Development of Freemasonry in Albany
On June 28, 1756, Alexander Lightfoot, an innkeeper of Albany, NY was laid to rest. According to The New York Mercury, “his corpse was attended by all gentlemen of the army, who were members of the Honorable Society of Free Masons.” This is the earliest known reference to the existence of Freemasonry in some form in Albany. It was not until 1758-59 that Freemasonry would begin to formalize in Albany, due largely in part to the advent of the French and Indian War.
The development of Albany’s first Masonic Lodge was facilitated by a British military Lodge stationed in Albany during the French and Indian War. This military Lodge initiated a few men of Albany into their Fraternity and, before departing, left with them an exact copy of the warrant that empowered them to meet as a Masonic Lodge. These pioneering Freemasons of Albany were instructed that this document would allow them to meet as a Lodge until such time as they could procure for themselves a warrant from the Provincial Grand Master of New York. This warrant was granted by George Harrison, Provincial Grand Master in the winter of 1765.
One of the earliest members of this new Lodge at Albany was Richard Cartwright, the owner of The King’s Arms Tavern located near what is now Green and Beaver Streets. The Lodge, which would become known as Union Lodge No. 1 (Founded: February 21st, 1765; Now: Mount Vernon Lodge No. 3), would meet regularly at his tavern, even after Cartwright himself was driven out of Albany due to his loyalist sympathies. Other early members of this Lodge included: Peter W. Yates, Leonard Gansvoort, Dr. Samuel Stringer, Matthew Vischer and Christopher Yates. As its ranks swelled, two additional Masonic bodies were formed even before the start of the Revolution. This growth strengthened the desire for a more permanent home for the burgeoning Masonic bodies of Albany.
By June of 1768, the first Lodge building in Albany used exclusively by Masonic bodies was completed and occupied by Masters Lodge No. 2 (Now: Masters Lodge No. 5) and the Ineffable Lodge of Perfection. Eventually, this building would be torn down and replaced by a larger three-story structure. In time, this structure would itself be replaced by the current Renaissance-revival building that rests at the corner of Lodge Street (so named because of the presence of this Masonic Lodge) and Corning Place (Formerly: Maiden Lane). Designed by Fuller and Wheeler and built between 1895-96, this building was constructed to accommodate over a dozen Masonic organizations in Albany that were then meeting in various places throughout the city. The cornerstone for the building was laid by James Ten Eyck on June 24, 1895 and the building was completed, dedicated, and opened on October 26, 1896. It is estimated to have cost just over $100,000 to build.
Today, Albany is home to five Masonic Lodges, the American York-Rite of Freemasonry, the Ancient & Accepted Scottish-Rite of Freemasonry, the Order of the Eastern Star, the Order of the Amaranth and several invitation-only Masonic bodies. These Masonic bodies contribute millions of dollars through direct monetary contributions and the time of its members to a whole host of charitable works, which include: the Shriners Hospitals for Children, the Scottish-Rite Centers for Dyslexia, and the Knights Templar Eye Foundation to name a few. These efforts are in keeping with the mission of the Fraternity, which is to improve its membership, their families and the broader world.
Written by Wor. Bro. Michael A. Hernandez
Secretary, Mount Vernon Lodge No. 3, F. & A.M.
Committee Member, Masonic Youth Committee, Grand Lodge F. & A.M. State of New York
Trustee (2020 – 2023), Ancient Temple Chapter No. 5, R.A.M.
Trustee (Ancient Temple Chapter No. 5, R.A.M.), Masonic Hall Association of Albany
Board Member, Capital District Masonic Charities