'We have big hearts, and we do big things'

In 1978, a thousand dollars was a small fortune.

Back then, minimum wage stood at $2.65 an hour, a movie ticket cost a dollar and a gallon of gas ran around 63 cents.

That year, to nearly 80 local black men, a thousand dollars bought a home for a legacy both rich and unique.

Along Concord's Old Speedway Drive, the men purchased a little better than an acre of wooded land surrounded by pastures of grazing cows and fields of soybeans.

That space would become the gathering place for brothers of Mount Zion Prince Hall Masonic Lodge No. 26, the county's only African-American Masonic lodge.

This location wasn't the first meeting place for its members.

The lodge, chartered in 1876, held gatherings throughout the county during its first 100 years.

In the 1970's, Logan High School held the last meetings before the current building was constructed.

Past Master William Evans, 85, remembers the school bursting at the seams with members back then.

"In some cases we met in the parking lot right there in the Logan community," said Evans.

When the numbers swelled to nearly 80 members, the group realized it was time to find a place of its own.

The lodge turned to the Order of the Eastern Star, an organization affiliated with the Masons, to help raise money through community fish fries.

Out came the Star's familiar big, black pots, brimming with hot, spattering peanut oil. Before being dropped into the pots, each codfish first was dipped into a special cornmeal batter mixture - a recipe the Stars never divulged, recalls mason William Weathers.

"They would not tell us. They have their secrets, too," said Weathers with a grin.

Masonic lodges have been shrouded in secrecy since the organization's beginning. Like many private clubs and organizations, they follow rituals known only to members.

John Rancy Jr., current Master of the lodge, said Masonry is simply a place for men to learn how to best interact with others, often through good works.

"We are not a part of any religious organization, even though we take the virtues of all religious organizations, most especially Christianity, and use their teaching in what we do," said Rancy Jr.

A lot has changed since the day that land was purchased 32 years ago. The surrounding land couldn't look more different.

The constant hammering of construction workers that began a decade ago during the city's steep growth has finally ceased. The young Red Maple trees lining the street lead to a sprawling neighborhood where rural land once stood.

A few old hardwoods, so prevalent in the past, still remain as reminders of how the land once looked.

There have been changes within the Masons, as well.

In 2008, both white and black lodges finally recognized each other as brothers in North Carolina.

Even lodge No. 26 is making adjustments with time. The old leather ledger used to record minutes will soon be replaced by a computer. Good deeds of the past, like buying heating oil for a brother down on his luck, once were documented by handwritten scribbles on the decades-old worn book.

Today's good works will be typed into a hard drive, one with ample memory.

A lot of good has occurred in that plain white building along Old Speedway Drive: Shoe and clothing drives, computer purchases for an orphanage, Christmas presents for needy children and scholarships.

"We are a small lodge, but we have big hearts, and we do big things," said Weathers.