THE CRADLE OF VIRGINIA FREEMASONRY
Richmond’s Shockoe bottom is home to a unique historical gem. Built in 1785 – 1787, Masons’ Hall at 1807 East Franklin Street is the oldest 18th century frame building with large public spaces in Virginia. The unusual heavy beam structure has been studied by architects and engineers.
Masons’ Hall is associated with Richmond’s leaders. The building was designed and constructed under the leadership of Edmund Randolph and John Marshall. Edmund Randolph was a prominent lawyer, governor, first United States Attorney General and Grand Master of Virginia Masons. Richmond Randolph Lodge No.19 was named in his honor. Other grand masters with offices in Masons’ Hall included John Marshall, lawyer and judge, and Solomon Jacobs, Richmond mayor, businessman and president of his congregation. The Virginia delegation to the constitutional convention met in Masons Hall’ before travelling to Philadelphia in 1787.
The building was a hospital during the War of 1812. The Marquis de Lafayette and his son (named George Washington in honor of the first president) visited Masons’ Hall and were made honorary members in 1824. Richmond City courts and council met in Masons’ Hall. Religious groups unwelcome elsewhere conducted services there during the 19th century. Eliza Poe, mother of Edgar Allen Poe, made her last performance at Masons’ Hall.
There are many interesting stories about Masons’ Hall. One story is associated with the end of the American Civil War. There was no battle of Richmond in April, 1865. As Union armies approached from the southeast along Williamsburg Road, the city was evacuated. Chaos erupted and fires set to destroy military stores raged out of control and laid waste to much of the undefended city. The city fell prey to violence, looting and rioting. The elderly mayor, under a fluttering white sheet, approached the Union army in a carriage with the urgent request for speed to advance and protect the citizens of the city. The Union army advanced, restored order and extinguished the fires. Armed Union soldiers were immediately posted to protect three Richmond buildings, one of which was Masons’ Hall. President Lincoln walked near Masons’ Hall on his way to the Virginia Capitol on April 4, 1865, 10 days before he was assassinated.
Masons’ Hall survived the devastation of war and has since survived floods, pandemics, economic downturns and the ravages of time. Please visit our foundation's website MasonsHall1785.org to learn more about the building and how you can donate to help preserve it for several more centuries.