On Christmas Day 2020, the Prince Hall Masonic Temple at 883 Eddy Street was damaged by fire, the cause of which is under investigation. This unfortunate and devastating event has, however, provided PPS and the community at large the opportunity to learn more about this historic fraternal and charitable organization, its Providence home co-located with the Acacia Club on Eddy Street, and a long forgotten schoolhouse history.
The temple and freemasons are named for Prince Hall, an extraordinary 18th century Bostonian who founded his eponymous branch of Black Freemasonry. Hall organized a lodge in Providence in 1797 following lodges established in Boston and Philadelphia. Most Worshipful Prince Hall has occupied the Eddy Street building since 1966.
The temple has served as a central meeting place for Providence’s Black community, hosting anniversary and birthday parties, jazz performances, and, until recently, home to the Providence branch of the NAACP. The property is also a base for the Prince Hall Masons’ charitable activities, from voter registration to toy drives.
The building itself was constructed in 1893 as a four-room public school building. There is strong evidence to suggest that it was designed by architect George Cady, who is responsible for the very similar—in form and detail—former Almy/Meader Street School in the Armory District. These two structures are rare in that few early wooden school buildings in Providence survive; in 1896, it was determined that all public schools would be built in brick. Like the Almy Street School, the former Eddy Street School is missing its belfry, or bell tower; it is reasonable to assume that both were lost in the hurricane of 1938, which took many church steeples locally.
The Providence Preservation Society, along with the Providence Revolving Fund, supports the Prince Hall Masons in their efforts to rebuild the temple. We are hopeful that attempts will be made to consider the restoration of the existing, fire-damaged and century-plus-old building for this important 223-year-old organization.
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