AURORA — As a child, David Timm wasn't aware his father was a member of the Freemasons. Timm, who is now the secretary of the Aurora Masonic lodge, said the organization has shed its secrecy and wants to invite the public inside its historic Aurora meeting place.
The Aurora Masonic Temple and Scipio Lodge No. 110 at 325 Main St. in the village of Aurora has been active since 1819, excluding about 20 years of inactivity in the mid-1800s. It currently has about 44 members, Timm said. On Sunday, masons from across the state traveled to the Aurora lodge to celebrate its 200th year.
People encountered signs of the lodge's history, continuing legacy and its more recent repairs. Thanks to the Aurora Masonic Center, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the lodge as a historic landmark, the building has already undergone significant renovations that included roof replacement, electrical work and the installation of insulation.
"It's really important for us as a chartered historical society to get the public into our building and let them see what's available here and our resources and our artifacts," he said.
Where visitors from other masonic chapters observed artifacts on the ground floor of the lodge on Sunday, four temporary vertical beams were in place to level out the ceiling. Upstairs, the lodge's meeting room was decorated with a reproduction of its original mural, which was being restored elsewhere, Timm said.
"This lodge is kind of unique among the lodges in our Tompkins-Cayuga district because our focus has really been on trying to restore our building," he said. Some masonic lodges do philanthropy work for other causes. The masonic center hopes to incorporate climate control systems to better preserve old documents and to repair original plaster work in areas that are deteriorating.
The Aurora masons held a Mass on Sunday morning and then invited visitors to the building in the afternoon to go on tours of the lodge and peruse documents showcasing the building's history. A large van came by the lodge regularly to take people to the traveling Smithsonian Water/Ways exhibit at Wells College nearby.
Betty Dombrowski, of Liverpool, attended the day's events with her husband Jack, who is the Onondaga County masonic leader. Betty is part of the Order of the Eastern Star, an affiliated organization for women. In the United States, the Freemasons don't allow women in their ranks.
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"I've met a lot of friends, and you're friends for life," she said of the people she's met while traveling.
Jack said the Freemasons allow all its members to feel equal, despite background or employment. "Here, we're just brothers," he said.
The Freemasons have a long history in Upstate New York, dating back to the period shortly after the Revolutionary War, Timm said.
"A lot of it traces back to George Washington," Timm said.
After the war, Washington couldn't afford to pay some of the military officers — who were masons, like Washington — and instead gave them land grants in New York state, he said.
The Aurora lodge, which was granted a charter in 1797, still has multiple portraits of Washington on its walls. Timm said a lot of the perceived secrecy of the masons can also be explained by history; master masons had to prove their status with secret passwords and handshakes. But the idea of the Freemasons is actually grounded in the practical craft of masonry, he said.
"We try to build better men by improving the way we interact with one another and treat one another and the way we try to educate ourselves to be better people," Timm said. "Instead of building buildings with mortar and stone, we try to build better men."