Just like George Washington performed the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons' ritual "cornerstone laying" ceremony on the Capitol more than 200 years ago, the ancient rite will be bestowed upon the Masonic Temple in Collinsville on Saturday in celebration of the building's 100th anniversary.
Lodge 712, at 213 W. Clay St., was built in 1912 — 40 years after the Masonic Blue Lodge was established in Collinsville in 1872. It is one of only five structures in Collinsville that are on the National Register of Historic Places. The classical revival style building with its four white pillars is also a city-designated historic landmark.
But Lodge secretary Chuck Hileman said the re-dedication ceremony is about more than celebrating the brick-and-motor building. It's about honoring what has occurred in the building for 100 years.
Collinsville's Masonic Temple has a been a meeting hall for not only the Masons but also its sister organization, the Eastern Stars, as well as groups like the DeMolays, the Shriners and the Royal Arch Masons. It has also been the site of funerals, wedding receptions and blood drives.
Hileman said the main thing that happens at the hall is fulfilling one the Masons' missions: To make good men better. The ancient fraternity is known for using unique, and what some call secretive, rituals.
"We have rituals for the purpose of teaching lessons, of encouraging men to do good and to be charitable," said Hileman, 61. "We recite from memory different kind of lectures about different topics and we use masonry tools or implements as symbols to teach our lessons."
While the fraternal organization in Collinsville started with only eight members, its ranks have grown to more than 500 in previous years. Today, the group has about 200 members, or Master Masons. In Illinois there are more than 500 lodges with 70,000 members.
Hileman, a former Worshipful Master (or head of the Lodge) and a Mason since 1973, said the Collinsville Lodge has members as young as in their 20s and one member that will soon be turning 100. Each member pays annual dues of $45. Members must petition to join and go through a series of "degrees" or levels of learning to earn Master Mason status.
The Ancient Free and Accepted Masons is a international fraternal organization that has been in existence for hundreds of years with many claiming it dates back to the Roman Empire. Members include U.S. presidents from Washington to Gerald Ford, generals, statesmen, artists and athletes. There are more than 2 million Masons in the United States and 6 million worldwide.
Collinsville native Robert La Surs, 86, served as the Lodge's Worshipful Master for several years. He said his grandfather and father were also Masons.
"The interest kind of passed along," La Surs said. "The relationship in families often triggers it. My dad joined the organization and I said I'll join to see what it's like. That was 46 years ago."
Contact reporter Ramona C. Sanders at 618-344-0264, ext. 136