The ‘Harmonic’ Mason Lodge

The ‘Harmonic’ Mason Lodge

Edith deJongh Woods, Preservationist and historian

Past member of the St. Thomas Historical Trust and past chairman of the V.I. Historic Preservation Commission.  Author of “Three Quarters of the Town of Charlotte Amalie”

 

Prior to 1832, Wimmelskafts Gade or Back Street went West from Commandant Gade only as far as the intersection of Trompeter Gade and Snegle Gade. Early records show that the lot where the Masonic Hall is now located was recorded as Snegle Gade #2.Because of the many disastrous fires, new streets were laid out and Wimmelskafts Gade was extended west to Guttets Gade, the street by the Enid Baa Library.

On March 11th, 1818 the lot was surveyed and recorded as belonging to a Mr. Doctor Scott. He sold the lot the following year to Isaac Petit, a merchant. Mr. Petit died in 1822 and his cousin, Abraham Gabriel Frederick Pissarro, came from Bordeaux, France to take care of the business. Frederic, as he was known, took care of more than the business for he had an affair with Mr.Petit’s widow, Rachel. After the birth of a son, Felix, they were married in 1826. The marriage, however was not recognized by the Hebrew congregation. Finally, after the intervention of the Danish government and the birth of four sons, including Camille Pissarro, the famous Impressionist painter, the marriage was recognized in 1833.

Rachel and Frederic lived across the street from Wimmelskafts Gade #10 and on March 18th, 1839 they sold the lot to Aaron Robles, a merchant. Mr Robles, a Sephardic Jew originally from Bordeaux, France, came to the island as a young man. Four days after he bought Wimmelskafts Gade #10 from the Pissaros, he received a building permit for a brickbuilt house to conform and keep all rules of the Building Code of 1832. He promptly entered into a contract with A.R. Liggett to construct the house which is now the Masonic Hall.

The contract specified that the walls were to be twenty inches thick on the first floor and seventeen inches thick on the second floor. The type of construction was to be rubble with the walls plastered on the exterior and cased on the interior. The roof was to be framed of pitch pine and covered with Martinique tiles (NOTE: Tiled roofs were required by the 1832 Building Code, but later replaced by metal roofs because the tiles blew off in hurricanes).There were many other specifications in the contract too numerous to mention. Mr. Liggett agreed to finish the house in seven months for a fee of $7,500. This monumental task was to be accomplished with only hand tools and ox or horse carts.
Although the interior has been changed to accommodate the Lodge, many of the original features are still there, such as the rings on the outside walls where horses were tied; the kitchen and hearth on the North; the gallery on the East and the open gallery on the South which is now condemned. The formal entrance was by stairs on Wimmelskafts Gade and the other entrance is the one now used on Snegle Gade.

Aaron Robles and his family lived in the house until 1864 when it was sold to Sigismund Rosthschild, who later, because he was heavily in debt sold it to Moses Levy & Company, a London firm, for $7,000.  On January 29th, 1874 Harmonic Lodge No.356 bought Wimmelskafts Gade #10 and the adjoining property, Snegle Gade #8 for $1,000 pounds sterling or $5,000 DWI (Danish West Indies) currency. The Lodge has owned the property since.

After fifty-six years Harmonic Lodge No.356 finally had its own building! Consecration of the Lodge was held on July 2nd, 1874. Gifts presented at the ceremony were 23 yards of carpeting, part of the balcony rail and a mahogany table, which incidentally is still in the Lodge and in good condition. The brass bell in the Banquet Hall has been calling the Brethren to order from the time of the consecration.A large porcelain eye was placed on the building above the porch to the South and locals used to call the building the “One-eye Lodge”.  During the 1960s someone tried to steal the eye and it fell to the street below and broke.

The building has suffered three times in this century (1900s). During the 1916 hurricane, the roof blew off. The domed ceiling was repaired by a group of U.S. Marines and Sam Dunbavin, a tyler, fixed the roof. In January 1980, the building was gutted by a disastrous fire. It was repaired by Wor.Bro. Albert George and his construction firm.  In 1989 Hurricane Hugo did some damage and it was decided to do a full restoration. This was done by the construction firm of Wor.Bro. Leroy Marchena.

Today, the Masonic Temple has been restored to its former glory.