History of Star Lodge No.1, F&AM Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of WV
Organized March 21, 1877
In 1877, a group of Black men from Jefferson County, West Virginia, petitioned the Grand Lodge of Maryland for a charter which was granted.
In The Beginning...
The first lodge in West Virginia was Star Lodge No.1, AF&AM, organized March 21, 1877 and warranted by the Grand Lodge of Maryland and located in Charles Town, West Virginia.
Star Lodge #1 First Worshipful Master
The first Worshipful Master of the Star Lodge was George Tabb. Later, Star Lodge organized Mount Pisgah No.3 Lodge in Martinsburg and Rising Sun Lodge No.5, in Harpers Ferry on October 1, 1880. The lodges were duly chartered by the Grand Lodge of Maryland at a convention held on September 22, 1881 in Martinsburg, WV for the purpose of organizing the Grand Lodge of West Virginia. The Grand Lodge officers were duly elected and publicly installed in a ceremony led by the Grand Master of Maryland which was held in Charles Town, September 23, 1881. The West Virginia Grand Lodge became the 31st of 45 Prince Hall grand lodges organized in the nation.
West Virginia First Most Worshipful Grand Master
The original charter of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of West Virginia, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons listed John T. Marker as the Most Worshipful Grand Master and William Payne as the Junior Grand Warden. Both men were members of Star Lodge No.1. When the grand lodge applied for a charter to incorporate the organization, Thomas Marker was one of the incorporators.
Acquisition of Historic Property
Star Lodge #1, A.F. & A.M. and Queen of the Valley Lodge #1558, Grand United Order of the Odd Fellows (formerly known as the Independent Order of Odd Fellows) purchased the building now known as the Masonic Hall on August 14, 1885 for $700.00, from Fayette B. and Mary V. Souders. Trustees for the Odd Fellows lodge were George W. Green, Lewis Rutherford, and
Robert Ford; Littleton Page, George W. Tabb, and William Myers were trustees for the Masonic lodge. Star Lodge met in this building from 1885 to 1907.
In 1907, the second floor of the Fishermen Hall (Grand United Order of Galilean Fisherman) on South West Street was leased to the Masons and communications were held there.
On May 27, 1927, Star Lodge purchased the Odd Fellows’ one-half share of the building for $450.00. Trustees for the Odd Fellows were William H. Payne, Lewis Rutherford, and T.H. Nelson and trustees for Star Lodge were Samuel Tucker, J. Wesley Tolbert, Philip Jackson, Benjamin F. Shelton, and David Carey.
For over 100 years, it has owned one of the Charles Town's oldest stone buildings, the Locke House or the Ole Stone House at the northwest corner of Lawrence and Avis Streets and Fishermen’s Hall on South West Street. The building was built about 1795 by John Locke on land purchased from Charles Washington, brother of George Washington. The first floor of the building has been used as a church and a residence.
Designated a Charles Town Historic Landmark
On March 27, 1982, the Charles Town Historical Society designated it as a "Charles Town Historical Landmark” and a brass marker attached to the building.
An article in the June 21, 1879 edition of the Virginia Free Press reported that Thomas Jefferson visited a printing shop on Academy Alley. Research is being conducted to determine the exact location of the print business and its connection to the Locke House, if any.
Designated a Jefferson County African-American Historic Landmark
On August 17, 2013, the Jefferson County African-American Historic Landmarks Commission declared Star Lodge as a “Jefferson County African-American Historic Landmark” during the 21st annual Jefferson County African-American Heritage and Cultural Festival.
On March 14, 1963, a building committee was appointed by the Worshipful Master to return plans for adding a large room in the rear of the building. The committee's recommendations were approved and a new addition was started in the fall of 1963. Assisting the lodge in these expansion expenses was the “Masters Club”, which sponsored dances and stage shows at the Shenandoah Downs Race Track with all profits going towards helping the lodge.
Star Lodge masons have had the distinction of laying cornerstones of public buildings, in accordance with ancient traditions, on several occasions. On April 17, 1921, The lodge met for the purpose of laying the cornerstone of Zion Baptist Church on Harewood Avenue (now Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard); on Friday December 27, 1929, the members met at the lodge and marched to the corner of Harewood and Eagle Avenue (now Martin Luther King, Jr., Boulevard) to lay the cornerstone of the new Eagle Avenue School, the only Black elementary school in Charles Town.
In 1950, Star Lodge laid the cornerstone of the new Page-Jackson High School which was built on the corner of Mordington Avenue (now Page-Jackson Way) and Werick Street. In 1984, in commemoration of its 100th anniversary, Star Lodge laid the cornerstone of St. Philip's Episcopal Church located two blocks from the lodge on South Martin R. Delany Way in Charles Town. Most Worshipful Grand Master James A. Tolbert, Sr. presided over the ceremony.
