Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

February 15, 2014

NIAGARA DISCOVERIES: Masonic Building site has lengthy history

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Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — The southeast corner of Main and Cottage streets, where the red brick Masonic Building stands today, started out very early as a prime site of real estate when Lockport was in its infancy. It was just a stone’s throw away from the natural gorge where the Flight of Five Locks were being constructed in the early 1820s. 

The first structure to be built on the site was the Cottage Inn by Joseph Landon (giving Cottage Street its name). It became the hub of activity in the small village as surveyors and engineerers gathered there to discuss the immense project then taking place just a few yards away. After the opening of the canal in 1825, the Inn served as a place for travelers to stay while in Lockport. For a short time in the late 1820s the Inn was operated by Seymour Scovell, who later moved to Lewiston and left his mark on that village as well.

By 1836, a brick building had been built on the site by a man named Rawson and one of the storefronts was leased to G.W. Merchant of Merchant’s Gargling Oil fame. For the next ten years, Mr. Merchant perfected his formula that was “Good for Man and Beast,” until he needed a larger space to continue his work. 

The building was next occupied by another druggist, J.H. Curtiss. His business did well until a fire in 1850 destroyed the building and its contents. Lockport historian Joshua Wilber listed the offices that were ruined by the fire, including “the Village Clerk, Wm. Park … Myron H. Davis, Justice of the Peace … [and] the Niagara-Democrat [newspaper].” Wilbur was personally affected by the fire as he had a room on the fourth floor of the building. The Ringueberg Brothers store and the “establishment of J.G. Lewis” were also damaged in the fire. 

The burned-out lots were purchased by Messrs. Ringueberg and Lewis and within two years a “splendid brick block with cast iron front” was built “which for beauty and strength, is not surpassed by any structure in the village.” For a few years in the 1850s and 1860s the building housed a grocery and later a clothing store before reverting to a drug store after the Civil War. In 1875 several Masonic lodges moved into the building and henceforth it was referred to as the “Masonic Building.”

Over the next quarter century, various men operated drug stores out of the first-floor corner of the building, while offices served on the second floor, with the Masons on the third. In 1900, Clay Parson acquired the drug store business from Delos Sheldon and for the next 61 years, despite different owners, it was known as Parson’s Drug Store. In 1912 the “Rexall Drugs” name was added to the side of the building. After 1961 the store changed hands numerous times and became various businesses. It currently houses an antique shop. 

Another shop that was housed in the Masonic Building was the harness shop of J. A. Koon. That business lasted for more than 40 years, from 1886 to 1928, supplying the then horse-drawn Lockport Fire Department with many of their equestrian accoutrements. The J. A. Koon sign that hung above the door now hangs in the meeting room of the Niagara County Historical Society.

Ann Marie Linnabery is the assistant director of the History Center of Niagara.