In downtown Sanford, North Carolina, a massive brick building sits on the corner of Carthage and North Steele streets. Constructed in 1924, the historic Masonic Temple is a three-story blond brick structure featuring granite pilasters rising to a horizontal band above the second floor windows with four raised medallions bearing the Masonic symbol. A recessed entry with granite lintel bears the name “Masonic Temple” and is flanked by two copper sconce lights. Mosaic glass tile were used in the floor of the entryway to allow light to reach the underground coal chute. The first floor was used as retail space, the second for offices, while the top floor is the lodge hall.
The history of the lodge dates back to the 19th century. In 1853, the Chalmers Lodge in the nearby community of Carbonton merged with McCormick Lodge 228 and moved to Sanford to become Sanford Lodge 151. The fraternal organization of freemasons purchased the land on which the building now stands in 1924 from Sanford Baptist Church for $34,000. The building’s cornerstone recognizes the leader of the society at that time, Grand Master James LeGrand Everett.
A 1927 article from the Raleigh News and Observer describes it as one of the best-equipped Masonic Temples in this section of the state. Remnants of the past can still be seen throughout the building. After descending the antique stairwell, the top floor opens up to the old lodge meeting hall. On each side of the meeting hall are three-tiered platforms and in the middle is an elevated center stage flanked by large columns that give the overall space a sense of grandeur.
Clues to the building’s past are scattered throughout its rooms. When the lodge moved out in the 1980s, a rotation of locally-owned businesses moved into several of the offices, however, most of the historic building remained abandoned and untouched. Throughout the years, the building has also been used for offices by the city, an insurance company, and the Temple Theater. In the 1930s, the Masonic Temple housed Cole’s Pharmacy, a classic early 20th century corner store with a soda fountain. In the 1990s, the lodge was home to a dance studio, shoe store, and design firm. Currently, Nunnery’s Shoe Shop occupies the basement level and has been there since the building first opened.
The Masonic Lodge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 as a contributing property to the Downtown Sanford Historic District. In December 2020, Owls Nest Properties, a real estate investment company purchased the historic Sanford Lodge 151 for $375,000. Now in a state of disrepair, the group plans to renovate the building and convert the two top floors into nine apartments, while the bottom floor will remain retail space. One side of the first floor will be marketplace space for small start-up businesses. Also included in the plans is an underground speakeasy. The owners would like to recreate a historically accurate representation from the Prohibition era. Almost all of the commercial space has already been rented.
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