Freemasonry has existed in this State and still exists as a timeless "Modern" establishment since the year 1733/4, and began with the settlement of the British Colony of Georgia. The first Masonic Lodge instituted in Georgia, now know as Solomon's Lodge No. 1, F. & A. M. at Savannah (the Lodge having received the name "Solomon's Lodge" sometime prior to 1771), was established on February 21, 1734, entered upon the official engraved lists of the Premier Grand Lodge of England as "Lodge No. 139 Savannah in Ye Province of Georgia", and constituted in 1735. Solomon's Lodge No. 1, F. & A. M. at Savannah, Georgia is the "Oldest Continuously Operating English Constituted Lodge of Freemasons in the Western Hemisphere."
On February 21, 1734 a small band of British-Georgia Freemasons gathered in the mystic tie beneath the extensive branches of a magnificent oak-tree, then flourishing on the sea-coast bluff, in the area now known as Sunbury, Liberty County, Georgia. For centuries, Masonic history has recalled that it was here, beneath the "Sunbury Oak", the gentle and kind founder of Georgia, Brother James Edward Oglethorpe (1696-1785), instituted the first Lodge of Freemasons in this State. Fired by their zeal for the institution, these early brethren gathered despite the freezing winds that blew then, and blow now, over the bluffs of Sunbury in winter. From that small gathering of Masons at the first meeting many years ago, come the thousands of Freemasons laboring in Georgia today.
On the 200th Anniversary of the founding of Solomon's Lodge held on February 21, 1934, Bro. Lafayette McLaws, P. M., of Solomon's Lodge spoke of the progress her sons have made in human history when he stated "We celebrate the birth of Georgia's oldest institution, the 200th Anniversary of Solomon's Lodge. Age itself does not call for veneration, antiquity alone does not merit adoration, the passage of time is not the test of fame; a million years does not give glory to a worthless cause, nor sanctify an unholy name. It is the use of time, the purpose of the origin, the beauty woven in the design, the service written in the plan that builds monuments and creates hallowed shrines. I revere Solomon's not for its age, but for its progress, for the service that it has rendered mankind, for its uplifting influence in the political upheavals; for two centuries of activity in the interest of free thought, free speech and free conscience; for the continuity of its opposition to mental tyranny; its championship of human liberty. I commemorate the founding of Solomon's Lodge because it gave to the new Colony of Georgia, the institution of Masonry."
The Cotton Exchange, established first in 1872, did not erect a permanent home until 1886. The Old Savannah Cotton Exchange was designed by the Boston architect William Gibbons Preston (1844-1910) and completed in 1886. The building is designed in Romanesque revival and architectural style. During the 19th century leading architects such as the Bostonian Richardson and Frank Furness of Philadelphia were encouraging the Romanesque revival of the era and may have had some influence on Preston. The Savannah Cotton Exchange is one of only a few great structures in America that is erected over a public street. The great doors of the exchange lead onto "Factors Walk". This notable hanging walk is where many leaders in Savannah's commerce once worked. Preston's terracotta architectural design was selected winner from a competition against eleven architects.
Throughout the 1880s, Savannah was ranked among the top merchant trading ports on the Atlantic coast. Savannah as a port city for many years was referred to as the Venice of the South and in its most prosperous epoch oversaw the transport and trade of over two million bales of cotton each year. The structure was completed in 1887 and as of 2009 there are no surviving original Factors. The structure housed the Savannah Chamber of Commerce for a brief time. The former Cotton Exchange became the home to Solomon's Lodge No. 1, F. & A. M. in 1976.
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