Hattiesburg Masons say stone should remain with local lodge

Published 5:59 pm Friday, July 7, 2006

A stone purportedly from the quarry where materials were gathered for Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem should stay in a former Masonic Lodge now used as Forrest County government offices, say two members of the group that sold the lodge.

The rock is embedded in a wall of the lobby of Hattiesburg’s Masonic Lodge. Former Hattiesburg Mayor W.S.F. “Pa” Tatum brought it back from Israel in 1904.

The stone came under Forrest County’s stewardship when supervisors bought the building in 2004 to use as a courthouse.

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Larry Byrd, who said he was authorized to speak on behalf of Homer Sullivan, secretary of Hattiesburg Lodge No. 397 which once owned the building, said the Hattiesburg lodge “never relinquished ownership (of the building and its contents) to anyone but Forrest County.”

Officials with Masonic Lodge No. 417 of Lumberton have said they are the custodians of a stone.

“Lumberton just has absolutely no claim on the stone,” Byrd said.

He said the Hattiesburg Masons feel the stone is best left where it is so the public can view it.

The Lumberton group’s leader Christopher Holzinger has told county supervisors the stone had been overlooked as the Masons vacated the building in 2004. Byrd said it had purposely been left behind for the public.

The Lumberton Masons told supervisors they wanted the stone, which is embedded in a wall of the Masonic Lodge’s first-floor stairwell.

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History, which gave the county a $250,000 grant to offset purchase and renovation costs, said the stone should stay where it is due to its historic importance.

MDAH also questioned the Lumberton group’s claim to the relic.

Board of Supervisors President Billy Hudson said the county would have to repay the MDAH grant if it acted against the state agency’s written opinion.

Hudson has encouraged the Lumberton Masons to take the issue up with MDAH. He said the statement from Sullivan and Byrd all but solved the problem.

“This is the best thing that could happen to us. The reason these guys left the stone on Main Street was so everyone could see it,” Hudson said.

MDAH “wasn’t going to let us move it, and we can’t pay back the $250,000 and we don’t want to go to jail,” he said.