The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania secured its first building in 1802. Located on Filbert Street in Philadelphia, members dedicated it on St. John’s Day (December 27) in 1802. However, membership in Freemasonry grew at such a rate over the succeeding years that the building soon was too small. By 1807, the search was on for new quarters. Later that year, the Grand Lodge purchased a vacant lot on Chestnut Street and began building according to a plan that architect William Strickland (1787-1854) submitted to their design competition. The new Masonic Hall was completed in 1809.
Unfortunately, the Grand Lodge would experience a relatively short tenure in this building. On March 9, 1819, a chimney fire spread rapidly, consuming the building. An engraving from the National Heritage Museum's collection, entitled The Conflagration of the Masonic Hall, Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, and created by John Lewis Krimmel (1786-1821) and John Hill (1770-1850), depicts the scene. The Grand Lodge history explains that “so great was the interest taken by the general public in this great calamity which overtook the Brethren,” that a painting was done “for the purpose of having an engraving made of the conflagration.”
According to the Franklin Gazette, the fire could be seen from New Castle, Delaware, thirty-two miles away. Washington Lodge No. 59 was meeting in the building at the time, but all the men in attendance were able to get out without any deaths or injuries. The print provides an accurate depiction of the fire companies. It also shows the Secretary of Washington Lodge No. 59 carrying some of the Lodge’s property to safety – its Bible and the key to the hall.
The Conflagration of the Masonic Hall, Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, 1819, John Hill, engraver, S. Kennedy and S.S. West, publishers, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, National Heritage Museum collection, Special Acquisitions Fund, 79.42.2. Photograph by David Bohl.