The First Cornerstone Laid By The Masonic Fraternity In Illinois
(From Mississippi Valley Consistory BULLETIN – April, 1927)
At the time Illinois was admitted as a State in 1818, and for several years thereafter, Shawneetown was one of the most important points on the Ohio River. The Government maintained an army post there. It was a place where the settlers from the Eastern States first came in contact with the soil in Illinois. Owing to the great need for adequate facilities to accommodate the river traffic the Government took over the river front and main street and laid a cobble stone pavement from the northeast corner of the town to the river, a distance of several blocks. This was known as “The Public Work”.
To commemorate the beginning of this important improvement the members of Equality Lodge No. 102 under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Kentucky laid the cornerstone with Masonic ceremonies.
To make arrangements for the cornerstone laying the lodge was opened in Equality February 19, 1838 on the first degree, closed and then opened on the third degree, in regular form: later it was called from labor to refreshment until Friday 23rd to meet in Shawneetown at 8 o’clock. On the 23rd it was called from refreshment to labor in the lodge room in Shawneetown and again “called off until tomorrow at 11 o’clock”.
The records of those meeting on the 24th show those present: A. B. Dake, W. M.; A. W. Poole, S. W.; visiting Bro. Calvin Gold, J. W.; W. J. Gatewood, Sec’y; R. T. Hopper, Treas.; Wm. Burnett, S. D.; I. D. Towles, J. D.; Visiting Brethren A. Kirkpatrick, John Marshall and Bro. Edw. Savill, Bearers of Corn, Wine, and Oil; Bro. J. Choisser and Visiting Bro. Anderson of Ohio, Stewards with Black Rods; Bros. Flanders, Towles, and Hewett, Master Masons; and James Bennett, Entered Apprentice, Musicians; E. H. Gatewood, Marshall; L. White, Bearer of the Bible; Bro. Fellowcrafts, Thos. J. Lindsey and Samuel Geary; Bros. Entered Apprentices, Wm. Choisser, S. Scudder, and John M. Burnett.
After forming the procession proceeded to the upper end of the Work, and there laid the cornerstone of the Public Work in due and ancient form, after which they repaired to the hotel of Mr. Waggoner, of Shawneetown, and partook of an excellent repast prepared for the occasion.
The lodge then proceeded to the lodge room in Shawneetown, and was called from labor to refreshment, to meet in Equality on February 26, 1838.
Tradition states that W. Bro. Dake acted as proxy of the Grand Master of Kentucky.
Further information about this interesting event has not been located. Letters from the Librarian of Congress and Librarian of the War Dept. state that those offices contain nothing to show how and by whom the “Public Work” was constructed.
The cornerstone was removed in the eighties and was eventually placed in Equality Lodge, where it still reposes as an honored relic of the time when Shawneetown was one of the most important cities in the State.
The stone is a “rough ashlar” with one smooth face, on which is the following inscription:
Feb. 24, 1838