In 1995, Star Lodge members joined with Mt. Pisgah #3 Lodge in Martinsburg to lay the cornerstone of the expanded Dudley Baptist Church(now Destiny), one of the oldest churches in the Eastern Panhandle which African-Americans attend. Most Worshipful Past Grand Master Richard F. Burrell of Mt. Pisgah Lodge #3 presided over this ceremony. A very large number of Masons and the church’s large congregation witnessed the event. In 1995, Star Lodge members joined members from the First Masonic District in laying the cornerstone for the newest Prince Hall lodge in the jurisdiction, Brothers of Harmony Lodge #42, in Shepherdstown. Most Worshipful Grand Master Stephen Holloway presided over the ceremony. The Asbury United Methodist relocated to a new location in Shepherdstown and a cornerstone was laid before a very large crowd.
Star Lodge was the host for the first Grand Communication 1881 and again acted as host for the 1908, 1951, 1977 and 2002 sessions.
MWGM John T. Marker
By all accounts, John T. Marker, the first Most Worshipful Grand Master, was a rather active and involved citizen in the community. In the Virginia Free Press, printed July 28, 1877, the following news item appeared, “A colored orator at Charles Washington Hall on Wednesday night... Mr. J.T. Marker presided with dignity. The speaker presented to his audience the best points at his command in an animated address, and was attentively listened to.” Marker is also mentioned in the same paper's September 22, 1877 edition as “The grand marshal of the Odd Fellows parade was the same J.T. Marker who had presided over the meeting held at Charles Washington Hall in July of the same year. He was ably assisted by Robert Ford. Both men were handsomely mounted, and preceded by a drum corps from Winchester." Speeches upon the object and beneficent workings of the Order" were given by the Rev. Henry Sellers and others.” The Spirit of Jefferson published June 30, 1908 reported the West Virginia Colored Grand Lodge of Masons meeting in Charles Town. There was a parade, a welcoming speech at the Jefferson County court house, and a memorial service at the M.E. Church and the Spirit of Jefferson reported the following officers elected:
R.D. Robinson, Grand Master
M.L. Davis, Deputy Grand Master
J.H. Taylor, Senior Grand Warden
R.W. Redman, Junior Grand Warden
Fleet Porterfield, Grand Treasurer
A.P. Straughter, Grand Secretary
Dr. B.H. Stillyard, Grand Lecturer
J.M. Ellis. Endowment Secretary
C H England, W.H. Parker,
L.L. Page, Trustees
Rev. G.W.W. Jenkins, Grand Chaplain
J.N. Robinson, Grand Marshall
G.L. Moxley, Grand Sword Bearer
William Alexander, Grand Junior Deacon
S.S. Taylor, Grand Pursuivant
Fountain Mitchell, Grand Senior Steward
W.P. Russ, Grand Junior Steward
H. Andrews, Grand Tiler
Brothers W.P. Russ and L.L. Page were members of Star Lodge
A resolution thanking Charles Town for its "courteous and kind" treatment was adopted by the Grand Communication.
It should be noted that both L.L. Page and Phillip Jackson were members of Star Lodge and Jefferson County’s only Black high school which was later named “Page-Jackson High School” in their honor. In addition, the street beside the school was renamed “Page-Jackson Way”
Grand Lodge Centennial
In commemoration of the chartering of Star Lodge in 1877, the Grand Lodge's 1977 Centennial celebration was held in Charles Town. Star Lodge, planned (with the Grand Lodge approval) and executed a number of activities including a parade or walk through the city's main street. The Mayor of the City, D.C. Master, welcomed the Most Worshipful Grand Master Erskine R. Nunn and the Grand Communication from the historic courthouse grounds. In 1859, the famous abolitionist John Brown was tried and sentenced to death from this court house. During the session, a 100 year "time capsule" was sealed, loaded with memorabilia and buried in the front yard of Star Lodge. A ground-level marker designates the location of the time capsule and event. The Honorable I.H. Clayborn, Sovereign Grand Commander from Texas traveled to West Virginia to join in this historic event. Past Master Daniel D. Jackson, Jr. was Worshipful Master of the Lodge during this event.
The 2002 Grand Communication and its 125th anniversary was also held in Charles Town with Star Lodge serving as host. A stone marker in memory to the first Grand Master, J.T. Marker was unveiled and dedicated. The marker is in front of the lodge.
Membership, as in other organizations has fluctuated over the years. The records of the 39th (1916) annual session showed 44 members on the rolls. During the 50th annual session (Golden Jubilee) in 1927, Star Lodge reported 49 members; however, the number had also dropped to 9 members as reported in the 64th (1941) annual proceedings. This could be attributed to the economic problems coming from the Great Depression and the beginning of World War II.
