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Signing the Trust agreement Friday morning were (from left) Col. Jim Patterson from the Historic Franklin Masonic Hall Foundation, Rachael Finch from the Hall Foundation and Sam Isbell from the Masons of Hiram Lodge No. 7. // Photo by John McBryde

By JOHN McBRYDE

Anchored by what could be considered a testimonial from Tennessee state historian Carroll Van West, the Historic Franklin Masonic Hall Foundation and the Masons of Hiram Lodge No. 7 came together Friday morning for a ceremonial signing that will take the iconic Masonic Hall in downtown Franklin to a new level while preserving its storied past.

Rachael Finch, executive director of the Masonic Hall Foundation, was joined by Col. Jim Patterson (USAF retired), chair of the Foundation’s Board of Directors, and Sam Isbell of Hiram Lodge No. 7 to sign and establish a Trust agreement before a crowd assembled for a press conference at the Hall on Second Avenue South. The agreement makes the Foundation the managing and operating entity of the Hall for a planned museum and cultural center, while the Masons retain ownership of the building. The nonprofit has funding to begin the initial phase of the rehabilitation on the historic building this summer.

“What a momentous day for Franklin and for the Lodge, but also for the state and nation,” said West, history professor at Middle Tennessee State University who has long supported preservation of the Masonic Hall and other historic endeavors in Williamson County. “This building is a landmark that really has few comparables across our state, and I would say the nation.

“I think the Foundation should be very proud, the city should be proud, the Lodge should be proud of what working together you have accomplished here,” West added. “It’s a step forward in the best sense of what the Masons were about when they started this Lodge and built this building. It can once again be a landmark, a place for dialog, history and moving forward as a community.”

Finch said the rehabilitation project is expected to take about five years to complete, at which time it will be open to the public for tours and as a cultural center while also serving as a meeting space for Hiram Lodge No. 7 members.

“By transforming the Hall into a museum and cultural center of learning based upon the architecture and preservation and its culture, history becomes relevant,” she told the crowd. “We learn from our past, we can help our present and we can shape and sustain our future.”

With construction by Masons lasting from 1823 to its completion in 1826, Masonic Hall has witnessed complex history. It was the site of formative churches in Franklin and, most notably, the negotiation space for the Treaty of Franklin 1830 between President Andrew Jackson and the Chickasaw Nation.

During the Civil War the building served as a hospital, barracks and a quartermaster’s office. In response to the Franklin Race Riot of 1867, the Masons of Hiram Lodge No. 7 erected a wrought iron fence surrounding the Hall that still stands today.

Considered the only example of early Gothic revival architecture in Tennessee, the Franklin Masonic Hall is owned by the Masons of Hiram Lodge No. 7, the oldest, continually occupied lodge in Tennessee.  The Franklin Masonic Hall is a National Historic Landmark and is one of the 10 oldest Masonic Halls still standing in the United States.

“This is obviously a momentous occasion,” Isbell said after the signing. “And to know that this building is going to preserved for infinity is absolutely outstanding.”

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