The Green Dragon Tavern Sign’s Winding Legacy


Green Dragon Tavern Sign, 1875-1940. Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.7293a. Photograph by David Bohl.


As we look forward to Patriots’ Day here at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, our minds turn to objects in our collection related to the American Revolution. Among these is the dramatic sculpture pictured here. This sculpture is a reproduction of a tavern sign that once hung over Boston’s fabled (and no longer surviving) Green Dragon Tavern and connects viewers to the remembrance of important events relating to our nation’s origins.

This sculptural dragon’s story is as winding as its tail. The original Green Dragon Tavern, in operation as early as 1712 and located on Union Street in Boston’s North End, attracted customers with a metal (possibly copper) sign in the shape of a dragon over its door. The Lodge of St. Andrew met at the tavern and purchased the building in 1764. The tavern continued to operate in the basement while the Lodge used the upper floors for its meetings. This structure burned down in 1832, and the original dragon sign was lost.

The Lodge rebuilt the building after the fire. For its centennial in 1856, a new sign in the shape of a dragon was commissioned. It was modeled after its predecessor as closely as could be determined but was made of sandstone instead of metal. This 1855 dragon sign was also lost sometime after it was created.

The sign shown here, sculpted in bronze, has more mysterious origins. It was discovered in 1947 by clothing store proprietor Samuel Lebow, who had purchased the Lodge of St. Andrew’s building to use as his shop. Lebow, himself a Freemason, gave the dragon to the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts the same year he found it.

The original Green Dragon Tavern—referred to as the “Headquarters of the Revolution” by Daniel Webster and a “nest of sedition” by Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson—was the location at which the Sons of Liberty met to plan out the Boston Tea Party. An 1898 artist’s rendering of that storied night, with the tavern and its sign in the shape of a dragon in the background, can be seen below. Lodge of St. Andrew members Paul Revere (1734-1818), John Hancock (1736/7-1793), and Joseph Warren (1741-1775) were also members of the Sons of Liberty and deeply involved in the group’s activities.


Green Dragon Tavern, Boston, Massachusetts, 1898. Lee Woodward Zeigler (1868-1952); The Masonic History Company, New York, NY. Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.0763.


Today, this dragon sign, part of the collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, is cared for by the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library. If you would like to see it in person, it is currently on view in our exhibition, “The Masonic Hall of Fame: Extraordinary Freemasons in American History.”



Newell, Aimee E., et al. Curiosities of the Craft: Treasures from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts Collection. Boston: Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts and Lexington, Massachusetts: Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 2013, pp. 54-55.

Gimber, Karl and Mary Jo. “Hook a Tavern Sign.” Early American Life, Feb. 2012, pp. 72-73.

The Lodge of Saint Andrew, and the Massachusetts Grand Lodge. Boston: Lodge of St. Andrew, 1870, pp. 184-185.

New to the Collection: St. John's Lodge Officers Photo

2008_001DS1 The National Heritage Museum photograph collection is a treasure trove with images of people, places and events from the 1840s to the present.  We often include photographs from the collection in our exhibitions and they can be invaluable when we are researching a particular person or fraternal group.

This photo, which was donated to the Museum recently by Harriet Dinsmoor Parish, depicts the officers of Boston’s St. John’s Lodge.  Mrs. Parish had kept this photo because her father, Clyde M. Dinsmoor (b. 1888), appears at far left in the back row.  The Masonic regalia that he wears indicates that he was the lodge’s Tyler.  In Freemasonry, the Tyler guards the entrance to the lodge room during meetings, allowing members and non-members to enter at the appropriate times.  By checking the records of St. John’s Lodge, we were able to narrow down the date of the photo to the late 1930s.  The picture was probably taken between 1936 and 1940, shortly after the lodge officers were elected for the coming year.

In addition to documenting the lodge officers, the photograph also helps us understand how the lodge room was decorated in the late 1930s.  In addition to three Masonic chairs, there are two flags visible and a stand with two bunches of carved grapes.  These grapes are a prized possession owned by St. John’s Lodge.  Formed in 1733, just after Henry Price established the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, St. John’s Lodge is the oldest duly constituted lodge in the United States.  The grapes have a history of hanging outside Boston’s Bunch of Grapes tavern where St. John’s Lodge first met.  The tavern opened in 1712 and played host to Henry Price when he constituted the first Masonic bodies in America.  Hanging outside the tavern’s entrance, the grapes identified it at a glance to passersby.

Officers of St. John’s Lodge, 1936-1940, Boston, Massachusetts.  National Heritage Museum collection, gift of Harriet Dinsmoor Parish, 2008.001. 

Which Way to the Masonic Lodge?

92_003T1 Ever since I started working at the Museum, Masonic signs along the roadways have jumped out at me.  Once you understand the significance of the square and compasses, you start to see them everywhere – along your town’s roads and on lodge buildings themselves.  At a glance, they signify the existence of a lodge in a town, provide its name and indicate its location.

Today’s signs tend to be painted on metal, or sometimes feature neon or electric lights, but they are just the modern version of a Masonic tradition.  Looking back to the 1700s and 1800s, Masonic signs were painted on wood and could often be found outside the local tavern.  Virtually every town had a tavern in the 1700s and 1800s.  They began by providing accommodations for travelers, but evolved into important community institutions providing food and drink, beds, stables and meeting space.

During the 1700s, few buildings were devoted exclusively to lodge meetings and activities.  Many American Masons met in coffee houses or taverns, which were conveniently located in town centers near major roadways.  This makes it tempting to assume that a Masonic symbol on an antique tavern sign means that a lodge met in that building; however, research has shown that this was not always the case.

A tavern sign in the National Heritage Museum collection shows the common style of the 1800s.  The dark-colored oval sign has gold decoration with a prominent square and compasses symbol in the center.  Around the symbol, lettering reads “Entertainment by J. Healy 1819.”  Jesse Healy’s (1769-1853) tavern was located in the Trapshire, New Hampshire, area.  Healy was raised a Master Mason on May 7, 1800, in Hiram Lodge #9 of Claremont, New Hampshire.  When Faithful Lodge #12 was chartered in Charlestown, New Hampshire, the next month, Healy was appointed Senior Warden.  He continued his service in that lodge as Master from 1802 to 1803, Chaplain from 1812 to 1814 and Senior Warden in 1815.

Although Healy’s tavern sign includes a Masonic symbol, it does not mean that the tavern hosted Masonic meetings.  Sometimes a Masonic symbol on a tavern sign merely indicated the owner’s membership.  During the early 1800s, a man's Masonic involvement was often understood as a sign of prestige.  Travelers saw the symbol and knew that the owner was a Mason who could be relied upon to provide good service at an honest price.  Additionally, the use of Masonic symbols in such a visible way allowed lodges and members to generate interest in the lodge within their community.  In a sense, these signs offered publicity, allowing the fraternity to continue to grow and prosper.

Healy Tavern Sign, 1819, New Hampshire, collection of the National Heritage Museum, Special Acquisitions Fund, 92.003.  Photograph by David Bohl.