Masonic Temple: an incalculable loss


By Staff Report

After nearly a week of continual demolition, all that remains of the historic Masonic Temple is a pile of rubble, soon to be hauled away leaving nothing but a plot of land where the 7-story building once stood.

Pictures and memories are all that remain. It is uncertain what will become of the .275 acre lot, but many residents are hopeful a park in the structure’s memory will be constructed.

Weeks after the destructive blaze, many former tenants and community members alike are picking up the pieces, some quite literally, as they decide what is next for the local artist colony and the future of a slowly evaporating downtown.

For over a century the Masonic Temple stood proud along North 4th Street in downtown Zanesville as the town’s second tallest building behind only that of the Muskingum County Courthouse.

On the late evening of Thursday, January 6, a fire broke out. Quickly it turned into an inferno that engulfed the entire structure. One man had to be rescued by firefighters.

The building built in 1903 was not equipped was a fire impression system, which is now required for all commercial buildings, and the art supplies along with the mostly wood-composite interior left no opportunities for the building to be saved.

Muskingum County’s Jail, adjacent south to the Masonic Temple, had to be evacuated almost immediately. Inmates were temporarily housed in the Courthouse and Law Administration Building until they could be relocated elsewhere.

Commanders with the Zanesville Fire Department, concerned with the possibility of the structure collapsing cordoned off most of the block, worried not just with the immediate fall zone, but how material falling off the structure could bounce and land much further.

A firefighter from Washington Township assesses the blaze as they begin their attack on the north face of the building the night of the fire.

Along with that and many other interconnected concerns, utilities for the block, which encompassed the aforementioned buildings as well as the Old Market House Inn, the Kincaid, Taylor & Geyer Law Offices and Image Computer Solutions, had to be disconnected.

That forced the County Commissioners to enact their Continuity of Operations (COOP) protocols, which after some difficulties became fully operational over the following days. Agencies and offices were spread around the county, with some, like the Prosecutor’s Office, relocating to the second floor of Park National Bank downtown.

Against what many officials had hoped, the Masonic Temple did not come down that same weekend. The fire would rekindle for many weeks and numerous companies turned down the demolition job due to potential collateral damage, such as the extreme closeness of the county jail.

Ultimately over that multi-week timespan, utilities, such as power and gas, were rerouted and partially restored. Some buildings could not be fully reconnected until the Masonic Temple was entirely demolished.

Eventually, an Ohio-based company, Maple Leaf Demolition, accepted the task. The same day that Ohio State Senator Tim Schaffer met with commissioners to discuss any potential help from the state, crews were getting equipment into place.

After numerous delays that evening, which was to be expected and partially rested on Columbia Gas of Ohio to finalized disconnection of gas mains, an operator struct the front of the building with a stick-like device.

A crew from Y-City News braved the extreme cold that evening to live stream the event to those around the world so they could watch one of Zanesville’s most historical structures be demolished safely away from both the fall zone, where particles of dust had filled the air, and out of the cold.

The sturdy building didn’t go easy on the demolition crew, she held strong for many continuous hits until eventually succumbing to her fate.

The first successful blow to the building, knocking out one of the pillars.

Slowly but surely the crew of professionals collapsed the building inward, preventing it from causing any destructive blows to the County Jail or neighboring buildings.

Throughout the following days, crews worked nonstop to raze the building which once stood as an icon of not just Zanesville pride through the many decades but as a building that had begun to revitalize the downtown through its nearly fully occupied offices of artists and businesses.

For the community at large, the loss of the structure was just as devastating, hundreds, if not thousands, took to social media and posted about their memories of the building. A commonality appeared to rise and resonate, Zanesville had lost not just part of its history, but part of its soul.

Like when old school buildings are razed, many expressed a desire to have a brick from the structure, a way to physically hold onto something that was and is so dear to their heart.

Zanesville Public Safety Director Doug Merry had to issue a statement following dozens of situations where individuals were sneaking onto the active demolition site and attempting to take items, such as bricks.

“It is dangerous to be around the (fallen) building,” wrote Merry. “The brick may be contaminated with asbestos and the EPA has told the crew that it is to be treated as such.”

Merry added that they don’t want to have to arrest anyone for trespassing and hope the public will respect the safety zone established by first responders.

Demolition late Friday night as crews reposition their equipment.

Even before the building collapsed, many had hoped that bricks would be given away or sold as a fundraiser. A time capsule was allegedly present in the structure as well, its fate and or condition is unknown. Many of the Masonic artifacts, such as Rufus Putnam’s sword and jewels made by Paul Revere as well as a Bible gifted to the lodge in 1862 during the Civil War are likely gone forever.

Concernedly, many onlookers have reported seeing bricks being placed into large containers, likely for removal from the site. It’s presently unclear if bricks will be available should the EPA give the all-clear.

Numerous fundraisers have been set up for those affected by the fire. A ‘Day of the Arts’ event will be hosted Saturday, January 29, to help raise funds.