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Masons celebrate bicentennial

By Staff | Dec 2, 2011

Shepherdstown residents will have the opportunity to get a rare glimpse into the world of freemasonry as the Mount Nebo Masonic Lodge No. 91 in Shepherdstown will hold an open house and display the lodge’s prized possession.

The open house, which will take place on Sunday, Dec. 11, will celebrate the lodge’s bicentennial anniversary. For the past 200 years, the lodge, on the second floor of 121 E. German St., has typically only been open to members, and few have ever had the opportunity to experience it firsthand. The open house will take place from 12 to 3 p.m.

On display at the open house will be a Masonic apron once owned by the first president of the United States, George Washington. Washington himself was a Mason, and the apron on display is only one of two Masonic aprons he owned.

According to current Master of the Shepherdstown lodge, George Alwin, this particular apron was Washington’s favorite. Until this year, the last time the apron was put on public display was in 1899, when it was shown at Mount Vernon in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Washington’s death.

In 2010, the apron was sent to Mount Vernon, where the apron was restored and is now kept preserved, though the apron is owned by the lodge. A mutual agreement between the two organizations requires that Mount Vernon only display the apron once a year, on Presidents Day.

According to Alwin, after the apron’s 1899 appearance at Mount Vernon, many historians actually started to call the artifact the “lost apron,” as its location was mostly unknown. Meanwhile, the apron remained in the Mount Nebo lodge, which had received it as a donation from member Thomas Hammond, who purchased it from the estate of Martha Washington in 1802.

At 1 p.m. during the open house, the apron will go on display. This will be followed by a presentation on the history of the apron by Laura Simo, associate curator of George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, Museum and Gardens in Alexandria, Va.

Alwin hopes that as many people as possible will take part in celebrating the lodge’s bicentennial. He said that even nonmembers should have a vested interest in the event as the lodge represents an important part of Shepherdstown’s history.

“The founding members of this town were the ones who founded and supported this lodge. And the item we own goes well to the history of both the country and our town,” Alwin said.

Alwin also encouraged community members to experience seeing the apron in person because it represents an important point in American history, as the apron was a gift from French Gen. Marquis de Lafayette to Washington.

“Here he was, the president of this fledgling little country, and this general in France is pretty much saying, ‘I’m with you’,” Alwin said.

Alwin went on to explain that the Shepherdstown area is rich in history and other important artifacts, and the displaying of the apron represents a broader need to preserve that history.

“(It’s) one more thread in the rich fabric of our community,” Alwin said.