10

THENORTHERNLIGHT/AUGUST2007

I

sn’titamazinghowMasonicsigns

alongtheroadwaysjumpoutat

you?Onceyouunderstandthesig-

nificanceofthesquareandcompasses,

youstarttoseethemeverywhere—

alongyourtown’sroadsandonlodge

buildingsthemselves.

Thesesignsfulfilltheirfunctionre-

markablywell.Ataglance,theyalert

thepassers-bytotheexistenceofa

lodgeinthetown,providethenameof

thelodge,andsignifythelocationofa

lodge’smeetingplace—allintheblink

ofaneyewhilegoing30milesperhour.

Today’ssignsareneonorelectricor

paintedonmetal,allextremely

weather-resistant,buttheyaremerely

themodernversionofaMasonicsign

tradition.

Lookingbacktothe1700sand1800s,

Masonicsignswerepaintedonwood

andcouldoftenbefoundoutsidethe

localtavern.Virtuallyeverytownhada

taverninthe1700sand1800s.

Theystartedoutsimplyasproviders

ofaccommodationsfortravelersbut

evolvedintoimportantcommunityin-

stitutionsprovidingfoodanddrink,

beds,stablesandmeetingspace.

Asplacesthatservedstrongdrink

andlodgedstrangers,tavernswere

highlyregulatedbeginninginthe1600s.

Partofthoseregulationsfocusedspecif-

icallyonthetavern’ssign.

Startingin1647inMassachusetts,the

lawmandatedthateverytavern“shall

havesomeinoffensivesign,obvious,

forthedirectionofstrangers”posted

withinthreemonthsofitslicensing.

Basedonlawslikethisone,aconser-

vativeestimatesuggeststhatover

50,000tavernsignswereinusebetween

1750and1850.Anumberofantiquetav-

ernsignsnowinmuseumcollections

includesquareandcompassesorother

Masonicsymbolsontheirface.

Oftenthesamesignwasrepainted

overtheyearsasneeded.Asignfrom

1824,nowinthecollectionofOldStur-

bridgeVillage,hasnotonlyavisible

squareandcompassesmotif,butalso

showstracesofpreviouscompasses

andaheart.Onesidealsohasanup-

datedyearatthebottom,“1882.”

Duringthe1700s,fewbuildingswere

devotedexclusivelytolodgemeetings

andactivities.ManyAmericanMasons

Bythe
Way

ByAIMEEE.NEWELL

EncounteringMasonicsigns

alongtheroad

AIMEEE.NEWELL,istheCuratorofCollections,NationalHeritage
MuseumatSupremeCouncilheadquartersinLexington,MA.

NewEngland

tavernsignfrom

1819,madeof

chestnutand

maple.

National
Heritage

Museum

collection.