By: Jon Patrick Sage ~ January 8, 2017
Earlier this last month, members of Lafayette Lodge #123 were earnestly trying to sell the building that has been their Masonic home. However, they didn’t just want to sell to anybody, and they had no plans of disbanding or surrendering their Charter. Instead, they had planned to do quite the opposite. The intent of the Lodge was to find a buyer that would maintain the integrity of the building and to also use it for what might be called the common good. After being on the market for nearly 12 years, it appears the wait is over. The Masonic Temple has found its buyer!
In what eventually has turned out to be a boost for downtown Lafayette, the Masons have found the “right” buyer for the Masonic Temple and it is the Tippecanoe Historical Association. According to WLFI, plans have been announced to convert the Temple (and I DO like it when we call the building by its proper name… “Temple”) into a museum and community center, complete with a new auditorium in what was the former Lodge room. As for the Masons- they are going to build a newer building that more closely meets the Lodge’s current needs. That’s called a Win-Win…
The Historical Association’s Executive director, Craig Hadley said that “we are going to have professionally designed exhibitory that highlights the history of Tippecanoe County from the 18th century all the way up to the 20th century,” said Hadley. “We’re going to have engaging and interactive exhibits, so it’s not just static displays”. Hadley was also insistent that the Association does not intend to neglect the long history of the Temple. There will be a portion of the building dedicated to Lodge #123, so that the public can learn more about the group responsible for such a rich legacy within the downtown community.
Work should be completed within a year from now.
More Light In Masonry reached out to Stewart Schreckengast, Secretary of Lafayette Lodge #123 and President of the Temple Association, and asked about his thoughts on the whole sale and move. Bro. Schreckengast mentioned that for a long while, the Lodge had just been looking for a location that would better serve the Lodge’s needs. According to Schreckengast, the old building is nearing 50 years of age, overhead and utility bills run at a premium, and there are several sets of stairs and a lack of adequate parking. When this is combined with a decrease in membership and increase in age of the Lodge, it only made sense to consider sustainability, and to look for the right move. In the end, Bro. Schreckengast was decidedly positive about the sale of the Temple, and mentioned that most of his Brethren felt the same way.
The right move, in the words of Schreckengast, involves a location that will “cut our overhead expenses about 1/2 but also help attract younger members and make access easier for older members. It will also allow us better access to public use and charity contributions”. He also said it was very important to the Lodge that the Historical Association was going to “continue to honor the history of the Temple building with some display cases of Lafayette Masonic experience”.
Sounds about right to me- to remain viable and continue to build a legacy. I only wish that more Lodges and those who are in authority over them felt the same sense of social and moral responsibility. Keep in mind, the Lodge was on the market for 12 years… that’s a long time to wait for the “right” buyer!
As many are well aware, Lafayette is not alone in their plight. Across the country there are Masonic Temples that are being re-purposed. However, it is our opinion that not all (Lodges, Brethren, or the communities in which they serve), are as fortunate as is Lafayette Lodge #123. In some cases, there is simply inconsideration. In many other cases, there is just too much bad luck and a lack of options!
Far too often is the case where a Lodge simply ceases to exist, and as its membership dwindles away. When this occurs, the building which housed the Lodge deteriorates as well. An empty building does not hold up well, and maintenance for the sake of maintenance is a luxury most Lodges do not have the resources for. Quite frankly, in a great many cases, the original and now abandoned Masonic Temples, although some of the grandest structures in their heyday, are simply too costly to maintain and/or re-furbish. Accordingly, far too many of these stately structures find their way to decay and then demolition… it is way too common… and I am just saddened by that.
This does not just apply to Masonic Temples, but also to a city’s landscape in general. If we truly are the stewards of all that has been left to us- that would also include the hard fought and paid for infrastructure which made this country great during the beginning and middle parts of the 20th century. It may well be counted as a fact that our grandfathers and great-grandfathers did not build these multi-story monuments of stone and brickwork- the skyscrapers of their day- only so that we could, in the high and mighty 21st century, allow them to crumble back into the earth out of apathy.
Consider the following building in Tappan, NY. Opened in 1909 and known then as the “German Masonic Home of Tappan”, this was a place for “worthy decayed Masons, their widows, and orphans”… nice descriptive, eh?
Last week, I was sent up to scout around Tappan, NY, a beautiful hamlet just over the New Jersey border. Each day, I found myself driving back and forth along a road called Western Highway…
…and in the process, passing a gorgeous brick building that appeared to be abandoned.
