Seats with history
By Ty Johnson
Published in News on March 26, 2013 1:46 PM
N.C. Grand Master Dewey Preslar Jr., left, and Wayne Lodge Master Owen Jackson stand in the Wayne Lodge foyer ahead of the dedication of the pictured chairs. The chairs, originally purchased in 1869, had been on loan to the Harmony Lodge in Pikeville for 30 years.
The ornately designed chairs were imported from England.
The ornate chairs stand beneath a large oil painting of George Washington in the foyer of the Wayne Masonic Lodge.
The story behind them is a long one, dating back to the Civil War and the generosity of a fellow lodge from the North.
The chairs are 144 years old and spent the past three decades at Harmony Lodge in Pikeville.
But Harmony and Wayne came together in late January to celebrate the return of the chairs to their home lodge and dedicate them in the name of Masonic fraternal brotherhood. And the members took time to retell the story of their purchase, which, in may ways, is the story of the Wayne Lodge's move to Goldsboro itself.
History tells how Union Gen. William T. Sherman's scorched earth policy laid waste to much of the South.
When his armies approached the critical railroad junction of Goldsboro in 1865, he was still instructing his troops to burn many buildings, one of which was the Wayne Masonic Lodge building, then located in Everettsville, near present-day Genoa Crossroads.
The minutes and records from the Masonic Lodge were destroyed as well, including the charter, but the 74 members asked for another, which dictated the new lodge would be located in Goldsboro.
The Lodge's $83 in Confederate money didn't go far toward building a new meeting place. After a year of efforts to convert it to the national currency, they had only $6.03 for their trouble.
"Times were tough then," said Rick Pridgen, past Master of Wayne Lodge and its historian.
The members were forced to rent a number of places to meet, but still had no furnishings of their own when they were meeting at Privettes Hall in downtown Goldsboro in October 1867.
But one member had an idea.
"He said, 'Why don't we write all of those northern lodges and tell them that they burned our lodge down and that we need some money to help rebuild our lodge?'" Pridgen said.
A week later, members composed 150 letters to send to lodges up North
Within a week, the Lodge received a reply. In an envelope postmarked from New York City they found a check for $100 -- a lot of money back then, Pridgen said.
The Lodge used the money to purchase some necessities, but the members still lacked some of the amenities they had enjoyed prior to the war.
Until St. John's Day in 1869.
St. John is celebrated among Masons every June 24 for his life and works.
While today members of the Wayne Lodge and others in the state gather at the Masonic Home for Children at Oxford, individual lodges celebrated on their own in the 19th century.
Ten days before the holiday, it was suggested that the Lodge rent a train and go to the beach for the weekend
A collection was taken up and after the trip there was still $145.80 left.
"The lodge voted on what they would do with the money," Pridgen said. "And the most important thing they wanted to do was buy the chairs for their officers.
In fall 2012 members of Wayne Lodge were doing their inventory and wanted to have the chairs appraised.
The only problem was the chairs were in Pikeville.
In 1983, Harmony Lodge in Pikeville had expressed a need for officer chairs -- a need filled when Wayne Lodge agreed to loan an extra set of chairs to the Pikeville lodge indefinitely. The chairs had been in storage at Wayne Lodge and were soon out of storage and upstairs in Harmony Lodge's meeting room -- where they remained until last fall's inventory.
An appraisal placed the value of the three chairs at about $10,000, but there was uncertainty surrounding the conditions of the transaction. Some thought the chairs were a gift while others assumed the chairs were still on loan.
Pridgen and Tom Hardison, both past Masters of the Wayne Lodge, brought their minutes to a stated communication in Pikeville in October. Harmony Lodge opened its books, too, and discovered that the loan was indeed a loan, and that it specified Harmony could keep the chairs for as long as they wanted to use them.
"Then Brother Rick Pridgen gave us the history of the chairs," Past Master Mel Powers said. "There was a lot of us that didn't know the story. All we knew is they were some nice Lodge chairs that looked good in our Lodge."
Steven Powers, another Past Master, suggested that the rest of the Masons in Wayne County would likely be interested in also seeing the chairs, which were imported from England.
"But how many go to the Pikeville Lodge and up the stairs to see them?" Powers asked rhetorically. "So we decided to let them (Wayne Lodge members) show those chairs off because that's a huge historical point for all Masons in Wayne County, not just Wayne Lodge."
Powers said it didn't take much convincing after the history lesson for the Harmony Lodge members to vote to offer the chairs back to Wayne Lodge.
"I think it was seconded by four or five people," he recalled.
He then presented a letter to the Wayne Lodge Master, thanking the Lodge for its kindness and for its allowing Harmony Lodge to be a part of the rededication ceremony, which featured a visit from the Grand Master, Dewey Preslar Jr., who presides over each Lodge in the state.
"They look mighty good up there," Powers said, gesturing toward the lobby from the front of the Lodge Room.
The Grand Master then rededicated the chairs "as artifacts of time, a brotherhood of men and this great fraternity."
"What was once old was found again and brought home," Preslar said. "We now rededicate these three artifacts to once more preserve our history, tell its story and make way for future generations alike to enjoy the peace and happiness that belief in our heavenly father may bring to be shared with our fellow man."
A standing ovation greeted Preslar's declaration and as the members made their way out of the Lodge Room that night, each took a lingering gaze at the chairs, now returned to their first home -- inanimate symbols of friendly gestures, fraternal brotherhood and promises kept.