The jewel Douglas Caudle wore to the State Capitol on Saturday isn’t the kind you throw on for just any event.
It is the same jewel Grand Master of the State Simmons J. Baker wore as he and other North Carolina Masons dedicated a cornerstone for the State Capitol building in 1833.
“The jewel that I’m wearing dates back to 1829,” said Caudle, current grand master of the Grand Lodge of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons of North Carolina. “Due to its historical significance, I only wear this jewel on special occasions.”
The 175th anniversary of the State Capitol on Saturday was special enough. Caudle’s group partnered with representatives of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of North Carolina to rededicate the original cornerstone, nearly 182 years after it was first laid.
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Together, the Masons performed a public ritual, checking the plumb, square and level of a symbolic cornerstone to ensure it was properly constructed.
“We thought it was an appropriate recognition of the reopening of this building in 1840,” said Kevin Cherry, deputy secretary of the Office of Archives & History. The building took seven years to complete.
The Masonic ceremony was the beginning of an afternoon of outdoor activities, musical performances and educational opportunities. People spread out on the lawn, relaxed in the shade on benches and took in the main site they came to see.
“Beyond the working state-government role, this place is the symbol of self-governance of the people,” Cherry said. “In other countries, they have grand edifices for their rulers or kings; we have a grand edifice for our representatives. This is the symbol of our governing ourselves.”
The Capitol houses the governor’s office and used to be the meeting place of the General Assembly until lawmakers relocated to the State Legislative Building on Jones Street in 1963.
The celebration Saturday was momentous for those who have spent years working to ensure the well-being of the historic building.
“I fell in love with this building the first time I came in it and I just can’t shake it,” said Kay Cashion, who is nearing the end of her sixth year as president of The State Capitol Foundation, a nonprofit she became involved with in 1990. “It’s awesome – it represents the stability and heritage of North Carolina, and it’s the people’s Capitol.”
The preservation foundation has recently had the building analyzed and photographed.
“We now have a set of architectural plans which did not exist until about a year and a half ago,” Cashion said. “If this building had burned down prior to that or had been destroyed, it could not have been rebuilt as it is.”
Cashion’s group is working on short- and long-term maintenance plans that will help give state lawmakers an idea of what work will be needed in the near future at the Capitol. Gov. Pat McCrory has pushed the legislature recently to allow the public to vote in November on $2.8 billion in bond proposals for needed improvements to state roads and buildings.
Brenda Pollard, a 30-year board member with The State Capitol Foundation who was also the first chair of the State Capitol Society, has good reason to consider the Capitol her second home.
Pollard began serving at the Capitol in 1971 and was Secretary of State Thad Eure’s executive assistant for 18 1/2 years.
“My office was the second window,” she said, pointing at the first floor on the east side of the building. “It is the jewel of all our historic sites, in my opinion. I’m just passionate about the building and what it symbolizes – so many things to so many people. We’re proud of that.”
Organizers said the anniversary of the State Capitol has been celebrated before, but not to the degree it was Saturday.
“This was the birthday. This is unprecedented,” Pollard said.