Although Lexington was one of the earliest settlements in Kentucky, it was not until 1785 that it assumed the appearance of a frontier village, its growth having been retarded by Indian warfare. At this time, seven years before Kentucky became a state, Lexington consisted of only three rows of log cabins. Two years later, in August 1787, John Bradford published the first newspaper west of the Alleghenies - the Kentucky Gazette, in a little log cabin near the corner of Broadway and Main Streets. The haunting dread of Indian attacks began to gradually fade away, and by the fall of 1788, this “budding metropolis contained “about fifty houses, partly frame and hewn logs, with the chimneys on the outside&ellip;and at most 350 inhabitants.”
To be found among the inhabitants of this frontier metropolis, was a small group of Masons, many of whom had served in the Revolutionary War and who had now come westward to build up their fortunes, or establish their claims to the rich Bluegrass lands which were rapidly being opened up. These pioneer Masons who settled in Lexington, being far removed from any lodge, were desirous of establishing one of their own. So, after some months of delay, they petitioned the Grand Lodge of Virginia, as Kentucky was still a part of Virginia and most of the Masons had come from that state.
At a Grand Lodge, holden by adjournment at the Mason’s Hall, in the city of Richmond, on the 17th day of November, 1788 ... a petition of Green Clay, in behalf of sundry Brethren residing in the district of Kentucky was read, praying that leave be granted to them to hold a regular lodge at the town of Lexington, in the district aforesaid.
Ordered, that a charter be granted to Richard Clough Anderson, John Fowler, Green Clay, and others, to hold a regular Lodge of Free Masons at the town of Lexington, in the district of Kentucky, by the name title, and designation of the Lexington Lodge, № 25.... (Signed) Alex Montgomery, G.M., p.t. Teste William Lambert, G.Sec’y, pro tem.
The three men named in the record were of some stature in both the profane and Masonic worlds. Richard Clough Anderson, the first Master of Lexington Lodge № 25, was a native of Hanover County, Virginia. He was a captain in the Virginia Continentals during the Revolution and crossed the Delaware in the first boat at the Battle of Trenton in 1776. He also saw service at Brandywine, Germantown, and Savannah before being taken prisoner at Charleston in 1780. After the war he moved to Kentucky and became a principal surveyor of bounty lands to be entered for veterans of the Revolution. Anderson eventually established his residence on a farm called “Soldier’s Retreat” near Louisville. Anderson was a member of the first electoral college and a member of the Kentucky legislature. He married Elizabeth Clark, the sister of George Rogers Clark. His children included Richard Clough Anderson, Jr. for whom Anderson County was named, and Civil War (Union) Brigadier General Robert Anderson. Richard Clough Anderson died in 1826.
Accordingly, the Grand Lodge of Virginia saw fit to grant a charter to the little band of Masons “at the town of Lexington, district of Kentucke.” Thus the first lodge in the western country was established in Lexington the “Athens of the West” four years before Kentucky was admitted into the Union.
The return for the year 1794 is the earliest one extant, and shows its membership consisted of 19 Master Masons, 17 Fellowcrafts and 9 Entered Apprentices. The first Masonic Temple or “Masons Hall” as it was then called, in Lexington and in all that country west of the Alleghenies, was a small log house of primitive style built on land donated to the lodge by Brother William Murray, afterwards the first Grand Master of Kentucky. This deed, dated December 16, 1795, from William Murray and wife was made out to several brothers, as trustees of “Lexington Lodge of Ancient Masons” and was in consideration of five shillings. By June 1796, the membership of the Lodge had grown so, that an annual “St. John’s day was celebrated with considerable display.”
Other lodges were established in the neighboring Bluegrass towns, by the Grand Lodge of Virginia, namely: Paris Lodge № 35; Georgetown Lodge № 46; Frankfort - Hiram Lodge № 57 and Abraham’s Lodge U.D. at Shelbyville.
Distance and dangers, coupled with the unsatisfactory means of communication suggested the desirability of asking permission from Virginia to sever connections and to establish a Grand Lodge of Kentucky. Permission was given, and in 1800, the five lodges in the Bluegrass assembled in the “Masons Hall” in Lexington, and on the sixteenth day of October the Grand Lodge of Kentucky was formed. James Morrison, a Lexingtonian and the oldest past master present was asked to preside.
By virtue of Lexington Lodge № 25 being the oldest lodge in Kentucky, it then became known as Lexington Lodge № 1 upon the rolls of the newly organized Grand Lodge of the state. The other lodges likewise took new charters and numbers: Paris Lodge № 2; Georgetown Lodge № 3; Hiram Lodge № 4 (at Frankfort) and Solomon’s Lodge № 5 at Shelbyville. The formation of the Kentucky Grand Lodge in Lexington cemented the bonds that ever bound the cities of the Bluegrass together, for these men were the foremost leaders of their day in everything that pertained.
In 1820, was an interesting one in the annals of Lexington Freemasonry, for that year, Henry Clay was Master of Lexington Lodge № 1 and also Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Kentucky. This unusual honor that was conferred upon the illustrious “Harry of the West” has never before or since, been extended to another Kentucky Mason.
In May 1825, during the construction of the Grand Masonic Hall, General Lafayette, the last surviving major-general of the Revolutionary War visited Lexington. Lafayette, a member of the Masonic Order, was royally entertained by his brethren and citizens of Lexington, and a Masonic Ball was given in his honor in this partially completed building. Lafayette took his seat at the banquet table in front of a large castellated cake, surmounted by the American and French flags, and covered with Masonic designs.
During the Civil War, when brother turned against brother the hall was seized by the Union army, and used as a hospital, recruiting office and later as a prison. All of their records, furniture and archives were either lost or destroyed during the war. Having become badly dilapidated and in great need of repairs, the old Masonic Hall was torn down in December 1891. The property subsequently passed to the Central Christian Church upon which had been built the first building devoted to Masonic purposes in Kentucky.
In 1867 the Freemasons of Kentucky founded the Masonic Widows and Orphans Home and Infirmary in Louisville. It is the oldest Masonic home in North American and is now located on a large park-like setting in eastern Jefferson County. In 1901 the Grand Lodge of Kentucky established the Old Masons’ Home on beautiful rolling acreage east of Shelbyville. Among other Kentucky Masonic philanthropic efforts include supporting the Shrine hospital for children and the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s early childhood education programs.
Today, Grand Master Cloyd J. Bumgardner presides over the Grand Lodge of Kentucky comprised of more than 375 Lodges with a membership of more than 35,000 brothers. Kentucky Freemasonry has had such prominent members as Vice President of the United States John C. Breckinridge, Sen. Henry Clay, Commissioner of Major league Baseball A. B. “Happy” Chandler and Col. Harland Sanders founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants.Grand Lodge of Kentucky, Free and Accepted Masons