David Kois is historian and treasurer of Amwell Lodge No. 12 Free and Accepted Masons, https://www.amwelllodge12.org/, and the chairman of the committee celebrating its 175th anniversary next year. A former resident of Lambertville, David was the Lodge’s Worshipful Master in 2017. Since 2012, he has been compiling and documenting the Lodge’s history. Following is a lightly edited version of his presentation to LHS on April 18, 2021–a recording is here.
Freemasonry began its strong local presence based in New Hope, in Orange Lodge, from 1802 to 1837. A decade after that Lodge closed, several Orange Lodge members and a number of petitioners founded Amwell Lodge No.12 here in Lambertville. The first step in creating a new lodge is “institution,” which took place June 16, 1847 at the former Odd Fellows Building at 26 Bridge Street known as “The Stone House.” In Freemasonry, a lodge’s institution was like a tryout. If things went well, they would then receive a charter. In January 1848, the Grand Lodge of New Jersey gave Amwell Lodge a charter, which we display to this day.
The Amwell Freemasons were a tenant of the Odd Fellows for years, which would have challenged them, because the building’s layout would not have accommodated Freemasonry’s specific requirements for how meetings are conducted, how everything is organized, and where things are placed. The Lodge members decided to build their own building. In 1864, they made the big purchase, for $2,500.
Dr. Samuel Lilly—who had been Lambertville’s first mayor (1849-1852) and a U.S. Congressman (1853-1855)—played an important role in this purchase: he and another member took the money and trust and acquired the lot at 21 Bridge Street. Dr. Lilly was also an Odd Fellow and had a lot of connections. He knew the famed Philadelphia architect, Samuel Sloan, who built the New Jersey State Asylum when Lilly served on its board of trustees.
The Amwell Lodge sought a large, prestigious building in a prime location. They envisioned it as a public symbol. The model for the building was Taylor Hall in Trenton, an opera house. The Freemason’s Grand Lodge of New Jersey rented out space from John Taylor in the rear of his building. Samuel Lilly and other Amwell brothers asked Sloan to build their version of Taylor Hall. According to the specifications, there were intentions to build a theater in the back, but that would have cost $32,000 to build. They chose to build only the front half, which cost about $16,500. Sloan still designed it so that adding to the back was possible, as can be seen by the center of the building, which has a central hallway.
Laying the cornerstone, which remains visible today, was a really big deal to the Masons and to Lambertville, which held a parade. We display the trowel used for the ceremony because it has special symbolism for Masons.
The number three is deeply important in Freemasonry, which is reflected in exterior details of the Masonic Building. There are three layers to the pyramids. The building is split into three.
There are Victorian details that are interesting but lack symbolism, such the oculus window, which is decorative. Behind the upper façade there is a half dome.
Inside, there is a grand staircase. On the second floor, we have two tenants and a fellowship room for dining together. The entire third floor of the building is dedicated for Masonic purposes.
The Lodge Room contains the charter and the seat where the Worshipful Master sits. Behind, the letter G can in Masonry signify God or Geometry. Faith, charity, and hope are central principles. There are other stations.
There have been many interesting tenants in the building. The Lambertville City Council chambers were on the second floor—that was facilitated by Dr. Lilly. The courthouse was here. A cigar factory. The Amwell National Bank was essentially an anchor tenant on the first floor and made a deal with the Masons that they would pay $10,000 in rent, which went a long way toward the building costs. The Stryker Free Library was on the second floor, then the first floor.
This last circa 1957 photo from westjerseyhistory.org shows the back side of the Masonic Building, which to this day is integral to Lambertville’s cityscape. And we are still an active Lodge that serves the community and welcomes members.
Next year, 2022, will be the 175th anniversary of the institution of Amwell Lodge No. 12 was instituted. We look forward to celebrating the history and importance of Freemasonry in the Lambertville community.