First Masonic District
Star Lodge #1 has always been the steady force of the First Masonic District. The District included Mt. Pisgah #3 of Martinsburg, Mt. Zion #14 of Elkins, Potomac #41 of Keyser and Star #1. Brothers of Harmony #42 of Shepherdstown #42 was later added after being chartered by the Grand Lodge. However, Martinsburg, Elkins and Keyser are now defunct (2017) leaving only Star and Brothers of Harmony masonic lodges in the First district.
Star Lodge has been credited in the community for its participation in a wide range of community activities. In the 1960s, it contributed funds to the Charles Town Recreation league, a newly organized group, to purchase basketball uniforms for young boys; it sponsored a Boy Scout Troop, a Cub Scout Webelos Pack and a Girl Scout Troop. Since the activities room addition was completed, the lodge has donated use of the building several times per year to churches and organizations in the community, such as Nile Temple #27 Shriners, the I.M. Carper Consistory #192, A.A.S.R., the Jefferson County NAACP, Jefferson County NAACP Youth Council, the Green-Copeland American Legion Post #63, the Marshall-Holly-Mason American Legion Post #102, Marshall-Holly-Mason American Legion Post #102 Auxiliary, Eastern Panhandle Alumni Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, and the African-American Community Association of Jefferson County. Star Lodge #1 and Deborah Chapter #38, Order of the Eastern Star are also Life Members of the NAACP. The lodge has given major assistance to the Jefferson County, WV African-American Culture and Heritage Festival which is held on the third weekend every August.
During the Katrina Hurricane which caused major damage to New Orleans in 2005, the lodge was a collection site for food, clothing and other goods which were later transported to the victims.
Lodge Historians and Grand Lodge Officers
Brother Edward 0. Morgan was appointed Lodge Historian in 1949 to research the lodge's history) and he compiled a list of Past Masters from 1904 to 1949. Brother Nathaniel Downing compiled the listing of Past Masters from 1949 through 1996(see appendix.) Brother James Tolbert continued the listing through 2017. PGM Stewart also served as Grand Secretary 2012 and 2013. In 2016, he was reelected Grand Secretary. PGM Rutherford also served as Grand Trustee. Bro C. Larry Togans served as RWSGW during part of the PGM Mitchell administration. Bro. Robert Holmes also served as the Grand Senior Deacon.
Four West Virginia Most Worshipful Grand Masters have been members of Star Lodge; Thomas Marker (Marken), James A. Tolbert, Sr., George C. Rutherford and Harold E. Stewart. The length of Brother Marker's term is not known; Bro. Tolbert served from 1983-1985, Brother Rutherford served in 1988 and Brother Stewart was elevated to the position in 1996 and served to 1998. Bro. Stewart was again elected as Grand Secretary in 2016. (PGM H.H. Winters of Rising Sun Lodge, Harpers Ferry,WV also served as a MWGM. He taught agriculture at Storer College.)
Star Lodge and Deborah Chapter #38, OES
Brother Nathaniel Downing, Sr. P.M. was elected Grand Worthy Patron, Electa Grand Chapter, and Order of the Eastern Star, Prince Hall affiliated and served from 1990 to 1994.
Brother Charles L. Ferguson, P.M., was elected Grand Worthy Patron, Electa Grand Chapter, Order of the Eastern Star, Prince Hall affiliated and served in 1997 and 1998. PM Ferguson also served as Worshipful Master of Mt. Pisgah #3 and Star Lodge #1, which is a rarity.
According to historical notes, Deborah Chapter #38, Order of the Eastern Star, was founded when at a regular communication of Star Lodge on April 27, 1926, the lodge voted to sponsor a dinner. The wives, mothers, sisters and daughters of all brothers were invited to the dinner. Mrs. M.G. Scott of Martinsburg was invited to be the guest speaker. The purpose being to discuss the possibility of having a sister chapter in Charles Town. The foundation of Deborah Chapter #38 began to materilize this same night. A petition was presented to the Grand Chapter of West Virginia on June 8, 1926. The charter was issued by the Grand Secretary, granted in the name of Deborah Chapter #38 listing David Carey as Worthy Patron and Mrs. Cerelle Craven as Worthy Matron.) (Three sisters of Deborah Chapter #38 have served as Grand Worthy Matrons of Electa Prince Hall Grand Chapter, Order of the Eastern Star, Jurisdiction of West Virginia, PGWMs Muriel Nunn, Carolyn Stewart and Lisa Downing. Two sisters of Deborah, Sister Nunn and Sister Stewart, served as Conference Chairs, Prince Hall Conference of Grand Chapters, Order of the Eastern Stars, Prince Hall Affiliated.)
