by Bill Mardis
The large crane reaching to the top of the Masonic Building downtown is lifting workmen this week as they repoint bricks on the west side of one of the oldest structures in Somerset.
Bricks and mortar on the face of the Masonic Building reportedly are more than 120 years old. The building at 104 North Main Street just north of the courthouse was renovated or rebuilt about 1890 when it was purchased by Somerset Masonic Lodge No. 111.
There are conflicting memories whether an old hotel building, called the National Hotel, was torn down and the existing Masonic structure was built at the site, or whether the building, reportedly in bad state of repair, was renovated by the Masons. Herb Stone, a Somerset plumber who took care of the building for 40 years, said the original building definitely was renovated.
“The foundation, still in place, is built with huge stones hauled there by oxen teams from a quarry off East 80 where Somerset Stone Company is now located,” said Stone. The original hotel had a well in the basement from which water was carried to guest rooms on the second and third floors, Stone said.
“There was no indoor plumbing ... each room had a pee pot and a wash basin,” Stone said. Wagons and buggies were kept outside and horses stayed in the first floor area.
“I’ve been told the hotel at one time was called Cumberland Hotel,” Stone recalled. The hotel also was previously called the Somerset House and afterwards the Huskinson, according to Somerset Masonic Lodge No. 111’s website. Stone said the bricks now being repointed are the ones laid when the Masons renovated the structure in 1890.
Again, according to information from the Masonic website, among the last people who operated a hotel in the building were Joe Huskinson and a man named Pittman who came to Somerset from Laurel County. It was originally owned by Jack Griffin.
After the building ceased to be a hotel, it was rented as a rooming house. One room was rented for a newspaper office while the other front rooms were law offices.The structure became considerably dilapidated and the grounds were sold to the Masons who created the three story Victorian Romanesque style building.
The building displayed large round arches with rusticated stone arching and brick corbelling. A corner tower extending to the roofline of the building was was removed in 1949, according to Stone. The building, still in use, is primarily occupied by lawyers’ offices.
D.E. Coates, lodge historian, said Masons have been in Pulaski County since 1840. Early Masons assembled here in Somerset and on September 1, 1840 formed a chartered lodge named Pulaski Lodge. This lodge was combined September 1, 1853 with Curd Lodge No. 175 and the name was changed to Somerset Lodge No. 111.
Coates said the Mason’s first meeting place was in a building on South Main Street at Spring Street. Then, about 1866, they bought a four-acre site on College Street.
Always interested in education, Somerset Lodge No. 111 erected a three story brick building to house a school to replace a previous school known as Somerset Academy. The lodge met on the third floor and classes met on the first two floors.
Somerset Masonic Lodge No. 111 dedicated the school building in 1867 with a party and dance that lasted two nights and the school was designated a "Masonic College.” Somerset High School currently stands on the Masonic College site at 305 College Street.
College Street was named after Masonic College. The land was deeded to the Somerset Board of Trustees by Somerset Lodge in 1889.
The first piece of property for the current Masonic building on Fountain Square at Main Street was purchased May 28, 1889. Finally, the purchase of the last piece of property to make up the current Masonic holding took place on October 15, 1889.
The still visible 1890 cornerstone for the existing Masonic building, called Masonic Temple, was put in place July 15, 1890. Presiding members of Somerset Lodge No. 111 were J. Soule Smith, Grand Master; George P. Saller, Senior Warden; J.M. Richardson, Junior Warden; C.D. Owens, Secretary; J.A. Mclser, Treasurer, James Dehoff, Senior Deacon; L.D. Parker, Junior Deacon; J.L. Allen, Grand Chaplin; S.W. Boone, Grand Marshal; James Dehoff, Tyler; J.A. McGem and W. Bates, Grand Stewards.
The lodge opened at 1 p.m. July 15, 1890. The brethren gathered at the northeast corner of the new building where the cornerstone was laid by Brother J. Soule Smith, acting Grand Master, in due and ancient form.
A majority of this information was taken from Somerset Masonic Lodge No. 111’s website. Bill Mardis may be contacted at bmardis@somerset-kentucky .com or telephone 451-4919.