In the galleries and exhibits of the Johnson County Museum of History, the story of the county unfolds through troves of artifacts.

Native American tools and pioneer home goods can be found adjacent to Civil War weaponry and Victorian-era furniture. Visitors are transported through more than 200 years of history.

But few people consider that one of the museum’s most impressive features is the structure housing these treasures.

“You can’t just look at the face of a building and know its history going all the way back. You have to be like a detective and dig, look back through its history,” said David Pfeiffer, museum director.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of its current home, the Johnson County Museum of History unveils its newest exhibit examining the history of the Masonic Temple in Franklin. “Building a Foundation: 100 Years of Masonic Temple History” looks at the background of the Franklin Masons Lodge 107, what led them to build the grandiose stone temple and how it transitioned to the county’s museum.

The Masonic building is one of the most recognizable in the county, and museum officials hope that the exhibit helps shed light on what it has meant to downtown Franklin, Pfeiffer said.

“We are incredibly lucky to have this building for the museum. I know that not all county museums have a nice building like this,” he said. “It’s been great for us, so we want to celebrate that building, as well as some of the Masonic history as well.”

Even at 100 years old, the building remains an impressive architectural wonder. The neoclassical structure is dominated by four Ionic columns. Bronze letters on the front of the building spell out “MASONIC TEMPLE.”

Inside, sleek wooden staircases lead staff members upstairs to offices, as well as into one of the structure’s most wondrous features — the Chapter Lodge Room, where the Freemasons conducted their meetings and rituals. In recent years, the room has been utilized for concerts, theater performances and the annual Dec-A-Tree competition.

The history of Franklin Masons Lodge 107 stretches back to 1850, when eight men brought Freemasonry to the county. Their first Masonic temple opened in 1869 on the third floor of a building on the northwest corner of Jefferson and Water streets. As the group grew, they eventually moved into another downtown Franklin building in 1903.

When the Indiana Masonic Home was built in Franklin in 1916, another rush of membership forced Lodge 107 to look for a larger headquarters once again. They purchased a lot at 135 N. Main St., and construction started in 1922 when a group of about 40 Mason volunteers started removing fill dirt by wagon.

“Lodge 107 had their own history for well over 50 years before they built this building. They realized they needed their own space that works for a lot of people,” Pfeiffer said.

More than two years later, on April 14, 1924, the temple was dedicated.

“The hallways were jammed with a good-natured throng, all bent upon seeing the many attractive features of the new Temple. Many compliments were heard on the taste shown by the committee that selected the furniture for the building. The furniture is massive, yet any other kind would have looked out of place in the large building: it is elegant, yet not showy,” read a description of the dedication in the Franklin Evening Star.

Franklin Masons Lodge 107 used the temple until the late 1980s, when it was sold to a developer. The Johnson County Historical Society and county government raised $120,000 to purchase it in 1988, and earmarked it as the permanent home of the county museum.

Digging through the past has been part of the joy of putting this exhibit together, Pfeiffer said.

“There’s that sense of history that we have right here downtown,” he said. “I wish someone would have gotten a great picture of Main Street at this time, because they were building the Artcraft (Theatre) and the Masonic Temple right here in 1922 at the same time. I love that image of those two great institutions here.”

“Building a Foundation” continues the series of exhibits looking at significant anniversaries at the museum, including the centennial of the Historic Artcraft Theatre and the bicentennials of both Franklin and Johnson County last year.

“As I always joke, we love our anniversaries,” Pfeiffer said.

Placards, display cases, photographs and artifacts tell the story of Freemasonry in Franklin, how the building came to be and some of its more unique features. A portion of the exhibit also details moving the historical society’s collection from the museum’s previous home into the Masonic temple.

“That process of making this building a museum — moving over all of the artifacts from the previous building on Madison Street all the way over here, figuring out what our first exhibit would be,” Pfeiffer said.

An opening celebration for “Building a Foundation” will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday. The opening is free and open to the public and refreshments and appetizers will be served.


“Building a Foundation: 100 Years of Masonic Temple History”

What: A new exhibit detailing the centennial anniversary of the Masonic Temple, formerly the home of Franklin Mason Lodge 107 and currently the home of the Johnson County Museum of History.

Where: 135 N. Main St., Franklin

Opening: 6-8 p.m. Thursday. The opening is free and open to the public and refreshments and appetizers will be served.

Exhibit viewing: “Building a Foundation” will be on display in the museum’s special exhibit gallery during regular hours, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday. Admission is free.