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Indiana Grand Lodge Vault Yields Buried Treasure

by Christopher Hodapp

On Thursday, Indiana Past Grand Master Mike Brumback let it slip that he had the combination to the massive Grand Lodge vault in the basement of Indiana Freemasons Hall. Such a revelation could not go unchallenged, and when he opened it, sure enough, it yielded up treasures.

Treasures, at least, for history nerds.

The room somehow seemed to have escaped any flooding over the years. It's packed with hundreds of printed copies of old Indiana annual proceedings, but it looks like the last things put inside were in 2012.

The paw prints of Dwight L. Smith are evident. There's an entire shelf of early 19th century handwritten minute books with notes inside stating they had been microfilmed by the Indiana Historical Society in 1969. At some point on or before the GL's 150th anniversary in 1968-69, Dwight had apparently put out the word that he wanted to collect and protect copies or originals of the oldest physical documents he could find from lodges around the state.

In the top photo by Bill Sassman, Mike and I peer into the Grand Lodge December 24, 1837 handwritten minutes. They were written by then-Grand Secretary Abraham Harrison, and probably not been looked since at least the 1960s, and likely even before that.

GL used to meet twice a year, and this was just fifteen years after the City of Indianapolis was created in the wilderness. They used to meet the day before Christmas (I'll bet wives were thrilled over that) and then a second time in May. The minutes noted that the May meeting was to be held on the Thursday before the General Assembly convened (since many of our early members were also part of state government).

These minutes also predate the first purpose-built Masonic hall in the city by about thirteen years. They were usually meeting in the public room of a local inn and tavern, Blake and Henderson's Washington Hall, which was also the usual meeting spot for Centre Lodge 23, the first Masonic lodge chartered in the new capital city.

Indiana's first official Grand Lodge Masonic Hall was finally built in 1850 and opened the next year. It would be deliberately built on the corner of Washington and Tennessee (now Capitol Avenue), diagonally from the statehouse. Before the Masons even moved in, we turned the use of the hall over to the State of Indiana to use for the delegates to the constitutional convention who were writing the new Indiana State Constitution at the beginning of 1851. The statehouse across the street was too small to accommodate both the General Assembly and the convention at the same time.

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