By ROGER AMSDEN, for THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — An exhibit which features the history of Mount Lebanon Lodge #32, the oldest continuous Freemason Lodge located in what became Belknap County, is now on display at the Laconia Public Library.
Pat Tierney, executive director of the Laconia Historical and Museum Society and Senior Warden of the Lodge, said the Lodge was founded in 1819, 10 years after Center Lodge, which was located in Sanbornton, was founded. That lodge was disbanded in the 1840s.
He said that the founder of the Center Lodge was John Adams Harper, one of the first lawyers to settle in what would become Belknap County, and who was the postmaster in Sanbornton. He moved to Meredith Bridge in 1806, and, after serving in the New Hampshire House, was elected as a Democratic-Republican to the 12th Congress in 1810, where he voted for the war of 1812. He was defeated later that year when he ran for re-election.
New Hampshire had five to seven congressmen serving at that time and that Harper was the first from the Laconia area.
Harper, who would die in 1816 at the age of 36, left behind a large mansion which was located off of Pleasant Street and would become Laconia's City Hall in the 20th century, serving until it was torn down during urban renewal in the 1970s. It was located where the Bank of New Hampshire's main office is currently located.
Tierney said eight members of Center Lodge were among those who took part in the opening ceremonies at which the Mount Lebanon Lodge was founded in 1819 and that the lodge originally met at the old Mansur House, which was known as Russell's Tavern, which was located just north of where Vista Foods is currently located in what was then Gilford.
Later the meetings were shifted to the Willard House, better known perhaps as the Willard Hotel, on South Main Street, which was located approximately at the entryway to Quik Laundry and Dy Cleaners.
The lodge took a prominent location on Main Street when the Masonic Temple building was built on 1892. Many people wondered why the Mount Lebanon Lodge chose this location. The next year, Laconia was incorporated as a city, and the post office, as well as city offices, were moved to the building. A hardware store occupied one area on the first floor and stored dynamite in the basement.
In December of 1902, a fire resulted from a massive explosion, which many said was the loudest sound they had ever heard. An Indiana newspaper reported the explosion on its front page and damage was estimated at $125,000. It's unclear if the cause was ever determined for the explosion.
The temple was rebuilt on the site in 1903. and for decades was one of the busiest locations on Main Street. It was at one time site of the WLNH broadcast studio.
Tierney said that the Masons remained in the building until 1984, when they moved to the former International Order of Odd Fellows building on Court Street, which they at first leased then later purchased.
He says that the Masons continue to practice their philanthrophic activities in support of local charities.
The exhibit features historical records of the organization, the altar that was used when they were located on Main Street, tools and furniture used in their rituals and photographs of former Worshipful Masters of the Lodge.
The exhibit, on the upper level of the library, will continue until March 1.
The Laconia Historical and Museum Society has opened an exhibit on the history of Mount Lebanon Lodge #32 of the Masons at the Laconia Public Library. Taking part in the opening of the exhibit were Pat Tierney, president of the society and Senior Warden of the lodge; Walt Costa, Duane Stanton, treasurer; Matt Richards, Tyler; Carlos E. Cordon-Swain, Chris Reynolds, David T. Bennett, Worshipful Master; Andrew R. Thomas, Junior Warden; Richard A. Scacheri, Marshall; David Emberley, Joe Fadden and Craig Shippee. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)
An exhibit of some off the tools used by the Masons in their rituals is on display at the Laconia Public Library through March 1. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)
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