Martin Robison Delany
On August 7, 1999, the members of Star Lodge installed a bronze marker in tribute to Brother Martin Robison Delany, the great Black Nationalist, who was born in Charles Town May 6, 1812. President Abraham Lincoln appointed Bro. Delany the first Black field officer, a major in the Civil War. Delany was a Prince Hall Mason. In 1853, Delany wrote “The Origin and Objects of Ancient Freemasonry its Introduction into the United States and Legitimacy Among Colored Men.” The Lodge also requested the Charles Town City Council to designate South Lawrence Street in memory of Delany which was granted. The street was designated Martin R. Delany Way. In his early childhood in Charles Town, Delany had a friend, John Avis, who was White. In a bit of irony, John Avis became a Deputy Sheriff and he drove the horse-drawn wagon which carried abolitionist John Brown to his December 1859 execution site on South Samuel Street in Charles Town. A street was named after John Avis which is on the south side of the Star Lodge. As such, Delany Way and Avis Street intersect at the corner of the lodge thus adding more history to these two old friends. During the 2017 West Virginia 84th Session of the West Virginia Legislature, a bill was passed to designate the bridge over the Shenandoah River in Jefferson County as the “Martin Robison Delany Bridge.”
The Great Tablet
In July 2006, Past Grand Masters James Tolbert, George Rutherford and Harold Stewart, members of Star Lodge, assisted the NAACP Chairman of the Board, the Honorable Julian Bond and the President/CEO Bruce Gordon in placing the “Great Tablet” on the campus of Storer College in Harpers Ferry. The tablet ceremony was intended to paid tribute to the great abolitionist John Brown who was unsuccessful in his 1859 attempt to free the slaves. In 1932, the Storer College Board of Trustees and the college president, Dr. Henry McDonald, refused to allow delegates, led by the great Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, to the annual national NAACP convention meeting in Washington, DC permission to place the tablet on the campus honoring John Brown. College officials pointed out that the ceremony would raise “tension” in the community. Disappointed, the John Brown tablet was returned to the NAACP headquarters in New York City. Storer College was founded in 1867 and closed in 1955 as a result of the 1954 Supreme Court school desegregation decision. However, that decision has been questioned by many and , in fact, a lawsuit was filed in this action. The State of West Virginia had partially subsidized the college since Black students were prohibited from attending “White“ West Virginia state colleges. Since Storer College is now Federal property, the National Park Service gave its consent to having the NAACP memorial tablet finally placed on the campus. Nearly 125 persons, including many members of the National Board and Star Lodge were in attendance and witnessed this long-delayed historic ceremony.
The Niagara Movement
In August 2006, the lodge joined the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Niagara Movement which also met on the Storer College campus in Harpers Ferry. At the conclusion, The Honorable Benjamin Hooks, former NAACP Executive Secretary, and the Honorable Robert C. Byrd, Senior U.S. Senator from West Virginia, dedicated a WV Historical Marker in tribute to the Niagara Movement participants. Sponsors of the marker were Star Lodge #1, Jefferson County NAACP Branch #3232 and the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society. It is the only non-government marker in the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park honoring the Niagara Movement. However, the Jefferson County NAACP also dedicated a marker in memory of the five Black “raiders” who fought alongside abolitionist John Brown during raid on the Harpers Ferry Federal Arsenal.
The lodge purchased the home of Paul and Alice Black which was on West Avis Street directly behind the lodge. The Paul Black family had lived in the home for several years. In the 1970’s, they acquired another home which was attached to their home. Later, after the lodge purchased the home, parts of the house was detached and became a two-person home.
Star Lodge Architecture
Star Lodge is described as a Hall-Parlor Town House which is exceeding “rare” in Jefferson County. The house was built about 1796 by John Locke. This is how the building is discussed in architect John C. Allen’s Jr., book, “Uncommon Valor” which was released in 2011. It is one of 250 buildings in Jefferson County which reveal the area’s early building traditions and architectural innovations.
The Lodge has been very aggressive in maintaining its historic building. In 2012, windows which had been bricked-up for many years and closed off any light to the 3rd floor attic were opened. Since there were not any electric outlets in the attic, the lodge agreed to open both north and south attic windows to allow more light and for safety.
Historic Brick Walk
In 2012, the lodge accepted a suggestion from PM James Taylor to install bricks with names inscribed which could raise much-needed funds as well as allow persons to remember loved ones and others. On August 17, 2013, the brick walk was uncovered to the public during the 21st Jefferson County African-American Cultural and Heritage Festival.
Star Lodge members have played pivotal and influential roles in the jurisdiction and the eastern panhandle for many years. The location is visited by out-of-town tourists, historians, architects and students. It is one of 25 sites recognized by the Jefferson County African-American Heritage Trail maps by the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society organization.
It is also one of 36 sites listed in the WV Division of Tourism “African-American Heritage Trail” publication. The local population regards Star Lodge with respect and pride.
James A.Tolbert, Sr. PGM
Star Lodge #1 Historian
This Star Lodge history was reviewed by Past Masters James L. Taylor and George C. Rutherford.