By Rachael Finch, Executive Director

In the public mind, myths and mystery continue to characterize the fraternal organization of Freemasonry, steeped in centuries of politics and power. Hollywood’s National Treasure (2004) portrays members of the Knights Templar (a sect of Freemasonry) as protectors of an immense treasure and follows one family determined to unlock its “secrets.”

While there is not a “treasure” at the Historic Franklin Masonic Hall, the building and its collection are a treasured historic resource. The Hall, constructed between 1823 and 1826, cleverly blends Gothic architecture and country craftsmanship. Today, the Hall continues to serve as the location of Hiram Lodge No. 7, the oldest continuing lodge to exist in its original location in Tennessee.

Historic Franklin Masonic Lodge.
Historic Franklin Masonic Lodge.

Recognized as a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service in 1973 for its role in the Treaty of Franklin (1830) between President Andrew Jackson and the Chiefs of the Chickasaw Nations, it served as Franklin’s first public meeting space; all of the major religious denominations started on the first floor and numerous organizations, including the Grange (an agricultural fraternity).

One of our most important areas of research is expanding upon the Hall’s known Civil War history and locating its unknown wartime stories. In the spring of 1861, local women, including Carrie McGavock of Carnton Plantation and her enslaved servant Mariah, gathered at the Hall to sew Confederate uniforms. About the same time, Dr. Samuel Henderson wrote, “The first company of volunteers under Hanner and House to go into camp left Franklin May 18. Capt. Waggoner’s company of Irishmen left Franklin about midnight. Company under the command Capt. (Moscow) Carter left June 3 at noon. Capt. Rucker’s company left the same day.” Moscow Carter returned to the Lodge after the war, but his brother Tod died from wounds sustained during the Battle of Franklin. By 1863, the Hall was occupied by the Federal army, and, following the devastating Battle of Franklin in November 1864, it became a field hospital for Federal and Confederate soldiers. Two weeks later, with Hood’s army pursued back through Franklin, another battle took place in Franklin. This time, the Hall was occupied by not only white Federal and Confederate soldiers, but also by African American US Colored Troops as well. Yet, the Hall’s collection of historic ledgers and artifacts tell an even more complex story. From a Civil War Federal officer’s dress sword to the names of men etched on the second-floor walls, the building and its collection speak to the tensions of Union occupation, the relationship between the Lodge’s members and the war, and early efforts to preserve the building.

Signatures of Union soldiers from the 14th Michigan Infantry and 2nd Michigan Cavalry, on an interior wall in the Historic Franklin Masonic Lodge.
Signatures of Union soldiers from the 14th Michigan Infantry and 2nd Michigan Cavalry, on an interior wall in the Historic Franklin Masonic Lodge.

On the eve of the Civil War, Masons across the United States urged peace. James McCullum, Grand Master of Tennessee stated, “if every appeal for peace shall be thrust aside–if the sword must still be the last resort, and accepted as the final arbiter–we beseech the brethren engaged in the lawful contest to remember that a fallen foe is a brother, and as such is entitled to warmest sympathies and kindliest attention.”

The 2nd floor, where the Blue Lodge has met since 1826.
The second floor, where the Blue Lodge has met since 1826.

During Union occupation, the Hall became quartermaster offices and barracks for several regiments, including the 14th Michigan Infantry and the 2nd Michigan Cavalry. Their presence encouraged Franklin’s Unionists, including several Masons, to call for the war’s end. Masons Dr. Daniel Cliffe, Dr. Samuel Henderson, and Frank Hardeman and non-Masons A.J. Pinkston and W.S. Campbell met at the hall to prepare their “Unionist Manifesto” in August 1863.The first Unionist rally in Franklin was held with much fanfare on August 22, 1863, and was attended by Military Governor Andrew Johnson and fiery minister and editor William G. Brownlow.

The 3rd floor, where the Knights Templar and the York Rite have met since 1826.
The third floor, where the Knights Templar and the York Rite have met since 1826.
A large part of our current conservation effort centers around uncovering Civil War graffiti scrawled on the walls of the Hall. At the war’s end, the Masons of Hiram Lodge No. 7 came back into their building and found its walls stripped of wallpaper, punctured by bayonet holes, and littered with graffiti left behind by the soldiers who had occupied the building for over three years. They papered and painted over after almost all of the graffiti, hiding it from subsequent generations of the fraternity, who quickly forgot it had ever existed. Only within the past year have we begun removing the modern paint and recovering this invaluable piece of the Masonic Hall’s history. Each piece of graffiti adds to our body of knowledge, chronicling one more soldier or regiment that we otherwise may never have known was here. One story at a time, the Hall continues to yield its Civil War stories.
Madison, our wonderful summer intern, removing modern paint with a surgical scalpel.
Look for more posts in the future about the Hall’s graffiti!