
The retail tenants use the addresses 222 Commercial Street or 224 Commercial. Cape Tip Sportswear, currently owned by Dave Oliver, has been a tenant in the Masonic block at least since 1980. Going backwards in history, other occupants have included the Mundo clothing store (1980s); Clark’s Flower Shop (1960s); Gallerie Annette, an art gallery and jewelry shop run by Annette Bergson (1960s); Archie’s Pharmacy, run by Archie S. Carlin (1950s); Shop & Save, a sewing machine store (1950s); Brownell’s Pharmacy, Archie’s better-known predecessor (1930s-1940s); and J. Arthur Lopes’s men’s clothing store (1940s). The earliest tenants were J. F. Tobey’s dry and fancy goods store and A. Louis Putnam’s jewelry store. A remarkable photograph shows fish flakes spreading out across the street from the lodge at the Charles Nickerson Wharf, 221-223 Commercial Street.
The second-floor banquet hall was the scene of public meetings after the original Town Hall on High Pole Hill burned down in 1877. On the third floor, the remarkable murals are credited by Theriault to the German artist Carl Wendte, who was responsible for the breathtaking trompe-l’oeil ornamentation in the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House, 236 Commercial. They were commissioned by Joseph Prosper Johnson (1814-1891), pictured, who had served two terms as master of the lodge. The mural depicting the two pillars of Jachin and Boaz at the First Temple was ruined by water damage, Theriault said, and repainted by the artist James Wingate Parr (1923-1969).
Symbolism abounds in these works. Even something as straightforward as the scene below, the Winding Staircase of the First Temple, carries tremendous significance to a Mason. Its 15 steps are divided into three flights. The first flight has three steps, for the master, senior warden and junior warden; for wisdom, strength and beauty; and for the stages in life, paralleling growth in masonry: youth (Entered Apprentice), adulthood (Fellow Craft) and old age (Master Mason). The second flight has five steps, for the orders of architecture (Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, Composite) or the human senses (hearing, sight, touch, smell and taste). The third flight has seven steps, for the liberal arts and sciences of grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy.
King Hiram’s Lodge was a three-story building through the first century of its existence. But as the banquet room fell into what Theriault called “disuse and disrepair,” the overall building was also threatened by structural damage. By the summer of 1971, it appeared that 2 Masonic Place might have to be abandoned and sold.
However, Robert G. Gutzler, proprietor of the Town House Restaurant at 291 Commercial, had an inventive idea: remove the first floor, where most of the damage had occurred, and lower the remaining two-story structure down on to new foundations. The money needed to finance this operation came from the proceeds of the sale of the old Anchor and Ark Club, 175 Commercial, according to Ralph E. Desmond (b 1951), pictured, who was the master of the lodge in 2009, when I visited. A sequence of photos at the end of this entry shows the step-by-step diminution of the building. A 1995 renovation attempted to bring the building back as closely as practicable to the original. An enormous decorative pediment was removed in favor of clapboard and dormer windows were restored to the south face of the mansard roof.
King Hiram’s Lodge was intimately involved with the construction of the Pilgrim Monument and its dedication. Fittingly, Masons furnished the trowel used by President Theodore Roosevelt in the cornerstone laying, and it is still in the possession of the lodge. So there were happy days in the summer of 2007 and 2010 when the centenaries were celebrated of the commencement and of the dedication of the monument. Masons occupied a place of honor both times, unmistakable in their aprons, purple ties and top hats (or tricorn, in the case of Grand Master Roger W. Pageau, pictured below, successor to the office once held by Paul Revere).
Trowel used to lay the Pilgrim Monument cornerstone in 1907.
The Masonic Building Association is the owner of 2 Masonic Place.
Shrinking King Hiram’s Lodge