Have you ever wondered about the history of the two-story brick building, in the main block of Norcross a few doors down from the coffee shop, that is usually flying the American flag?
Well, it’s our Masonic Lodge building, and you could say it started in the Middle Ages….
The Masonic Order, a fraternal organization that traces its roots back at least to the 1300s, has several million members around the world today. There are local Masonic lodges in various locations throughout the world. James Oglethorpe, the founder of Georgia in 1733, was a Mason, and the Solomon Lodge in Savannah, the first lodge in Georgia, was founded shortly after the first colonists arrived. As settlers moved to the interior of Georgia more lodges were established, and by 1859 there were 230 active lodges in the state.
The Lawrenceville lodge was founded in 1850, and not far behind was the Yellow River Lodge in southwestern Gwinnett, founded in 1858. Their first meeting of the Yellow River Lodge was at the home of D. R. Phillips, and the lodge had 24 members by the end of its first year. D. P. McDaniel, shown below in his Confederate army uniform, was the first Worshipful Master.
Many of the lodge members benefitted from their membership in the Masonic Order during the Civil War, in that the Yankee invaders wreaking havoc in the South during the war were often respectful of the possessions of Masonic families. For instance, according to the Lodge’s website,
Dr. Moses Richardson, several times Master of the Norcross Lodge … was a surgeon in the Confederacy. One day while Sherman's Army was paying its respects with a torch to this country, a squad of Yankee solders went to Dr. Richardson's home near Lawrenceville and ransacked his home, taking all they could find. Among the articles taken was a Masonic Apron. The officers in charge of the squad, seeing the Apron, went into the house and inquired if the Apron belonged to the head of the house. On being told that it did and that he was away in the Confederate Army, the officers ordered everything returned to the home. Mrs. Richardson said they also brought back some coffee, extra.
The town of Norcross was founded in 1870 with the coming of the railroad, and quickly became a local center of commerce. The Yellow River Lodge moved its meetings in the new town, as did previously- established Methodist and Presbyterian churches in the surrounding area. Early on they all met (along with a newly-formed Baptist church) in a two story building on Church Street, which was commonly known in the community as Holy Row (but since 1961 has been named Sunset Drive.) The Lodge, which changed its name to the Norcross Lodge, met on Holy Row until 1907, when they sold their interest in the building (the second story, where they held their meetings). In 1909 they opened their new two- story brick building in the center of downtown Norcross, where they met until the lodge disbanded at the beginning of 2022.
(Between 1907 and 1909 the Masons met in the local Lodge of the International Order of Odd Fellows, another fraternal organization that had several million members around the world in the early 20th century. It has since faded from the scene in Norcross.)
Below is the lodge membership credentials of Georgie W Graves, a longtime member of the Norcross lodge, for the year 1917.
The Masonic Lodge building was originally designed to have a commercial space in the street-level part of the building, and space for offices and lodge meetings upstairs. Shortly after the building was completed the lodge sold the first floor, and it remained in other ownership for 50 years or more, when the lodge bought the first floor back. Over the years the non-meeting room space in the building has attracted a number of tenants, including the local library, the offices of the City of Norcross and a retail store operated by local resident Gene Davenport.
For many years the lower floor was the home of the Swan Theater, a movie theater that operated by Raymond and Estelle Ziebell from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. The façade during that period is shown in the photo below.
The photo below shows the front and side of the building, with Ann Dean and Perry Smith, a local policeman, in the picture. (The adjacent building was constructed on the empty lot adjacent to the lodge building about 1957, so this photo was taken sometime before then.)
The photo below shows the downtown streetscape after remodeling after the Swan ended its time in the lodge building.
Like most theaters of that era, the Swan offered several different films over the course of the week, and had matinees on Saturday in addition to an evening show.
The lodge building was remodeled in the late 20th century and the group used the first floor space was used for lodge dinners and other social activities, and for the community breakfasts that the lodge staged several times per year.
The lodge disbanded at the beginning of 2022 and sold the building.