Richmond’s Shockoe bottom is home to a unique historical gem. Built in 1785 – 1787, 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 story is associated with the end of the American 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, 10 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 $2.0 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. For additional information, visit the links on the side of this page. To make a tax-deductible contribution and help us Save Masons’ Hall. All donations go directly to preserving this historic structure.