FAIRMONT — The Masonic Lodge has been laying cornerstones in American public buildings since the founding of the nation. George Washington, then president of the United States and a Mason himself, laid the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol in 1793 as part of a ceremony with the lodge’s Grand Master of Maryland.
Such tradition will continue in Fairmont on Saturday at 1 p.m. when the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of West Virginia lays the cornerstone for the new East Fairmont fire station.
The ceremony will take place at the corner of Vermont and Morgantown avenues, the future site of the new station. The event is free and open to the public.
As with most cornerstone ceremonies, a collection of paraphernalia representing present-day life will be placed in what the Masons call a “casket,” a seven-inch diameter storage box. The casket will then be placed within the cornerstone itself and sealed into the new building.
The cornerstone ritual to be performed Saturday will follow the same Masonic Lodge protocol as did Washington’s ceremony nearly 227 years ago.
“Some people call it a time capsule, but the reason we don’t call it that is because we’ll likely never know when or if it’s recovered,” said Buddy Vincent of Fairmont.
Vincent is a past Grand Master of the state Masonic Lodge and is the current Grand Lecturer, the person responsible for ensuring the accuracy of the traditional rituals. Vincent has been part of the Masonic Lodge for more than 40 years and he will be on hand Saturday to ensure the cornerstone ceremony follows tradition.
The grand lodge governs members of the Masonic Lodge across the state. The laying of the cornerstone is one of only two functions its members perform outside a lodge room. Performing Masonic rites at funerals is the other.
“It will never be opened until the building is torn down or destroyed. Then it’s opened up by the Grand Lodge again,” Vincent said.
Vincent said he’s worked with area businesses in gathering contents for the cornerstone ceremony.
“We’ve got several things to place in the casket, items like business cards, commemorative coins, calendars, local restaurant menus. On the day of the entombment, we’ll place a newspaper from that morning,” said Vincent. “It will be history. One of these days when it’s recovered and opened, the contents will be removed and displayed to the public.”
The grand lodge “has no physical building” in the state, except for the Grand Secretary’s office in Charleston.
Freemasons, with their heritage as builders of cathedrals and public structures, have historically performed their cornerstone ceremony for new buildings upon request.
Today, these events are seldom noticed by the public, but in previous centuries, the cornerstone event was a large festive celebration, often accompanied by parades and speeches.
In the Masonic cornerstone ceremony, the stone is checked using ancient tools in order to ensure it is square, “plumb” or straight, and level. The cornerstone is consecrated with corn or grain, wine, and oil, all Masonic symbols of prosperity, health, and peace. The stone is then symbolically tapped into place with a gavel.
Vincent said the cornerstone ceremony is a way of blessing the building.
“The cornerstone is the foundation of the building. Everything that was laid was laid off that cornerstone. Our cornerstone tradition has been carried out when building public structures for hundreds of years, dating back to early European times,” said Vincent.
Rusty Jones of Baxter is a 32nd-degree Mason who has witnessed a cornerstone ceremony before and has a suggestion for what to include in the casket this time.
“If we really want to show the people of the future what life was life in Marion County in 2020, we should include a face mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer,” Jones said with a laugh.
Richard Nuhfer, the current Grand Secretary of the state Masons, will lay the cornerstone with assistance from local public officials.