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Freemasonry Watch

The Masonic Temple is Coming Down

It's a sigh of relief say last of the Mohegans

g and compass

Norwich Bulletin

Masonic Temple is coming down

Norwich Bulletin

August 4, 2005

Indian Burial Ground
The Masonic Temple in Norwich will be torn down. The land was originally an Indian burial ground. A memorial to the burial ground will be built in the temple's place.


  • The land was used for Indian burial grounds until the last interment in 1876.

  • Tribal lawsuits in the 1890s and the 1930s did not stop development of the property.

  • The Masonic Temple was built in 1928.

  • Fire code violations halted theater productions at the site in 1988.

  • The Mohegans bought the property from the city in 1999 for more than $1 million.


  • The Mohegan tribe has begun soliciting bids to demolish the Masonic Temple.

  • The building will be demolished by the end of this year or the beginning of 2006.

  • Early plans for the site include a public space with a "memory pile," an American Indian architectural rock tribute to deceased ancestors.

Indian Burial Ground
Thomas Epps, left, and Ernie Gilman, Keeper of the Pipe for the Mohegan Tribe, prepare for the pipe smoking ceremony in October 1999 after the transfer of the Masonic Temple was made to the Mohegan Tribe. Former Norwich City Council president Richard Abele watches.

Indian Burial Ground
Visitors gather in the Masonic Temple's theater after the temple was transferred to the Mohegan tribe.
NORWICH CT -- The Mohegan tribe will swiftly follow through on plans to demolish the Norwich Masonic Temple and restore the Royal Mohegan Burial Ground that lies beneath it, tribal member Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel said Wednesday.

The Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism Wednesday unanimously granted the tribe's request to tear down the building. The decision ends a more than 100-year-old battle by the tribe to preserve and restore the land.

Tantaquidgeon Zobel said the tribe has begun soliciting bids and hopes to demolish the 77-year-old building by the end of this year.

Long time coming

"It's a sigh of relief," she said. "This is a project that has been in the works literally centuries. The folks I took with us as a team felt very responsible for fulfilling the wishes of our ancestors."

The Mohegans have informally offered up to $1 million to the city to compensate for the revenue lost from development on the Masonic Temple site, Mayor Arthur Lathrop said. The exact stipend and the amount have not been determined yet, he said.

The tribe had tried to keep the site undeveloped since the last tribal burial there in 1876. After unsuccessful tribal lawsuits in the 1890s and 1930s to spare the 3.41-acre property from development, the tribe purchased the land from the City of Norwich in 1999 for slightly more than $1 million. They planned to turn the temple into an Indian museum, technology center and performing arts theater.

Excavation for the utilities was halted because it would have disturbed Indian graves on the site, however. The land is currently assessed at $1.5 million.

Tantaquidgeon Zobel, who is executive director of the tribe's department of historical preservation, and a group that included a lawyer, an archivist and an archeologist, presented their findings on the site to the Commission. The tribe has also collaborated with the State Historic Preservation Office.

The Mohegans first laid out plans to raze the building in November 2003. But they needed to present detailed information about the site's history to the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism -- formerly the Commission on Historic Preservation.

Tough decision

Paul Loether, the deputy state historic preservation officer, said the decision was tough because the burial ground and the temple have impressive historic significance.

"It's almost a question of which of the two children are you going to save?" Loether said. "The council was faced with deciding which of the resources would be most impacted."

Loether said the commission realized there was no way to make the temple viable again without disturbing the underground graves, so they voted unanimously in favor of the Mohegan's plan.

The Mohegans will create a "memory pile," an Indian architectural rock formation, at the building's footprint, Tantaquidgeon Zobel said. The tribe also hopes to get the property placed on the list of World Heritage Sites.

Mohegan Chief Uncas is buried somewhere on the site, although the exact location is unknown. All Mohegan descendants had the option of being buried there in 1876 after the tribe's reservation ended in 1870.

The tribe intends to repatriate some excavated Mohegan remains, but it would not disclose how many will be returned. Other graves behind the Masonic building were left intact and marked by the state.

"We usually don't like to discuss bodies and numbers," Tantaquidgeon Zobel said. "Let's just say we have a small room with remains and associated funerary objects."

The four-story brick building has been a fixture at Washington and Sachem streets, across from Norwich Free Academy, since 1928. The city bought the land from the Masons in 1995, and it has mostly stood unused.


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