Beltsville Masonic Center
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A History of Birmingham Lodge No. 188,
A.F. & A.M.
Beltsville, Maryland

(From "A History of Birmingham Lodge, on the occasion of the 100th Anniversary of the Lodge")

Introduction - 1891 through 1991

In this century we accept as commonplace such things as the automobile and high speed internet, cell phones, micro-electronics, plam size internet appliances, just to name a few.

Therefore, it is extremely difficult for us to imagine what life was like in the small farming community of Beltsville, Maryland, just one hundred years ago, when Birmingham Lodge No. 188 first came into existence. Life without electricity would be almost impossible for us today, and yet in 1891, although the phenomenon of electricity was known, its great potential was undreamed. The homes and public buildings of that day relied upon oil burning, wick lamps, and in the Lodge Halls, the Lesser Lights were candles. Central heating systems were not in general use and the potbellied wood stove was the accepted means of heating the lodge Hall.

To us it might seem that they indeed lived in an age of darkness, and yet our Brothers of that day practiced the same form of Masonry we do today. Their lives were governed by the same precepts and they adhered to the same tenets of our Institution. While they were permitted by the Grand Lodge to do a few things we cannot, conversely, we can do some things they could not.

Birmingham Lodge is fortunate to have in its possession a complete set of minutes beginning with the organizational meeting held on Tuesday, June 9, 1891. In reading these, one cannot help but be impressed by the thoroughness and the detail of these records. However, there are instances where certain details are lacking; details which are needed to complete the over-all picture, but which at the time, they must have felt were unnecessary because of their complete familiarity with the situation. In these instances we can only try to piece together the facts and read between the lines.

Original lodge building, circa 1891

The Year 1891

It seems unlikely that the year 1891 will rank as one of the outstanding years in the pages of history. In fact, it is almost impossible to find anything to distinguish it from any of the other years in the last decade of the 19th Century.

Our great country was under the leadership of its 23rd president, Benjamin Harrison, a Republican who was then serving the third year of his term. At that time there were only forty-four states in the Union, including Idaho and Wyoming, which had just become states the previous year. Yet to be admitted were: Utah, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, and considerably later, Alaska and Hawaii. It seems incredible to us now, that eighteen years were still to elapse before the discovery of the North Pole. A few notable inventions were made that year.

These inventions included the submarine, the oil cracking process [producing gasoline and other compounds] the color photo, and diphtheria antitoxin. Several persons, who were destined to become well know in the entertainment field were born that year. Among them were: Ted Lewis, Tim McCoy, Ronald Coleman, James Barton, Fanny Brice, and Chico Marx. (1)

Masonry in Maryland - 1891

The year 1891 found the Grand Lodge of Maryland in Baltimore beset by many problems. Their Masonic Temple on Charles Street, then less than twenty five years old, had been completely destroyed by fire on Christmas Day in 1890. Electricity had replaced gas in the Temple earlier in 1890, and the fire is thought to have started due to faulty wiring in the ceiling of Forepaugh's Temple Theatre, which occupied the first and most of the second floors. (2)

Early in January 1891, arrangements were made with the Secretary of the Treasury for the use of the old United States Court House (3), located at the northwest corner of Fayette and North Streets (the latter subsequently becoming Guilford Avenue) and this was where our Charter was later signed.

The Grand Lodge [of Maryland] was then in its 104th year, and was under the leadership of Grand Master Thomas J. Shryock, who was serving his seventh year as Grand Master. Brother Grand Secretary Jacob H. Medairy was serving his 28th year. Five months after signing our Charter, the Deputy Grand Master, Jacob E. Krebs, suddenly passed away, at the age of fifty.

When the Grand Lodge met in November, 1891, it was with eighty-nine subordinate Lodges on its roster, and 5,868 Master Masons. At that time, Birmingham Lodge had twelve members. Today, there are over 47,500 Master Masons in Maryland, including approximately 400 from Birmingham.

Birmingham Lodge today


  • Ted Lewis was well known musician, band leader and singer in the '30s.
  • Tim McCoy was a cowboy star, appearing in movies, and later in T.V. shows. He was featured on Wheaties Boxes.
  • Ronald Coleman was a British movie star, with four Oscar nominations and one Oscar win.
  • Fanny Brice was one of the most popular singers and comedians of the first half of the 20th century.
  • Chico Marx was one of the Marx Brothers comedy team. A well known ladies' man.
  • Forepaugh's Temple Theatre: The Forepaugh family had a string of theatres from New York to Baltimore. They featured live circus acts. The Baltimore theatre fire started in the catwalk area of the theatre, and quickly set the curtains on fire. Animals and props were destroyed.
  • The Baltimore Fire of 1903 destroyed most of records and regalia of the Grand Lodge of Maryland. The Grand Treasurer tried to save some, but needed saving himself.
Respectfully Submitted by Bro. Steve Brettell      

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