Dave Trobaugh has deep roots to the Howard Masonic Temple – the seven-story building at 316 N. Washington St. adorned with towering columns and an imposing entryway that make it one of the most regal-looking structures in the city.
Trobaugh’s great-grandfather was on the building committee that helped plan the construction of the lodge in 1921. Trobaugh later ended up as a lodge master and now serves as its secretary.
“I’ve got a long, personal history with this building,” he said. “You don’t find many buildings like this anymore, but people drive past here and have no idea what goes on in here.”
Now, that could change.
In December, the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places after a three-year application process. At the same time, the lodge became only the 14th site in Howard County to be listed on the registry.
The group received a $1,000 matching grant in 2015 from Indiana Landmarks, a nonprofit historic preservation organization, and hired research consultant Kurt West Garner to complete the application.
Tom Coath, a past master at the temple, said the lodge decided to apply for the designation for two reasons. First, they wanted the temple’s unique history to be recognized. Second, the organization wanted access to the grant opportunities that come with landing a spot on the National Register.
“A big part of it was having the availability of these funds to help keep the building up and bring back some of the original architecture,” he said. “The core of the building is really good, but a lot of the walls need to be worked on.”
Although much of the temple remains in good shape, there are parts of the building that clearly need repaired. The plaster work on the fourth floor, which is home to a large, majestic meeting room, is peeling away. Trobaugh said a small earthquake in 2010 also caused plaster to crack and crumble in some of the first-floor rooms.
The top story of the temple has also fallen into disrepair and is no longer in use. Trobaugh said that floor was once the go-to spot for dances and parties for schools and other groups before the state fire marshal in the 1940s barred public access to the floor.
Still, even with the shabby parts of the building, the temple remains an impressive structure both inside and out.
From the street, the lodge strikes an imposing view. The front feels like a temple, with huge blocks of stone at the base and soaring columns leading up to an ornate and impressive molding.
Inside, the two huge meeting chambers each take up an entire floor and house balcony seating and massive pipe organs. Decorative lights hang from the ceilings. The building still utilizes the original, hand-crank elevator to get to each floor.
But for past lodge master Coath, the real interest of the building is its history.
“Any history buff that comes in contact with this building absolutely loves it,” he said.
The history of The Free and Accepted Order of Freemasons in Howard County dates back to 1846, when a masonic lodge was established in New London. After that lodge burned down six years later, the headquarters moved to Russiaville.
A lodge also formed in the small village of Jerome sometime in the 1850s, and was considered flourishing during its existence.
The first Masonic meeting in Kokomo happened on Nov. 2, 1849, and was attended by eight men from other lodges in the area, according to the National Registry application.
“These first members elected to hold their meetings on the first Tuesday on or after the first full moon of each month, to enable a lighted way home after the meetings,” the application says.
In June 1879, the Kokomo and Howard lodges consolidated under Howard Lodge No. 93, and it still holds that name.
To aid the lodge in the purchase of property for temple construction, the group entered into an agreement with a doctor in 1917 for the purchase of two lots at the southeast corner of Washington and Taylor Streets.
Plans were prepared and the project was bid following the end of World War I. English Brothers, a construction contractor from Champaign, Illinois, received the contract for building the temple at a cost of $196,000, plus fees and other items, totaling $206,000.
The cornerstone was laid on Jan. 23, 1922. The building was completed and the lodge moved into the new facility at the end of February 1923. At the centennial of the charter, the lodge had reached a membership of more than 1,400.
Trobaugh said when he was master of the local lodge in the 1960s, membership stood at around 1,700. Today, there are only around 250 members.
That means less dues and less money coming into the organization, making it difficult to pay for repairs and upkeep of the building.
Now, members of the lodge hope the designation as an historical landmark will allow that history to be preserved long into the future. That’s because the building now has access to special tax incentives and grants that are only available to locations on the National Register.
And, Coath said, as the lodge moves forward with repairing the structure, he hopes it creates an opportunity for others to learn about its unique and storied past.
“It’s a point of pride,” he said. “One of my favorite things about Masonry is the history that’s involved with it, so to have that recognized here and for people to see it means a lot. It’d be nice to have even more people locally know what this building is about, and know its history.”