Tuesday, August 16, 2016

‘Help Masons' Hall survive another 200 years’

Courtesy Masons' Hall 1785.

A treasure of an eighteenth century Masonic historic site in Virginia is in serious need of repair, and a fundraising effort is underway to secure the money needed to restore the building to greatness, and ensure its longevity far into the future. Even $5 donations are welcome.

Masons’ Hall in Richmond boasts a colorful history as both a Masonic and public space, involving historic figures within the fraternity and in American history. A charitable foundation named Masons’ Hall 1785 was established in 1997 to preserve the building, and to educate the public about its illustrious past.

Click here to donate greatly needed funds.

Give what you can. Perhaps induce your lodge and other Masonic groups to do likewise. Another way to give is to buy memorial bricks. Click here to pursue that avenue.

The following text comes from the foundation’s website and is copyright © 2016 Masons’ Hall 1785.


Richmond’s Shockoe bottom is home to a unique historical gem. Built 1785-87, Masons’ Hall, at 1807 East Franklin Street, is the oldest 18th century frame building with large public spaces in Virginia. The unusual heavy beam structure has been studied by architects and engineers.

Masons’ Hall is associated with Richmond’s leaders. The building was designed and constructed under the leadership of Edmund Randolph and John Marshall. Edmund Randolph was a prominent lawyer, governor, first United States Attorney General and Grand Master of Virginia Masons. Richmond Randolph Lodge No. 19 was named in his honor. Other grand masters with offices in Masons’ Hall included John Marshall, lawyer and judge, and Solomon Jacobs, Richmond mayor, businessman, and president of his congregation. The Virginia delegation to the Constitutional Convention met in Masons’ Hall before travelling to Philadelphia in 1787.

The building was a hospital during the War of 1812. The Marquis de Lafayette and his son (named George Washington in honor of the first president) visited Masons’ Hall and were made honorary members in 1824. Richmond City courts and council met in Masons’ Hall. Religious groups unwelcome elsewhere conducted services there during the 19th century. Eliza Poe, mother of Edgar Allen Poe, made her last performance at Masons’ Hall.

There are many interesting stories about Masons’ Hall. One is associated with the end of the Civil War. There was no battle of Richmond in April 1865. As Union armies approached from the southeast along Williamsburg Road, the city was evacuated. Chaos erupted and fires set to destroy military stores raged out of control and laid waste to much of the undefended city. The city fell prey to violence, looting. and rioting. The elderly mayor, under a fluttering white sheet, approached the Union army in a carriage with the urgent request for speed to advance and protect the citizens of the city. The Union army advanced, restored order, and extinguished the fires. Armed Union soldiers were immediately posted to protect three Richmond buildings, one of which was Masons’ Hall. President Lincoln walked near Masons’ Hall on his way to the Virginia Capitol on April 4, 1865, ten days before he was assassinated. Masons’ Hall survived the devastation of war. However, time has taken its toll.

A ceiling beam crack was discovered and a temporary brace installed. Other damage and deterioration were discovered. A comprehensive plan is being developed with the assistance of an architectural firm.

Masons’ Hall should be saved. It is in dire need of repair and restoration. Preliminary estimates exceed $2 million. It should be restored and made available to the public so future generations may visit this exciting and important structure and learn about those who served freedom and tolerance during times this nation was born and strived to survive. Masons’ Hall 1785, a charitable foundation, was established as a tax-exempt foundation by Richmond Circuit Court Judge James B. Wilkinson to preserve Masons’ Hall.

By Matthew Maggy
Richmond Freemasons

This week we will focus on Joseph Darmstadt, a Richmond Freemason, and first savior of Masons’ Hall. Darmstadt, with other Jews, played a vital role in the growth of Richmond, in civic, business, and cultural matters. He was originally a Hessian soldier. Hessians were German mercenaries hired by the British during the Revolutionary War, and nearly 30,000 of them fought against the American Revolution.

Joeseph Darmstadt was captured during the Battle of Saratoga and was taken to Virginia by American forces. Joseph remained in the Commonwealth after the Revolution, and not long after, he renounced his foreign allegiance, settled in Richmond, and became an auctioneer and merchant in Richmond serving the German farmers of the Shenandoah Valley. His morning ritual of serving coffee on the Shockoe Market made his store a favorite meeting place for local merchants to catch up on news and gossip of the day.

Joseph played a role in the establishment of the first Jewish Congregation in Richmond about 1789. Kahal Kadosh Beth Shalome was the sixth and westernmost congregation in the colonies, and one of the six that congratulated George Washington upon his inauguration as first president. The 1790 census shows Richmond with the fourth largest Jewish population, following only New York, Charleston and Philadelphia. The first Jewish burial ground in the state was established on Franklin Street in 1791 and, the first synagogue was dedicated on Mayo Street in 1822.

He was also an involved Freemason and active member of Richmond No. 10, an original owner of Masons’ Hall, and as a Grand Lodge officer, after he played a vital role in the establishment of the Grand Lodge of Virginia.

Joseph Darmstadt is likely the first person who should be credited with first saving Masons’ Hall.

In 1791, a considerable sum was owed to the contractors who had erected Masons’ Hall and the contractor had filed a lien that would have forced the sale of the building. Joseph, a generous man, assumed the burden and soon after advanced the money to meet the debt of 247 pounds. Calculated for inflation that would equal $53,000 in 2016. His generosity stopped the sale of the building and has allowed for the building to be used without interruption for the last 227 years!

Sadly Masons’ Hall needs your help today. Five dollar donations are being collected. Please help save this original piece of American history.

If you are interested in more information on the history of Jews in Richmond, please visit Beth Ahabah Museum and Archives.

For more on Masons’ Hall, visit Cornerstone of Richmond here.

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