Preserving the history of Mitchell's Masonic Lodge
A pile of rubble is all that’s left from the torn down Third Avenue and Main Street building, but a meaningful piece of the building's history was preserved.
The Third and Main building that dates back to 1887 housed plenty of local businesses through the years, but the top floor was the first official home of Mitchell’s Masonic Lodge.
Lyle Swenson, former Masonic chapter president, has been a member of Mitchell’s Masonic Lodge for the past 55 years. As one of the oldest Masonic Lodge members who is still active in the chapter today, it’s only fitting the Masonic emblem that stood at the very top of the building was gifted to him before the demolition crew began tearing down the structure on Nov. 12.
“This building has been near and dear to me, because it was the beginning of the Masonic Lodge in Mitchell,” Swenson said in an interview with The Daily Republic. “Even though I was never up there when it was the Masonic Lodge, it is a meaningful piece of history.”
While Swenson, 84, wasn’t born yet when Mitchell’s first Masonic Lodge held meetings on the top floor of the historic building, he’s spent a great deal of time educating himself on the history of the local chapter.
According to Swenson, Mitchell’s Masonic chapter rented the third floor of the building from the day it was built. It was in 1923 when Swenson said the chapter decided to move out and build a new lodge on the corner of East Fifth Avenue and Lawler Street. With no accessible elevators in the old Third and Main building, Swenson speculated the strain of members having to climb flights of stairs to reach the top floor of the building for meetings may have played a role in relocating and building anew.
“With having to rent a smaller space on the third floor and the long stair climb, I think it had something to do with getting out of that location,” Swenson said, noting the then new Masonic Temple building was later equipped with an elevator. “The elevator is still in good condition, so people can meet on the top floor of our building.”
When the new lodge was built in the mid-1920s, Swenson said the Masonic Temple quickly became a widely used facility, rather than being utilized solely for the chapter’s monthly meetings.
To this day, the Masonic Temple is where Mitchell’s chapter meets. The building also hosts weddings, events, banquets and Masonic funerals.
“The lodge became a very important part of the community when the new building was built,” he said. “During the Corn Palace week festivities, all the stars and performers stayed at the Lawler Hotel, and the building was close by. So when the Corn Palace was in use during that time, the Masonic Temple became a popular place for people to have banquets, meetings and other events.”
As a retired Davison County sheriff and U.S. marshal, Swenson spends much of his time in the basement of the Carnegie Resource Center, delving into the history of Mitchell. His new history project is sifting through City Council meeting minutes from the late 1800s to find out more information of why Mitchell’s Masonic chapter chose the Third and Main building as its headquarters.
After years of neglect, the building began showing its age two years ago when a hole on the southeast corner of the building began slowly expanding. The corrosion of the building caused public safety hazards and a road closure, ultimately leading to the city taking ownership and transferring it over to a local entity for the building to be demolished.
As the iconic Masonic emblem stood tall on the corner of Third Avenue and Main Street for over a century, Swenson said he was in awe at the condition the piece of sheet metal was in when he laid his hands on it.
“I can’t believe it has stood the test of time for this long, and it is in good shape,” said Swenson, while gazing at the emblem inside the Masonic Temple. “I’m very fortunate to have been given this emblem, and it belongs to our chapter now.”