Asheville Masonic Temple
A Brief History
By Ron Lambe
In the early years of Asheville Masonry in the last half of the 19th century, the lodge was located above Smith’s Drugstore on the southwest corner of Pack Square. Prior to that the lodge met in a log lodge owned by the Sons of Temperance. As the membership grew, it became necessary to construct a larger facility.

Mt. Hermon Lodge No. 118 (chartered in 1848 but operating under dispensation from the Grand Lodge per Gov. Swain from 1828) and Asheville Chapter No. 25 of the Royal Arch Masons (chartered in 1852) together purchased the lot on which the Masonic Temple now stands on July 1, 1909. On April 6, 1912 a joint meeting was held between Mt. Hermon Lodge and the Asheville Lodge of Perfection No. 1 to devise the means for the building of a new Masonic Temple.

The plan was to organize a building company comprised of members from both bodies. It was suggested that the basement and first floor would include a reading room, library, secretaries’ offices, lobby, banquet hall, and a kitchen. The Second floor would be made use of by the Blue Lodge and bodies of the American or York Rite. The third and fourth floors were to be made use of by the Scottish Rite.

On May 10, 1913 a contract was signed with J. C. McPherson to construct the building for a price of $56,260 including the foundation, equivalent to $1,253,000 in today’s currency. On July 1, 1913 the cornerstone ceremony was held. On April 29, 1915 the building was accepted from the contractor. During the construction some changes were made on the third floor such as adding windows and additional showers and bathrooms. This increased the price by $3,228.16. On April 14, 1919 the Masonic Temple Board decided to buy a house and lot next door which is now the parking lot. The house was known as the “Ozarks” boarding house. The cost of the house and lot was $15,250. It was later sold and removed from the lot. An Otis elevator was installed in the building in 1922 for the sum of $7,120. The original plans, deeds and survey plats are still among the Temple’s records. The Masonic Temple Company, Inc. is a North Carolina Corporation.

Richard Sharp Smith was a Mason and designed the Asheville Masonic Temple in the same year he helped found the NC Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Smith was originally from England and was working in New York City for Richard Morris Hunt who hired him to come to Asheville to supervise the construction of the Biltmore House. He remained in Asheville where he designed many homes and buildings, one being the home of Attorney William Jennings Bryan on Kimberly Ave.

The third and fourth floors of the Temple were occupied by the Scottish Rite and was referred to as the Scottish Rite Cathedral. These floors have a unique theater, complete with a horseshoe balcony and painted drops for scenery. The hand painted drops were painted by an artist from Chicago by the name of Thomas Moses. They were painted in 1915 laying flat on the floor of the theater and then hung in the fly loft behind the proscenium arch. In the basement of the temple there once was a bowling alley installed by Mt. Hermon Lodge. In the basement were brass spittoons as well. The first kitchen was originally located in the basement and later moved to the first floor next to the banquet hall early on. Brass doorknobs on the first and second floors feature the Square and Compass. Scottish Rite Eagles decorate doorknobs on the third and fourth floors. There is a small Lodge Room in the basement where pieces of logs are used for pedestals and small saplings for staffs used in Masonic rites. Wicker furniture believed to be older than the building is also in that room. At one time there was a pipe organ in the lodge room on the second floor.

The building was constructed with 600,000 bricks that came from Alex C. Scott Brick Co. of Knoxville, Tenn. at a cost of $9.40 per thousand (delivered), and laid for a total of $18 per thousand. The steel beams and other necessary steel came from Southern Engineering Co. in Charlotte for a cost of $5,000. This was before tractor trailers so the steel was likely shipped to Asheville via rail. The depot was about three miles from the building, and these steel beams (truss type) are about 55’ long and about 5’ wide. The foundation is granite and about 2’ thick The excavation of the basement cost 27 cents per cubic yard plus $20 for clearing the lot of 3,857 cubic yards of earth. The street in front of the temple at the time of construction was North Main St., and is now named Broadway.

The Asheville Citizen reported in 1912 that “Within a few months the lot at the corner of Woodfin and North Main St. will be the site of one of the handsomest and most convenient Masonic temples in the south.” Plans for the building were drawn up after a design committee visited the cities of Chattanooga and South McAllister, Oklahoma.

The original Board of Directors were Dr. Chase P. Ambler, President; F. L. Meriwether, Vice-President; W. H. Woodbury, Secretary; and J. W. Grimes, Treasurer. Other members included A. S. Guerard, J. A. Nichols, J. M. Chiles and C. A. Webb.

Dr. Ambler was a pulmonary specialist and owned a tuberculosis sanitarium. He was a Past Master of Mt. Hermon Lodge, Past High Priest of Asheville Chapter No. 25. and several other Masonic bodies including: Council No. 9, Cyrene Commandery No. 5, Lodge of Perfection No. 1, and the four main bodies of the Scottish Rite: Rose Croix, Kadosh, Oasis Temple, and Eastern Star, which local chapter he helped organize. He was made a Master Mason in Canton, Ohio in 1895. He attained the thirty-third degree of the Scottish Rite in Asheville in 1915. He was born in Salem, Ohio in 1865 and died in 1932. During the Spanish influenza epidemic in 1918, the Temple was converted into an emergency ward for women patients and delivered over 40,000 meals to the homes of the sick and dying. The Temple was also used as a hospital for African-Americans, free of charge. In the 1950’s the building was also designated as a bomb shelter.

In the 1950’s and 60’s Herbert Noble, who had been a butler at the Vanderbilt Estate, was secretary of the Scottish Rite, and made many contributions to the building and sewing costumes in spite of the fact that he had just one hand, the other being lost in the First World War.

We are currently in the process of restoring the building to its original splendor and magnificence. We are opening up the facility for community events to raise funds and serve the Asheville community. All rentals, ticket sales, and donations will go to the Restoration Fund.

Articles are indexed below these photos. We are a very old Masonic Lodge founded in 1848. Here are some photographs for your perusal.

Robert Brank Vance (1828-1899) Past Master of Mt Hermon Lodge and Past Grand Master of Masons of North Carolina. Born in North Carolina, April 24, 1828. General in the Confederate Army during the Civil War; U.S. Representative from North Carolina 8th District, 1873-85; member of North Carolina state legislature. He declined renomination in 1884, but took an active part in the Democratic campaign of that year, and in the following spring was appointed assistant commissioner of patents by President Cleveland. He also attained prominence in the masonic order as grand-master for his State, in the Methodist church as delegate to general conferences and the ecumenical conference in London in 1881, and as a lecturer and author. Died November 28, 1899.

Our Lodge is blessed with an extensive and comfortable Masonic library.

Visiting our past: Rediscovered photos... keep history alive
Rob Neufeld
February 8, 2010 (Reprinted from Citizen Times)

The story of the highest-ranking Mason in Asheville history (attorney Thomas Joshua Harkins, sovereign grand commander of the Southern Jurisdiction in the 1950s) came to light recently because of an interest in his library, enshrined for perpetuity in Asheville's Masonic Temple.

Mark-Ellis Bennett, an Asheville architectural restoration artist, was consulting for the Mount Hermon lodge about the temple when the master of the lodge at the time, Mark Bloomfield, gave him the full tour. Bennett, a historian as well as a conserver, took an interest in the preservation of the library and its contents, and supplied this column with its first article about Harkins.

Subsequently, Bennett met with June Lamb, Harkins' grand-niece. The relationship has resulted in the coming to light of photographs and an oil-on-canvas portrait of Harkins. Lamb's brother, Thomas Hugh Lamb, has offered to donate the painting to the lodge for placement in the Harkins library.