For the past 90 years, Powell’s Masonic Lodge has stood tall and proud at the southwest corner of Second and Absaroka streets. It’s largely a mystery to most local residents, as the …
For the past 90 years, Powell’s Masonic Lodge has stood tall and proud at the southwest corner of Second and Absaroka streets. It’s largely a mystery to most local residents, as the secrets of its membership and pageantry have been closely guarded.
Few have ventured inside and even fewer have witnessed the solemn rituals of the Masons. But now, the edifice has been opened to prospective buyers; a sale sign is planted on a small patch of dormant, yet well-manicured grass.
Masons have a long and storied history in Powell. The first charter of Absarokee Lodge No. 30 dates back 111 years, to 1910 when the Reclamation Service sold lots in the new community. It was an “event considered by locals to be the official founding of the town,” according to the Wyoming State Historical Society.
Powell was incorporated on May 10, 1910 on a nearly treeless landscape. The Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons was there, its charter granted on Sept. 7 of that same year.
The Masons held their meetings in the former Loftsgarden Brothers Hall — the current location of 2nd Street Coffee Shop. They then moved above the old Lyric Theater, now the Vali Twin, until the lodge was built in 1931.
In parts of the country, Masonic lodges have closed and group sizes have diminished as some generations refused to be “joiners,” said past state Grandmaster Kenneth Badget.
Yet lodges in Wyoming are still going strong, particularly in the Big Horn Basin.
“In Lovell, their lodge has gone from having an average age in their late 60s or early 70s, to now being down into their 30s,” Badget said.
Their success is being looked at across the state, he said, while Cody also has a thriving group. The membership in Powell stands at about 30 — not including the Order of the Eastern Star, a Masonic appendant body mostly populated by women — which is about half the membership of its heyday.
“Most of the Masons at that time were the movers and shakers of the community,” said Harlan Goodchild, who has been a member for 63 years. “They owned the businesses. There were doctors, lawyers, politicians. They still are today.”
Masons are unlike most fraternal organizations, he said. “In this organization, we can’t go out and solicit membership.”
That makes it hard to repopulate the organization. While there are some hopeful indicators for the future of the Masons, their numbers in the state have dropped from more than 3,500 in 2011, to about 2,400 in 2020.
“Most of those lost have been through death,” Goodchild said.
It makes for a small, but tight-knit group of dedicated members. The 6,300 square-foot lodge has been the group’s haven — and they have and will continue to cherish it, current Worshipful Master Ben Jackson said. But it’s time to move in a new direction.
“In 1931, this building was top of the line,” he said. “But from today’s perspective, it’s very expensive to maintain.”
One of the biggest issues with the current lodge is the stairs leading from the massive basement with 12-foot ceilings, to the lodge’s great room; there’s an even more daunting set leading to the attic.
“If you look around the membership, we were not young chickens anymore,” Badget said, adding, “Trying to go up and down those stairs is hard. The Eastern Star are having a lot of problems, too.”
The membership has always maintained the building well, taking pride in their prominent location in the city, said T.J. Edgell, a real estate agent representing the group for The Real Estate Connection.
“When I walked in there I was very surprised at the interior of the building, I just expected it to be something else,” Edgell said.
If the blinds on the windows were opened, the lodge would fill with light. But that has been a rarity in the past 90 years. Edgell said there is a lot of interest, especially by contractors hoping to transform the lodge into a multi-resident complex. Some have scheduled appointments to simply take a look.
“There’s a lot of people that are just curious to see the inside,” Edgell said. “Not many have.”
A new lodge for the Powell Masons is in the planning stages and construction will begin soon after the existing building sells. It will be a single-level floor plan with easy access, but the land has yet to be purchased.
Until the new lodge is finished, the membership will trek to Cody or Lovell to have meetings.
“Hopefully Lovell,” said Badget. “Cody has stairs.”