1798 – Agreement Between the Borough of Lancaster and Lodge 43

The following report is a condensed version of an article that appeared in the June 12, 2022, Sunday News written by LNP reporter Tom Lisi. You can read that article here. Mr. Lisi was reporting on the use of “Air Rights” as a growing alternative for architects in development and real estate projects. Mr. Lisi reports the first “Air Rights” agreement in the country possibly occurred between the Borough of Lancaster and Lodge 43 when the approvals were given in 1798 to build the second-story Lodge Room on top of the open market on West King Street. The following excerpts were taken from his article.

Mr. Lisi writes, “The county’s first purported air rights sale took place in 1798 between the then borough of Lancaster and the Masonic Lodge No. 43. The original written agreement is still in the hands of the lodge, and it shows the deal with borough officials certainly resembles something like an air rights agreement. (Lancaster became a chartered city in 1818 and a third-class city in 1924.)

The article continues, “Air rights is a development tool for separating ownership of property, essentially at an imaginary line somewhere above ground. Webster’s dictionary defines it as a property right to the space above the surface area or object.”

It’s important to note the 1798 agreement to build the Masonic Hall did not expressly indicate an “air rights” transaction.

Furthermore, the article includes, “The 1798 agreement between the Masonic Lodge and the borough of Lancaster called for the construction of the Masonic Hall on West King Street next to Old City Hall with arches and pillars to support a market house below. The Masons would pay for and control the space above the market, but the borough would still have control over Market Square and the market space beneath.”

For the time, “It was no doubt an unusual deal at a time when white settlers had already expelled most of the indigenous communities in the area and land was plentiful.”

The original March 22, 1798 agreement between the Burgesses of Lancaster and Lodge 43 Committee stating the approval for the building of the Lodge Room over the open Market Place on King Street.
BLAINE SHAHAN | LNP Staff Photographer

The article continues, “After 224 years, the building still stands at 7 W. King St. The Masons eventually took ownership of the building over a period of years. Property records indicate that in 1973 several lodge trustees handed the building over to Lancaster city.

The Masonic Hall project first came about when Lancaster borough officials decided the new “Market House” they had commissioned in 1795 wasn’t big enough, and they needed yet more space for vendors, according to a 1918 article in Journal of the Lancaster County Historical Society on the history of the Central Market. The local elites that made up the membership of the Masonic Lodge No. 43 offered to build a “superstructure” on top of the borough’s existing market. The floor above the market would be used for lodge meetings, and a series of pillars and arches would support the extra weight for the enclosed market below, the original agreement shows.” (Picture Above, Source LNP News)

Continue reading, “The borough agreed to the idea with the Masons with the caveat that the government would have access to a room in the building for conducting its business. In the same period, Lancaster became Pennsylvania’s state capital from 1799 until 1812. When in session, the state legislature met in what is now the Visitor Center. The 1918 article in Journal of the Lancaster County Historical Society describes how the county paid the Masons rent for using its room for court proceedings, while the state legislature occupied the Old City Hall building. The agreement between the lodge and the borough of Lancaster does not include the term ‘air rights.’ And the March 22, 1798, document also doesn’t clearly state that the lodge actually owned the second floor of the building.”

In summarization, the article states, “But the fact that the county paid the Masonic lodge rent to use its space suggests ownership of the second floor, while the enclosed market downstairs was still owned and operated by the borough.

A current picture of Old Masonic Hall. Source LNP News. The second floor addition was built over the open market in 1798.
BLAINE SHAHAN | LNP Staff Photographer