By Angela Morefield
Beech Grove Masonic Lodge 694 is hoping to salvage a piece of presidential history after a fire destroyed a large portion of their building.
A large fire broke out July 8 around 3 a.m. at the lodge. The Beech Grove Fire Department and Indianapolis Fire Department reported to the scene and extinguished the fire within 30 minutes. There were no injuries, and there was no immediate estimated cost of damage.
The fire damaged most of the second floor, including the roof and attic. “The first floor has severe water damage and will probably need to be completely gutted,” said Kevin Upshaw, Master of Beech Grove Masonic Lodge. “We have a contractor coming out Wednesday (July 16) to get started on assessing the damage.”
A few valuable pieces of history got caught in the flames, including remnants of a visit by U.S. President Harry Truman. On Oct. 15, 1948, President Truman visited Beech Grove Lodge while on a campaign stop, when he snuck away from the press to attend the Master Mason Degree ceremony of a young sailor from Indiana. Eventually, many of the items he touched and used during the ceremony would become part of the lodge’s history and lore. The lodge still uses the chair where Harry Truman sat. “The chair has been damaged but we can’t get to it yet because it’s in the unsafe part of the building,” Upshaw said. “The contractors are going to bring it to the safe side of the building when they come Wednesday so we can assess the damage.”
Everything from the “master’s chair” where Truman sat, to items he used, instantly became invaluable to the lodge. Now, many of those items are burned or covered in smoke and ash from the fire. Lodge members haven’t had the chance to evaluate all of the damage due to safety concerns.
Until lodge members are able to get inside and discover the building’s condition, they won’t know what will happen next. Upshaw says they’re still waiting on damage totals, but estimates are well within the tens of thousands of dollars. He says they plan to rebuild, but first must take stock of everything. Until then, they’re relying on the help of other lodges to get them through.
“We received numerous offers from other lodges to let us hold our meetings,” Upshaw said. “Together we decided on the Englewood Lodge 715. We will still be available to the community, just at a different location.” The lodge will still be hosting their annual root beer floats during the Beech Grove Fall Festival in September and are looking into fundraising events.
Beech Grove Mayor Dennis Buckley praised the Beech Grove and Indianapolis fire departments and Beech Grove Police Department first responders for their immediate response in suppressing the fire.