On Winters Lane is a small structure with white siding and a sign that reads "Masonic Temple" in large blue letters. The mysterious looking structure is the meeting place of the Freemasons, a secretive, ritual-based fraternal brotherhood that dates back to the 16th century.
"Those Masonic organizations go back a mighty long way," said Baltimore County historian and author Louis Diggs. "We just happen to house one in the Winters Lane community."
The building has been added to the Baltimore County Preliminary Landmarks List with the help of Diggs, and is awaiting approval from the Baltimore County Council to be added to the Final Landmarks List. The bill will be discussed at the council's Oct. 14 work session at 2 p.m. in Towson, and the final vote will be held Oct. 20 at 6 p.m.
First District Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents the area, said he supports the measure.
"I think it's good to get it landmarked and preserve it," Quirk said. "We have a lot of Freemasons in Baltimore County. They're a decent group of men and they do a lot of charitable work for the community."
Diggs, a member of the county Landmarks Preservation Commission since 2003, said he was approached by William Foreman, the oldest member of the lodge, for help to fix the aging structure.
Diggs suggested that the group establish the building as a nonprofit 501-c3 organization and have it added to the county landmarks list, so that the group is eligible for tax credits and grants that will help preserve their meeting space.
Foreman declined to comment for this story.
"The building, to us, is a highly significant structure in African American history," said Diggs, 83, who lived in the Winters Lane community for 50 years and now resides in Owings Mills.
The structure is located within the Winters Lane National Register Historic District, an area that runs north to south along Winters Lane with 155 historic properties that are mainly residential.
It was built in 1896 for Morning Star Baptist Church, which sold it to the Most Worshipful (M.V.) Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Maryland & Jurisdictions, Inc. in 1931, the parent organization of the Landmark Lodge No. 40 of Free and Accepted Masons, according to county records.
It was officially established as a lodge of the Freemasons in 1904 and granted an official charter in 1905.
The Prince Hall Grand Lodge is "considered to be the oldest continuous African American institution in the U.S.," according to a Baltimore County Historic Properties Nominated Form by Teri Rising, a county historic preservation planner.
It is the only active chapter of the organization that meets in Baltimore County and, "serves as a physical reminder and historical link to African American fraternal organizations in the U.S. and represents an important cultural aspect of African American life, both past and present," Rising wrote.
The Prince Hall Grand Lodge is named after Prince Hall, a free African American leather craftsman, who founded the first lodge in Massachusetts, county records said.
He and 14 other men were inducted into Army Lodge 441 in 1775 by a group of Irish Freemasons, attached to the British Regiment. Shortly after, the 15 men established the Provisional African Lodge No. 1, which white Freemasons didn't consider "legitimate", county records said.
County records said the group was granted a charter from the Grand Lodge of England in 1784.
"While many lodges have disappeared due to the loss of community and members, Landmark Lodge No. 40 is...the only Prince Hall affiliated Lodge still actively meeting in Baltimore County," Rising wrote.