By Nathaniel Gilchrist P.M., Lodge No. 43 (with contributions from George Grove and Jim Stephens)
Lodge 43 has been blessed with a rich history that has included people, events, and growth that has spanned our 235-plus years as a Fraternal Masonic Lodge, and as a partner in the Lancaster community.
James Buchanan, 15th President of the United States, was a Past Master of Lodge 43, and later appointed First District Deputy Grand Master before he continued with his political ambitions and became President of the United States. He was among the many prestigious Lancastrians who not only served Lodge 43 and were instrumental in our historical accomplishments, but also served our country and community, some dating back to the Revolutionary War.
Among the many historical and documented events, none is more prestigious perhaps than the agreement between Lancaster Borough Officials and Lodge 43 to construct a lodge room over the existing “open-air” city market in 1798. An agreement of this type was unique and has been recognized as the first “Air Rights” agreement of its kind in the United States.
In the agreement Lodge No. 43 would be responsible for enlarging the much-desired market space for the city while constructing an enclosed 2nd story to serve as the lodge meeting place for Lodge 43. In this agreement, the city would retain ownership of the ground floor market, while Lodge 43 assumed independent ownership for the 2nd story Lodge Room.
This Lodge Room, the meeting place for Lodge 43, served the lodge for an amazing 173 years! The first meeting was held on September 10, 1800. The final meeting before the Lodge moved to their new facilities at the Lancaster Masonic Center was on January 29, 1974. During this period the Lodge Room fulfilled a number of specific purposes for Lancaster City, in addition to the Lodge Room needs of Lodge 43.
The County Courts held their sessions in the room for a period, and it served as the office of the Pennsylvania Register-General and Comptroller-General when Lancaster served as the State Capital in the early 1800s. The Lodge received compensation for the city’s needs in taking over the large room and required the Lodge to temporarily meet in other locations during that brief period.
Throughout the 173-year period, there were numinous expansions, renovations, and changes incorporated to the initial building, which had been completed initially in 1800. These expansions included the building or purchase of neighboring buildings to facilitate growth. Renovations were accomplished both inside and outside the buildings. These renovations incorporated the inclusion of evolving services like electricity and heating, while others were purely for growth and expansion for both the city and the lodge needs. These numerous growth initiatives occurred over the span of several years to include 1856, 1894, 1928, 1930, and 1932.
Each was unique in its purpose and historically significant in the process and agreements required to accomplish the objectives. The Lodge 43 “150 Year History of Lodge 43” provides very detailed accounts of the various expansion projects and agreements.
Perhaps none was more prestigious than the 1932 renovation project. This renovation project incorporated plans to reconstruct the city space on the ground floor by the city, and in doing so it would result in Lodge 43 gaining seven and one-half feet of additional capacity space in the lodge room. This structural change would allow a considerable renovation project opportunity to improve the lodge room both in capacity and appearance.
The plans to enlarge the city space on the first floor necessitated major structural changes some of which were only recognized when the renovations took place. In addition to structured design changes, provisions were included to bring up to code, both electrical and heating systems. Storefronts were included in the redesign to facilitate interest by vendors in the buildings now owned by the Lodge.
In consideration of the Lodge Room renovations, the Lodge 43 Renovations Committee, in their wisdom, decided they wanted the lodge room to reflect something spectacular for the good of the Masonic Fraternity and their Lodge Brother’s satisfaction.
They decided upon a theme as suggested by the eventual artist that was termed “Triumph of Masonry”. It embodied the idea of a complete ceiling painted mural and walls to symbolize and promote the ideals and symbolism of Freemasonry. This masterpiece upon completion has also been referred to as “Masonry Triumphant”.
The Lodge’s “150 Year History of Lodge 43” documents the true meaning of the ceiling in this way; “Masonry Triumphant”, guided by the Eagle to higher ideals, with Justice and Perseverance following, while Old Father Time acknowledges the achievement and progress of the same.”
This masterpiece is the accomplishment of a Philadelphia artist and fellow mason John Bagattin. John Bagattin was selected for the project after presenting his proposal and ideas in consideration of the objectives that the Lodge Renovation Committee had specified.
