Although Lexington was one of the earliest settlements in Kentucky; it was not until 1785 that it assumed the appearance of a frontier village, its growth having been previously stunted by Indian warfare. At this time, seven years before Kentucky became a state, Lexington consisted of only three rows of log cabins. Lexington and all surrounding territories were still part of the state of Virginia.
Two years later, in August, 1787, John Bradford established the first newspaper west of Pittsburg, the Kentucky Gazette, in a two-story log cabin at what is now the northwest corner of Broadway and Main Street. The haunting dread of Indian attacks began to fade away, and by the fall of 1788, this “budding metropolis” contained “about fifty houses, partly frame and hewn logs, with the chimneys outside…and at most 350 inhabitants.” One of the first cultural centers to develop after the Revolutionary War, Lexington soon became known as the Athens of the West.
Among the inhabitants of this frontier metropolis, was a small group of Masons, many of whom had served in the French and Indian, as well as the Revolutionary War, and who had come westward to build their fortunes or to establish their military warrants (claims) to the rich Bluegrass lands which were rapidly being opened up. These pioneer Masons who settled in Lexington, being far removed from any established lodge, decided to establish a Masonic Lodge of their own; distances and dangers of travel prevented their attendance at the Virginia lodges.
After several months of planning, they petitioned the Grand Lodge of Virginia for a charter to establish a lodge in Lexington. Accordingly, the Grand Lodge of Virginia granted the requested charter to the small group noted as, “at the town of Lexington, district of Kentucke.” The Charter was issued on November 17th, 1788, to “Richard Clough Anderson, John Fowler, Green Clay and others to hold regular lodge of Free Masons at the town of Lexington, by the name, title and description of the Lexington Lodge No. 25.” Thus the first lodge west of the Allegheny and Cumberland Plataea mountain range was established in Lexington, four years before Kentucky was admitted into the Union as a state. Edmund Randolph, Esq., Grand Master of the Grand Lodge and Governor of Virginia signed the No. 25 charter which is still preserved by the trustees of Lexington Lodge No. 1. This historical document, written on parchment twelve by eighteen inches, has a large wax seal attached near the bottom.
Colonel Richard C. Anderson, a Revolutionary officer, who had fought with Washington at Trenton, later an aide to General Lafayette and early land speculator in Kentucky was the first Master of the newly-organized Lexington Lodge No. 25. Captain John Fowler, a leading citizen of Lexington and proprietor of the celebrated “Fowler’s Garden” on East Third Street, was the first Senior Warden and General Green Clay, father of Cassius M. Clay, and cousin to Henry Clay, the initial Junior Warden.
The first returns of this pioneer lodge, if any, were lost, and the names and charter members are not now available. It is an interesting fact and one that shows the importance Freemasonry played in the early settlement of Lexington, that out of the small party of pioneer hunters who located and settled the site of the city, three were Masons – Robert Patterson, Levi Todd and John Maxwell. The 1794 return of Lexington Lodge No. 25 for is the earliest known to exist and shows the following officers and members: James Morrison, Master; Thomas Love, Senior Warden; Thomas Todd, Junior Warden; Hugh McIlvain, Treasurer; Basil Duke, Secretary; John Kelly, Tyler and John Fowler, Past Master. Its membership consisted of 19 Master Masons, 17 Fellow Crafts and 9 Entered Apprentice Masons.
The first Masonic temple in Lexington, or “Masons Hall” as it was then called, stood at the northeast corner of Walnut and Short streets, and was in a small log house of primitive style on land donated by Brother William Murray, who afterwards became the first Grand Master of the state. This lot was part of lot No. 21 on the plat of the town trustees of Lexington and was given by deed dated December 16th, 1795, by William Murray and Katherine, his wife, to James Morrison, Edmund bullock, Robert Megowan, Hugh McIlvain and Alexander McGregor, as trustees of “Lexington Lodge of Ancient Masons” for the consideration of five shillings and is of record in the Fayette county clerk’s office, at Deed Book T, page 154.
By June, 1796, “Lexington Lodge No. 25,” as it was carried on the rolls of the Virginia Grand Lodge, had grown and prospered to such an extent that “the annual St. John’s day was celebrated with considerable display.” During the summer of this year (1796), a town-lodge lottery, authorized, authorized by law, was held in Lexington from which two thousand, two hundred and fifty dollars was received each by the lodge and the town trustees. With this money the Lexington Lodge replaced its log meeting-house with a two-story brick building on the same location; being completed and occupied during the late fall of 1797. At this time there “were as many as twenty-five brick buildings being erected in Lexington, some of them two stories high.”
While the Masons used their part of the lottery proceeds to build a new hall, the town trustees put their money to an equally good project, “to sink wells, erect pumps and to make sewers for carrying off the water.” Thus, to the Masons largely belongs the credit of establishing the first waterworks and sewer system in Lexington.
In their new “Masons Hall,” Lexington Lodge No. 25 continued to meet under its Virginia charter; hunters and backwoodsmen in buckskin mingled with lawyers, doctors and statesmen in broadcloth, brothers gathering “to meet upon the level.” Here too, they “parted upon the square,” to go out into the world and put into practice the tenets of tolerance, justice and brotherly love they professed.
During the next few years, as the pioneer period of Kentucky’s history passes, the Grand Lodge of Virginia issued charters for Paris Lodge No. 35 (December 6th, 1791) at Paris; Georgetown Lodge No. 46 (November 29th, 1796) at Georgetown; Hiram Lodge No. 57 (December 11th, 1799) at Frankfort and Abraham Lodge U.D. (under dispensation) at Shelbyville, Kentucky.
In 1800, eight years after Kentucky statehood, the Grand Lodge of Kentucky was established. At that time Lexington Lodge No. 25 under the Virginia charter then became Lexington Lodge No. 1. Such began the legacy of our early lodge that later gave birth to the Grand Lodge of Kentucky, which eventually chartered additional lodges in other territories yet to become state – specifically in Missouri, Tennessee and Mississippi.
On May 16th, 1825, during the construction of the Grand Masonic Hall in Lexington, General Marquis de Lafayette, the last surviving major-general of the Revolutionary War visited Lexington. Lafayette, for whom Fayette County was named, and a Freemason was entertained by his brethren and the townspeople of Lexington with a supper and ball in the partially-completed building on west Main Street.
That evening General Lafayette was the house guest of Richard Clough Anderson, the first Master of Lexington Lodge No. 1. The next morning, May 17, General Lafayette returned to the unfinished building on West Main Street where he breakfasted with members of the Masonic Fraternity. Following the Masonic breakfast, a round of handshaking and well-wishing concluded the exercises. Shortly afterwards, the French nobleman and his party entered their carriages and departed for Georgetown on their return to the eastern states, by way of Cincinnati. General Lafayette’s sojourn in Lexington was just twenty-four hours, yet in that short space he was elaborately entertained in the Grand Masonic Hall on two occasions.
Lexington Lodge No. 1 today has a historic membership, including Senators, Congressmen, Governors, and Mayors, for our Commonwealth and for the nation, as well as many influential citizens and business leaders. Importantly, Lexington Lodge No. 1 has clothed the naked, fed the hungry, and provided for the sick and helpless for over 225 years; a proud legacy we carry into the 21st century.
Some of our prominent brothers include: