South Carolina Town Shores Up African American Lodge

Workers will begin stabilizing this African American fraternal lodge in Beaufort, S.C., in August, replacing its roof and restoring its exterior door.

Credit: Historic Beaufort Foundation

With a dollar here and a fish-fry fundraiser there, a group of South Carolinians has finally raised enough money to stabilize an African American fraternal house built in Beaufort, S.C., c. 1890.

Neighbors of the Sons of Beaufort Lodge have eyed the leaning, two-story wood structure for years. In 2002, they formed a group, the Old Commons Neighborhood Association. From yard sales, home and garden tours, gospel sings, car washes, and cookouts, they raised $21,000 to match a stabilization grant from the state's department of archives and history to the Historic Beaufort Foundation.

Work will begin next week to stabilize the boarded-up building, now held up by support beams.

"The next big [hurricane] would probably take it down," says Maxine Lutz, vice president of the neighborhood association. "Some of us thought we'd be in wheelchairs before we'd see this day."

The only still-active African American Masonic lodge building in Beaufort's National Historic Landmark District, the house was built by Richard Howell Gleaves, South Carolina's first black lieutenant governor, who established black fraternal lodges in almost a dozen states. Historic Beaufort Foundation placed the house on its endangered list in 1999.

Despite the condition of the lodge, the Masonic group that has owned the house since 1937 continued to meet there until last January.

After the $40,000 stabilization is completed sometime this fall, it may take another $60,000 to renovate the lodge, Lutz estimates.

The Historic Beaufort Foundation is helping fund an architectural study of both the lodge and another long-neglected house in the district, the Fripp House, another African American local landmark.

"These projects will offer models for a proper course of restoration for other property owners of modest means," said Evan Thompson, the foundation's executive director, in a statement. "It is important to help provide a focus on a neighborhood that has generally been ignored by traditional preservation elites."

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