Was it a school, or former college? Perhaps the old town hall? On the seventh or eighth drive by, I finally pulled over to find out.
Though the building was still in excellent condition, walking the deserted grounds almost felt like something out of Lovecraft.
In search of clues, I came around the side of the building…
…where ivy was slowly increasing its stranglehold on the facade:
A rusted old fence at the top of a crumbling staircase:
The rear of the building revealed a number of additions…
…and a great view of the building’s impressive cupola…
But what was it??
As it turns out, a pretty big clue was staring down at me:
After making some phone calls, I learned that this was once the German Masonic Home of Tappan, a place for “worthy decayed Masons, their widows, and orphans” – in other words, a home for members who could no longer care for themselves. Below, a photograph taken February 8, 1920:
Incredibly, the building has barely changed over the years. The German Masonic group continues to this day in Tappan, and a member graciously arranged for me to take a tour.
The land for the site, 20 acres in all, was purchased by the German Masons in 1872 for $14,500; construction on the Hall began in 1906 and finished in 1909. From then until 1983, the building was a residence hall for Masons and their kin in an attempt to “shield the individual against the blasts of an adverse fate,” according to a Masonic historian.
Though I was expecting some level of dilapidation, I had no idea how bad the decay would be.
Abandoned since 1996, water damage had taken its toll, and I began to wonder if anything of note had managed to survive.
Then we took a turn through a glass-paned door…
…and found this on the other side:
This is the Home’s former chapel, and I found the mix of elegant design with decay to create an almost haunting beauty.
The chapel actually has an interesting connection to film history. A later addition to the building, the chapel was donated by member Anton T. Kliegl, inventor of the Klieg light, which quickly became the standard of screen and stage.
The real treasure here are the stained glass windows, which are miraculously in perfect condition:
They’ve since been boarded up for safety, and will hopefully be removed soon for preservation…
…but seriously: wow.
I don’t know my Masonic history, but I imagine these scenes were chosen for a reason – perhaps someone out there could illuminate?
At the front wall, two pictures are embedded in the stained glass.
The man is identified as Brother A. T. Kliegl…
The woman is his wife, Schw. L. Kliegl (thanks to readers for clarifying!). Both share the date of April 8, 1928 – anyone have any idea why?
Two windows in the chapel’s corner:
A stained glass skylight used to adorn the chapel’s dome but has since been removed for safe keeping:
Three chairs on the altar:
I noticed the pinnacle of each chair is different. According to reader Mark, “The chairs are for the 3 main positions in the lodge. The center chair is for the Worshipful Master, to the right is the Chaplin, and to the left is the education officer.”
From the debris covered pews…
…to the moss-strewn floors, I have to admit, that Lovecraftian feeling was only increasing.
As we left the chapel, I noticed another window…
…which looked especially impressive in the dark.
From there, we made our way to the main staircase…
…adorned with a Masonic mosaic set into the wall:
Just around the corner were the remnants of a formal room…
…the Masonic symbol still above the fireplace:
In 1983, the Home closed and residents were moved to another facility provided by the German Masons in New Rochelle. The building was leased as a dorm to Dominican College, a local liberal arts college. Below, the former dining hall/ballroom. Note the arched doors on the right:
Just off the dining hall is the old cafeteria/kitchen, in a terrible state of disrepair:
At some point, a medical wing was added to the rear of the first floor.
This was probably an examination room:
The original sink:
Next door, the old nurse’s station…
Long since faded, the slight pink color makes me think this was once a vibrant pastel hue:
A photograph above the sink – quick, who can identify the location?
A private sick room, complete with bed:
An old General Electric water fountain:
From there, we headed upstairs to the second floor…
…er, probably wisely deciding to forego the elevator:
This was the first of three residential floors for the Masonic Home, where members were able to live free of charge.
Here, the decay was at its worst…
…and, coupled with the utter silence of the building, that horror movie feel was reaching a peak.
In fact…OK, I’ll come clean – I had one really embarrassing scare during the tour. As we were looking in this bedroom, SOMETHING SUDDENLY JUMPED OUT AT US…
Pigeons. Dammit, I nearly had a heart attack!
Interestingly enough, there is a tragic story from the building’s past that could easily fuel a ghost legend or two. As I was doing research, I came across this article from from the September 5, 1933, edition of the NY Times:
According to the article, John Ellich, 74, and Marie Kiefer, 64, both residents of the Masonic Home, had secretly fallen in love despite strict rules against such intimacy. A year later, they snuck off to New York City to elope.
