Schofield House

After my tour of the Sullivan House, which was a bit disjointed of a tour, I meandered across the street to the Schofield House. I thought I was ready for anything.

Not really. This was another slightly quirky tour.

I was the only one at the house and I had to guide the docent to explain and walk me through the building. I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking at.

I knew that the Schofield House was a tavern/residence. And that it was connected to the Freemasons. But other than that I was out to sea.

The docent waxed on about different things involving the Freemasons and his connection to them. (He grew up in the house across the street. His father was a Freemason. It was a secretive society—you never knew who was a Freemason. Freemasons are making a comeback. What? You don’t know about the Freemason hospital and retirement community in Franklin?!)

I gently eased him back to the tavern/house. When was the building constructed? 1816. Was it always a tavern/residence? Until the 1920s. And then? A private residence last owned by Schofields.

I presume that the front room was the tavern. Next to it are the rooms of the residence. The front room of the residence was originally a bedroom, now a parlor. “Guess what my favorite thing is in the room?”, he asked. Hmmm…After several guesses, I gave up. “The floor. It’s original.”

Interesting that it wasn’t the swords on the couch in front of the fireplace. I asked about the swords. One was a sword that belonged to Schofield who was a member of the Knights of Pythias, a fraternal organization similar to the Freemasons.

Beyond the parlor is the dining room and then kitchen. Upstairs is the lodge room where the famous meeting to form the Indiana Freemasons happened. (In 1818, 14 Freemasons met to found the Grand Mason Lodge of Indiana.) The room still operates as a Freemason meeting room most Sundays.

The remainder of the upstairs is closed, apparently an apartment for the docent. (Kind of a tour guide in residence?)

With some sleuthing, I learned a bit more about the building. Some of it conflicted what I learned on the tour. The building was constructed in 1817, the first two-story brick house in Madison (which means that it just beat out the Sullivan House for that honor), and the first tavern.

The building is also referred to as the Lanier-Schofield or Robinson-Schofield House. The Laniers were Alexander and Drusilla, the parents of James Lanier of Lanier Mansion fame. Either the Laniers or William Robinson were responsible for the building’s construction.

Along the way, the house came into the Schofields’ possession. Following the death of Charlotte Schofield (the last resident), the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite in the Valley of Indianapolis bought the property in 1972. In 1975, after extensive restorations, the Masonic Heritage Foundation opened the building as a Masonic museum.

If you are interested in Freemasons, also check out the Scottish Rite Cathedral. The eyes of the docent lit up when we talked about it. The Cathedral in downtown Indianapolis is a real gem.

Scottish Rite Cathedral

As a follow-up to a ballet I saw in the auditorium of the Scottish Rite Cathedral, I ventured back for a Saturday tour of the building. During my visit for the ballet, my exposure to the building was limited to the back entrance and the auditorium, which were stunning. I was eager to see the rest of the building.

During the tour, I learned bits and pieces about the Freemasons, making the order seem a little less mysterious.

In 1919, 3,500 members of the Scottish Rite order of the Freemasons gathered at the Indiana fairgrounds to vote on the construction of a building in Indianapolis. The vote was unanimous. Construction began after WWI and end up costing $2.5 million by its completion in 1927.

Wood from Istanbul, Russia, and the US line room after room. Art glass (as opposed to stained glass) features prominently in several rooms. The glass has held up amazingly well, some of it from the late 1920s. Panels in the South Lounge depict scenes and sayings from the Scottish Rite order.

View of the South Lounge in the Scottish Rite Cathedral

I learned how the fraternal order (alas, women cannot be members and female companions of members were/are relegated to special rooms) aims to strengthen the character of its members, to teach and guide them to be better men. Each of the 33 degrees (or levels of accomplishment) focuses on a particular improvement, such as treating others how you wish to be treated. The order is religious only in the sense that to be a member you must believe in a monotheistic God.

Lots of little quirky things grace the building and the order—such as the carved wooden chairs with faces on the arms—but one oddball item stuck out: a sign on the door leading from the dressing room (they sometimes dress up in costumes…one of those little quirky things) to the stage. The sign instructs people to leave their glasses and wristwatches before going to the stage. Wristwatches? OK. Clearly this sign is a bit of relic. But glasses? How’s a man to see his way to the stage?!

Close-up of faces on arms of chairs in meeting room in the Scottish Rite Cathedral

We wandered through different rooms and floors, learning tidbits as we roamed—through ballrooms, through meeting rooms, through the cafeteria. I have heard that the café is good (and it is open to anyone). Unfortunately, the café wasn’t open as we wandered through the various eating rooms, gazing at pictures of former Freemasons (of the Scottish Rite order?). Clark Gable?! William Cody? (Mental note: The next time I am downtown during a workweek, stop in for lunch.)

In addition, to being the site of Scottish Rite meetings, the building is used for weddings, performances, and other events. The cathedral (which, at least in this context, doesn’t equate with being a church) would be a fabulous backdrop for a wedding reception…and cost a pretty penny I imagine. Instead, go for one of the many events they host.

Or better yet, go for a tour led by volunteers of the Scottish Rite order. You will not be disappointed.