FORT KENT, Maine — For more than a century the Masonic Lodge has stood at the foot of the International Bridge in Fort Kent, its third-floor meeting room off limits to all but members of the fraternal organization.
But for a few hours Saturday the curious had a chance to see just what is housed up those three flights of stairs, when the members of the Lodge 209 of the Ancient Free & Accepted Masons opened their doors to the public for the first time in 107 years.
“We wanted to let people see a nice, old building,” Brian Jandreau, past lodge master and current chaplain, said Saturday morning. “May 9 is the last day for this building.”
The three-story structure, which also houses several apartments, is slated for demolition by the Maine Department of Transportation to make way for the planned new international bridge connecting Maine to New Brunswick.
MDOT purchased the property in October through eminent domain procedures, Jandreau said.
“They have allowed us to stay here rent-free,” he said. “In May we will move to the old McClellan’s Dress Shop building across from the [Fort Kent] town office.”
Objects and artifacts associated with the private rites and practices of Freemasonry lined the walls of the order’s meeting room where a small, square altar occupied its center.
According to Jandreau, the building was constructed in 1892 by lumber baron William Cunliff of Woodstock, New Brunswick.
“He built it to expand in the business world,” Jandreau said. “The lower level was a store and harness-making shop, while the third level was a roller-skating rink open for public skating every Friday.”
The second floor was rented out to doctors, he added.
The Freemasons held their first meeting when they rented that third floor skating space in 1904, and that’s where the lodge members have met every month for the last 107 years.
“Except for one meeting in 2009,” Jandreau said. “They held an outdoor meeting up in Allagash.”
The lodge purchased the building in 1949 from then-owner Thomas Cyr Pinkham Sr., and in 1977 his son Thomas Pinkham Jr. cleared the debt of the remaining $12,000 still owed on the structure.
Freemasons, Jandreau said, are members of a fraternal organization with one simple goal — to take good men and make them better.
The organization dates back hundreds of years to the guilds of masons whose job it was to build the massive cathedrals of Europe using their skills with tools and understanding of mathematical formulas.
Prominent in the Fort Kent Lodge’s meeting room are two pillars which Jandreau said represent the pillars located at the entrance to King Solomon’s Temple.
“That temple was built by masons,” Jandreau said. “The originals are on the south side of that temple so ours are next to the south facing wall of the lodge.”
A rough, irregular chunk of granite on a raised platform represents a man first entering the Masonic order. Several feet away sits a smooth, glossy block of granite.
“The chunk represents a young man who is maybe a bit rough around the edges,” Jandreau said. “The hope is at the end of his life that he is close to perfection, but all Freemasons know there is only one place close to perfection and that is when we meet our maker.”
Other objects around the room represent tools of the trade of the old masons, and Jandreau held up a wooden baton.
“This is used when an officer leaves the podium to speak,” he said. “He will carry it with him to represent that you never leave your tools just lying around.”
Jandreau admits he will miss the old building once it is gone, but said it also represents a rebirth of sorts.
“Moving into the new building represents how our founders felt and their excitement when they had this building to move into 107 years ago,” he said. “They were part of history and now we will be part of history 107 years later.”
Mason John Connors, 77, is not so sure he wants to be part of history.
“I don’t want to see this building torn down,” he said as he watched a steady stream of non-Masons wander through. “I’ve been a Mason 51 years and there are a lot of memories in this building.”
In fact, Connors donated the wood used to make the kneelers around the altar in memory of his own father.
Eugene Michaud was one of the curious who came up from St. Agatha to take a look inside the lodge and snap some photographs.
“I wanted to take some pictures before they tore it down,” Michaud said. “It’s good they will be keeping their traditions alive.”
The symbol of the Freemasons — the letter G inside two tools used to measure geometric equations — represents the spiritual and practical side of the order, Jandreau said.
“G is for God,” he said. “To be a Freemason a man must believe in a supreme being.”
That means the order welcomes members of all faiths so long as there is that belief.
The G also stands for geometry, Jandreau said, adding, “All the great cathedrals ever built were all designed using geometry.”
As for rumors of Freemasons being the protectors of a vast treasure as depicted in the Hollywood movie “National Treasure,” Jandreau just laughed.
“If we did have a treasure hidden underneath somewhere I am sure we’d have cashed in a bit of it to save this building.”