Unfortunately, their secret was discovered, and they were informed by the board of directors that they were to be separated, with one of them being moved to the Masonic Home of Utica.
On September 3rd, 1933, at 8 AM, the superintendent found Ellich’s room locked and, upon opening it with a passkey, empty. Kiefer’s door was also found to be locked, with paper stuffed in the keyhole.
Inside, Ellich and Kiefer were found dead, lying side by side. Ellich still held an automatic pistol, and suicide notes were found on the dresser. According to the Times, “It is believed they took advantage of the noise of last night’s electrical storm when the pistol was fired, because none of the other guests heard the shots.”
I’d love to know if the story was known to the Dominican College students who dormed here…
…though I’m sure their super cool spaceship mattresses made them feel safe as they slept at night:
In retrospect, the service provided by the German Masonic Hall seems almost unbelievable in today’s age – a full care retirement residence for those simply in need. In fact, a final resting place was also provided for members at the local cemetery…
…where a group plot was instituted:
Burials span over 50 years, the most recent in 1987:
Sadly, it doesn’t look like much can be done to save the German Masonic Home. While the exterior masonry is in great shape, the roof is falling in, and the interior would need to be completely gutted.
For a time, the Masons had hoped to tear the building down and build smaller homes on the land for seniors in an attempt to fulfill their original mission, but were prohibited by zoning laws.
And so it sits on its hill, decaying a little further each day.
When you literally can’t build ’em like this anymore, it’s sad when you can’t find a purpose for the ones that remain.
On a positive note, much of the Home’s land has become the German Masonic Park, and is used frequently by the town for events and sports.
PS – If it’s not clear from my pictures, the building is INCREDIBLY DANGEROUS and boarded up for a reason!! There is also no trespassing on the grounds. Tappan is very small, and the police take notice.”
Indeed, we still have the same kind of structures in our Masonic Lodges and modern day systems of Masonic care. In Franklin Indiana, there is the Indiana Masonic Home, which although it began much like the Home in Tappan, has now progressed into an ultra-modern and state of the art healthcare and assisted living campus.
Whereas the Masonic Home of Tappan was closed permanently in 1996, out of necessity because of its poor condition and lack of maintenance, the Indiana Masonic Home, and others like it in neighboring States, have been able to maintain their properties in such a way that they continue to serve the Craft and community at large. Not only do they provide healthcare and a great place for our elder Masons and family to live; but there is also provided a great number of skilled careers for those living nearby. And so, the local economy benefits as well.
In this way, places like the Indiana Masonic Home, and in their own way- Lafayette Lodge #123, are continuing to serve their respective members AND community. Instead of simply shuttering the doors and windows, these groups and many like them, have chosen to follow the directives which were enacted by their predecessors. Namely- to help, aid, and assist those in need.
Lodge #123 is joining forces with the local York Rite, Order of the Eastern Star, and Floyd Lodge #23 P.H.A. All plan to move into the new Temple as a group, assisting one another. By splitting costs with others, and saving money in overhead, the Lodge will be better enabled to contribute to their own needs, as well as to continue charitable contributions flowing into their neighborhood- Masonic and otherwise.
Lafayette Lodge #123 F. & A. M. ~ KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK BRETHREN! Please know that you are appreciated and looked up to!
In closing- may we all never forget our Obligation- may we strive to live up to those sacred words and vows in the several ways in which they were intended to enact change in and around us. I might argue that it is especially important to maintain a good profile in the eyes of those without… those who are beyond the West Gate. These are the eyes upon us.
Put simply- it will be those without the West Gate who might eventually do two things:
- Petition and join our gentle Craft, thus increasing our numbers and strength.
- Should the need arise, those without may agree to assist and help us so that we might maintain our dignity, our Lodge and our community that we, as Masons, serve.
To simply give up, although at times it is perhaps an inevitable consequence of the ever-evolving times in which we live, should not be the 1st, or even a 3rd or 4th choice. Remember, we are Masons, and at some point, we and our Lodge were invited to join the community. It is then up to us, those of us who remain, to maintain decorum and dignity in all of our dealings; within and without Lodge.
Choose wisely Brethren; Live vibrantly; Love endlessly; and walk uprightly in all of your stations in life- before your fellow man, and before your God!