Masonic Lodge/ Woolworth Company

Masonic Lodge/ Woolworth Company

221 North Court Street

This building, originally constructed by Woolworth Company in 1952 is a classic mid-century modern commercial building. The smooth granite on the front is a Woolworth’s trademark. The second story was built for the Masonic Temple by the Woolworth company in exchange for use of the land. President Harry Truman, also a Mason, had been asked and agreed to ceremoniously place the cornerstone of the building. Reportedly, he backed out at the last minute due to poor health. He was diagnosed with streptococcus and ordered to rest.

The First Lodge Building

The lot where this building stands was purchased in 1839 for the price of $400.00, by the Florence, Alabama, Masonic lodge #14. A lodge building was erected on the site c. 1840 but was accidentally burned by the Union Army in 1863. The fire spread from a nearby blacksmith shop that the Union Army had intentionally set fire to. Pauline Stewart, a neighboring resident and the widow of a Mason, was permitted to enter the burning building to save the "jewels" of the lodge - a Bible, a Mason’s square, and a compass.


Masonic lodge members met for several years after the fire at the nearby lodge of the Order of Odd Fellows, another fraternal organization in Florence.



Architecture as Social Control

Before the Civil War and Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, enslaved persons in Florence accounted for forty-five percent of the total population. Some of these men and women were hired out by their owners to the city and local businesses downtown. Some of them lived in and around the downtown area and moved about more freely than an enslaved field-hand would have been able to. At some point, this became cause for concern among Florence's white residents and a curfew ordinance was established that said any enslaved person caught out at night after ten o'clock without a written pass would be arrested and held at the county jail. The enslaved's owner had to pay a $2 fine for his or her release. This ordinance was designed to place the burden of policing the enslaved's whereabouts on their owners. According to an article by former University of North Alabama history professor Kenneth Johnson, "Town officials acquired the use of a large bell atop the Masonic building near the center of town. The constable was ordered to ring the bell at ten o'clock each night to warn slaves that the curfew was in effect."

The Second Lodge Building

The Masons rebuilt on this site in 1873. A standard commercial brick building with a grocery store on the first floor and the lodge on the second occupied the lot for the rest of the nineteenth century and early part of the twentieth. The only known picture of this building shows the Griffin brothers in front of their store.

The Woolworth Company and the Modern Age

By 1920, lodge members discussed the need for a new building. The 1873 structure was reportedly in a state or disrepair and there was some concern that the property was underutilized as the building did not encompass the entire lot. Discussions of a new building waned around the Great Depression and World War II as construction halted nearly everywhere across the nation. By 1950, however, many Americans were experiencing unprecedented prosperity and talks of a new building resumed.


The Woolworth Company tried to buy the lot at this time, but instead reached a deal with the Lodge whereby the Lodge retained ownership of the lot and Woolworth's funded construction of a new building. The popular five-and-dime retailer occupied the first floor, and the Masonic Lodge continued to occupy the second. Woolworth’s stayed in the building until 1974 when they closed and deeded the building to the Masonic Lodge. Since that time, the first floor has been home to a piano shop, The Stuff Store, and most recently Barnes Pharmacy since 2008. The Masonic Lodge still meets on the second floor the first and third Mondays of every month. Their entrance is located on West Tombigbee Street.

Architecture

The current structure was designed in 1952 by Turner and Northington, an architecture firm based in Huntsville that produced other buildings in midcentury Modern styles in the Florence area, including Eliza Coffee Memorial Hospital and the Florence Municipal Building downtown. The Woolworth Company and Masonic Lodge building was designed in a modest International style. The clean lines, simple rectangular shape, and metal windows are all characteristic of the style.