Wednesday, May 23, 2018

'White diamonds' reveal much about history of Bank of Pine Hill building

Old Bank of Pine Hill Building in Pine Hill, Alabama.

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself in Pine Hill, driving around and photographing the town’s downtown area. It was during this time that I stumbled upon somewhat of a mystery involving the old Bank of Pine Hill building, which houses the K.A. Mayer Masonic Lodge on its second floor.

I parked at town hall, walked down to Broad Street with my camera and after taking dozens of pictures of the outside of the bank building, I began to look for the building’s cornerstone. Cornerstones, especially those for Masonic lodges, are typically placed at the building’s northeast corner and often contain time capsules and engravings that denote when the stone was put in place.

I scouted around the entire building looking for a cornerstone, but, despite my best efforts, I was unable to find one. However, I did notice something out of the ordinary about the front of the building.

The next time you travel down Broad Street in front of this old building, take a close look at the building’s fa├žade and you might see what got my attention. If you look closely, you’ll notice that there are two pairs of windows on the second floor. If you look even closer, you’ll see, between each pair of windows, that there are two white diamond-shaped stones that most people probably don’t even notice.

Close up of Knights of Pythias diamond stone.
I first spotted these white diamonds while taking pictures from the railroad track side of Broad Street, and a minute or two later I crossed the street for a closer look. Upon closer inspection, I saw that one of the diamond-shaped stones bore the familiar square and compass symbol common to most Masonic lodge buildings. However, the other diamond-shaped stone bore emblems that I couldn’t readily identify.

I took several close-up photos of this stone and left. Later at home, I sent the pictures to a number of my history-buff friends, and almost all of them agreed that the stone had been engraved with an old Knights of Pythias crest. Apparently, at some point in the old bank building’s history, it not only housed a Masonic lodge, but also an old Knights of Pythias lodge.

The Knights of Pythias is a fraternal, secret society somewhat similar to Masonic lodges. First formed in 1864, the order is currently headquartered in Massachusetts. Members refer to their lodges as “castles” and some sources say that the order was initially founded to promote friendship between men in the North and the South after the Civil War.

According to Knights of Pythias records, the lodge at Pine Hill was known as Helmet Lodge No. 145. I was unable to determine when it was founded or when it disbanded, but I was able to learn that there were a number of other Knights of Pythias lodges in Wilcox County at one time, more than a century ago. Those that I was able to verify included lodges at Camden, Furman, Lower Peachtree, Oak Hill, Pine Apple and Snow Hill.

As you can tell, the Knights of Pythias were a big deal at one time, but they have fizzled out over time. As far as I can tell, there currently isn’t a Knights of Pythias Grand Lodge in Alabama, which indicates to me that the order no longer has a significant presence anywhere in the state.

In the end, the next time you’re traveling down Broad Street in Pine Hill, look up at the second floor of the old Bank of Pine Hill building, where you’ll see the two white diamonds described above. Also, if anyone in the reading audience has any additional information about this old building or the Knights of Pythias in Wilcox County, please let me hear from you.

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