Thursday, June 27, 2019

King Solomon's Lodge No. 1

Tucked away on a side street by a cemetery, nearly hidden from view behind trees and houses, sits one of New Bern's and North Carolina's most significant structures.

King Solomon's Lodge No. 1, as photographed by Peter B. Sandbeck c.1980. From Peter B. Sandbeck, The Historic Architecture of New Bern and Craven County, North Carolina, 1988.

by John B. Green III

Late in the afternoon of March 14, 1862, the African American population of New Bern, free and enslaved, experienced a sea change.  As the first elements of the Union Army entered the town to begin a years-long occupation, many of the legal and social restrictions that had burdened generations began to fade away.  In the months and years that followed, African American churches, some of which had existed prior to the war, began to flourish and civic and fraternal organizations began to appear.  The first of these organizations was King Solomon's Lodge No. 1, Free and Accepted Masons.

Newspaper notice announcing the organization on September 27, 1865 of King Solomon's Lodge No. 1. New Berne Daily Times, Friday, 29 September 1865

King Solomon's Lodge was organized in New Bern on September 27, 1865 by Paul Drayton, Past Grand Master of the National Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons. Drayton, acting under the authority of the Prince Hall-affiliated Grand Lodge of New York, had come to establish Masonic lodges among the African Americans of the south.  The Rev. James Walker Hood, African Methodist Episcopal Zion missionary, became the first master of King Solomon's Lodge.  Hood's appointment began the tradition of King Solomon's Lodge having among its membership leaders of the community as well as religious and political leaders on the state and national levels.  Hood would later become the first Grand Master of Prince Hall freemasonry in North Carolina as well as Bishop of the A.M.E. Zion Church in the state.

King Solomon's Lodge No. 1, June 2019.
Photo by the author
King Solomon's Lodge No. 1 was an energetic organization from the start, holding local meetings and helping to establish other lodges in the state.  The spring and summer of 1870 was an especially momentous time in  the life of the lodge.  On March 1st, officers of the lodge traveled to Wilmington, North Carolina to join those of four other lodges in forming the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of North Carolina.  Seven days later the lodge recorded the deed for a prominently-situated lot on Queen Street opposite St. Cyprian's Episcopal Church.   March 26th saw the passing of an act of the state legislature incorporating King Solomon's Lodge No. 1.  And lastly, construction of a proper lodge building for King Solomon's, on their newly purchased lot, was underway by June.

The lodge building was constructed in the Italianate style with a bracketed cornice and a louvered cupola crowning the low hip roof.  The two-story frame structure followed a side-hall floor plan with one principal room per floor.  The second floor was reached by a traditional New Bern stair with an oval-in-cross-section handrail, square newels, and plain pickets.  An ornamental panel framed by pilasters supporting an arch with keystone was incorporated into the fa├žade at the second-floor level. Although now weathered, this panel was probably painted with the name of the lodge or with Masonic imagery.  The second-floor lodge room was supplied with appropriate Masonic furnishings.

Soon after its completion the lodge building was named Drayton Hall in honor of Past Grand Master Paul Drayton who had founded the lodge. Drayton had died four years earlier in 1866.  The building became the scene of balls and other social events, political rallies, temperance conventions, and public commemorations of the Emancipation Proclamation.   King Solomon's Lodge met regularly in its second-floor lodge room, hosted the Grand Lodge on occasion, and permitted other lodges and fraternal organizations to use the building.  Drayton Hall served as a center for the African American community and continued in that role for decades.

Masonic Code of the M.W. Grand Lodge of North Carolina, F. & A.A. Masons (Raleigh: Edwards & Broughton, 1910) Locally-owned copy now in the collection of the Kellenberger Room.

King Solomon's Lodge miraculously survived the Great Fire of December 1922 which destroyed many structures around and near it.  In October 1923, however, the City of New Bern decided to expand Cedar Grove Cemetery adjacent to King Solomon's Lodge. The lodge's Queen Street lot, which it had occupied since 1870, was condemned and the lodge building was moved by the city approximately two hundred feet northeast to a city-owned lot on Howard Street. The city then deeded the Howard Street lot to King Solomon's Lodge in 1924 in exchange for the lodge's original Queen Street lot.  The lodge building was repaired and reopened and has continued in use to this day.

King Solomon's Lodge No. 1 was recognized in 2003 as a contributing structure in the New Bern Historic District of the National Register of Historic Places and was honored by the State of North Carolina in 2010 with the dedication of a North Carolina highway historical marker adjacent to the lodge. King Solomon's Lodge remains an active lodge with a membership that is proud of its heritage.  Although damaged by a 2009 fire, the brothers of King Solomon's Lodge have repaired the building and hope to make additional repairs which will preserve the structure for future generations.

North Carolina Highway Historical Marker dedicated October 23, 2010.
Photo by the author