Freemasonry in the U.S. is as old as our country, and Masonic lodges are found in many communities across America.
No one really knows with certainty how or when the Masonic Fraternity was formed. Masonic scholars trace its origins to the stonemasons’ guilds during the Middle Ages as the language and symbols used in the fraternity’s rituals come from this era.
As a radical-thought movement that emerged from the Reformation, freemasonry was the first widespread and well-connected organization that touted religious toleration and liberty – principles that the fraternity helped spread through the American colonies.
Since the Revolution, Freemasons have become the semiofficial celebrants of American civic culture. Wearing their distinctive aprons and wielding the trowels of their craft – the original Masons were, in fact, stonemasons – they routinely laid the cornerstones of important government buildings and churches and participated in parades and other public ceremonies around the country.
There is no secret that Freemasons and their grandiose rituals have played a secret and mysterious role in early American life as so many prominent members of the founding generation – George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and indeed at least 15 signers of the Declaration of Independence – were members or had some affiliation with the Freemasons.
From its birth as an organized fraternal movement, Freemasonry has been the object of wide curiosity and occasional suspicion. With its elaborate secret rituals, its involvement in ancient wisdom, its link to Enlightenment science and reason, and its exclusive membership, the Masonic brotherhood has always been the subject of interest to those on the outside.
Even one of the greatest symbols associated with Freemasonry: the eye-and-pyramid of the Great Seal of the United States, found on the back of the one-dollar bill, has proved almost tailor-made for weavers of conspiracy theories.
Whatever its airs of mystery and symbols, there is no doubt that the Masons have had a real impact on America and is richer and more significant that anything entertainment or speculation could drum up. While the number of Freemasons has been on a decline since World War II, the brotherhood, which numbers nearly 4 million worldwide, still continues its philanthropic ways by supporting a wide range of causes.
Today, Masonic lodges can be found in many small-town communities across America. For example, as the Braidwood-Coal City area was settled, the Braidwood Lodge No. 704 came into existence. Chartered in 1873, the first meeting place of the Lodge was a two-story frame building located on the south side of Main Street, just west of the present Masonic Temple. Alexander “Sandy” Patterson was its first Master. This organization had a great influence on the early development of the area.
In 1914, a two-story brick building, shown in the Then photograph, was built just east of the old building. The building was dedicated the same year. For many years, the building also was the home to Order of the Eastern Stars, which was organized as an auxiliary of the local Masonic Lodge in 1891.
The Now photograph shows the Masonic Lodge building, located at 173 E. Main St., as it looks today.