Sanford, N.C. —
The Masonic Temple on Carthage Street in Sanford was once a lively spot – right in the heart of the community.
With the classic Cole’s Pharmacy – complete with a vintage soda bar –downstairs, and a lodge of the community’s movers and shakers upstairs in the temple, the building played a prominent role in the community.
Just next door, the Temple Theater, who took its name from its Masonic neighbors, heralded the stars of Vaudeville and burlesque 1930’s road shows.
And all of it sat on a new major highway, US Highway 1.
Alas, not all glory days last.
When the lodge moved out, a rotation of locally-owned businesses took over a few rooms in the century-old structure; however, much of the historic building remained abandoned, untouched.
The Temple Theater closed its doors, also vacant for decades – gathering dust and ghost stories.
However, small clues to the Masonic Temple’s glorious past remain tucked throughout the building – the original cornerstone, the Masonic carvings, the grand Masonic stairwell where decades of leaders left their foot scuffs, the classic architecture inside the vacant, dusty rooms.
Soon, the building may come to life once again.
Replacing Sanford’s First Baptist Church
In 1893, Sanford Baptist Church held the land where the temple now stands. The congregation remains today, under the name First Baptist Church.
With 15 charter members, the church started small. However, in 1919 the growing congregation, combined with the burgeoning town of Sanford, meant the church needed space to expand.
One historian pointed out that “automobile noise on the corner of Steele and Carthage Street in downtown picked up as US Highway 1 arrived.”
The arrival of the highway made the location ideal for a Masonic Temple.
Around the same time, the Chalmers Lodge, founded as early as 1853, in the nearby community of Carbonton merged with McCormick 228 and moved to Sanford to become lodge 151.
The Sanford Masonic Lodge 151 purchased half of the church’s land for $20,000 in 1924 – and the church congregation borrowed space in the West Sanford Graded School, which stood where First Citizens Bank stands today.
That section of Sanford has seen immense change over the decades – making the preservation of historic structures all-the-more important for ensuring critical history isn’t lost forever.
Hints to the past still inside the temple
The Masonic Temple has had many facades over the past 100 years.
It was a vintage soda fountain and pharmacy, where Sanford’s teenagers had their first jobs and first dates sipping cherry sodas and eating hot dogs.
It had a dress store, a printer shop in the basement, a shoe store. It held Sanford local businesses like The Bootery.
It served as a ticket office, with a flourishing theater next door. But over time, the Temple Theater was abandoned right alongside the Masonic Temple.
The temple has been mostly vacant and utilized since the 1980s.
But, according to Owl’s Nest Properties, the real estate company who purchased it, it still has the original steel beams on every floor, Masonic carvings in the walls and a cornerstone with the original date.
“Some of the Mason’s furniture and items are still inside,” said Cori Mckee-Whipple, a real estate agent with Owl’s Nest Properties.
The top floor of the historic structure is slated to become modern apartments.
Meanwhile, commercial spaces will fill spaces on either side of the grand Masonic stairwell.
“We also plan to have a marketplace, where smaller businesses can rent affordable booth space and bring fun and convenient items for the tenants who live upstairs,” she said.
The basement will keep the cobbler, who runs Nunnery Shoes.
The other side of the basement is currently empty, but there is potential for an underground speakeasy to take over the space – a historically accurate representation of the building’s era, when an underground speakeasy would have been commonplace in buildings that served the wealthy elite or prominent community leaders.
Almost all the commercial space has already been rented.
“We are super excited to be able to bring it back to its glory,” she said.
Explore the historic remnants in the 100-year-old Masonic Temple
WRAL’s Hidden Historian will be exploring the century-old building from top to bottom — the Masonic stairwell, the remaining relics, the carvings — even the abandoned basement and attic areas. Tune into WRAL’s Facebook around 12:15 p.m. on Sunday to join the Facebook Live, join the discussion and see it all firsthand!