A second area Philadelphia artist, William Tefft Schwarz, had also been invited to submit a proposal. He was not selected for the project. He did, however, submit a beautiful pencil drawing of his interpretation of what he would incorporate in the ceiling to meet the committee’s objectives if he were to be selected for the project. That pencil drawing dated 1932 was recently recovered from the archives within the current lodge. The pencil sketch represents a beautiful piece of art in itself. It most probably has not been looked upon within the lodge by anyone for the past 90 years!
Proposed Pencil Sketch submitted by William Tefft Schwarz in 1932. His design was not chosen for the final ceiling mural.
A third person from the Philadelphia area, G.L. Zambone, had been identified as the artist on the city-installed informational wallboard in the Lancaster Visitors Center which provides a very detailed condensed history of the building. The wallboard is still on display. The last line reads “G.L. Zambone of Philadelphia painted the ceiling murals.” In 2000, the Heritage Center cleaned and restored the ceiling murals. This reference is somewhat misleading and only partially correct. According to a Lancaster Newspaper article published in June of 2000 which details the Heritage Museum’s restoration project of the Lodge room, it states “The murals are signed by J.L. Zambon and Bagattin. Zambon was the company owner and Bagattin was the artist”.
John Bagattin had impressive credentials and combined with his knowledge of Freemasonry had already demonstrated his potential in similar projects. In 1927, water damage damaged the plaster in Renaissance Hall in Grand Lodge in Philadelphia. John Bagattin and his team were hired to repair it. In addition to the repairs, they also painted the columns and pilasters to look like marble. They added extensive arabesque ornament in silvery metallic leaf to the walls and ceiling.
The historical documentation regarding the Lodge 43 mural states “ All decorations of the ceiling and walls are painted in oil and lead, on canvas. The ceiling and coves in freehand brushwork, and the walls stenciled and finished by hand”.
The completed enlarged Lodge Room now increased capacity from 200 to 250 people. The new dimensions of the Lodge Room were now 36’ 10” X 65’ 5” with a ceiling height of 21’ 7”. The John Bagattin artwork cost for the completed painting of the ceiling and walls was $4200.
Ownership of the existing buildings has changed over the course of several decades. The entire property of the Old Lodge, including all the buildings previously associated with the West King Street addresses from 5 to 13 is the property of a private company that purchased the properties from the city.
Today the current owners of the building provide lease opportunities to other private business owners, along with providing the current location of the Lancaster Visitors Center. In 1973 Lodge 43 sold the entire complex of buildings to Lancaster City with one exception. That exception was to allow Lodge 43 to have access to the Old Lodge Room on occasion when requested. In 2014 Lodge 43 gave up that distinction which allowed the City of Lancaster the freedom to sell the complex of buildings, which they eventually did.
Lodge 43 no longer has any authority or rights to the Old Lodge Room. As time moves on it becomes a fading memory. Fondly remembered by those who once may have been fortunate to attend meetings there, or by those who were able to visit while it still was very much a proud Lodge 43 landmark. Many new brothers who have joined our fraternity, and Lodge 43 specifically, may never have seen the Old Lodge Room, and may not even be aware of its presence and glorious past. The opportunity still exists, although it is not readily available to the general public for viewing as it once was. The opportunity still exists under special circumstances, however, there are no guarantees that it will always remain that way.
There is, however, a wonderful opportunity for everyone to retain a cherished piece of history concerning this beautiful masterpiece of masonic art that now approaches its 90th year of existence.
Through the generosity of Brother George Grove, a beautifully, narrated, 13-minute color video that George Grove produced in 2014 of the Lodge 43 Lodge Room in all its “Masonry Triumphant” glory is linked for you HERE. Simply click on the video link below, add the password “aboz” (without quotes) were requested, and enjoy a true masonic work of art and historical landmark in the life of Lodge 43.
In addition, Brother Jim Stephens has also generously provided a PDF file he prepared in 2014 as one of his Academy of Knowledge objectives. His beautifully prepared paper defines in a pictural format the symbolism of all elements of the ceiling and walls in beautiful detail. To read Brother Stephens report just click HERE. You will need Adobe Acrobat to access and read his report.
These electronic files represent beautiful historic references to a glorious masonic monument that for 173 years signified the beauty of freemasonry and a landmark of Lodge 43. Together they will provide a documented record that will forever enable the beauty and history of the “Old Lodge Room” to never be forgotten.
Thank You to both Brother George Grove and Brother Jim Stephens for their historic documentation and contribution to memorializing the “Masonry Triumphant”!
So Mote It Be! July 2022