ATTLEBORO - Membership in the Ezekiel Bates Masonic Lodge isn't what it was in its heyday, but it's starting to rebound.

And, one of its younger members, Bryan Simmons, is leading an effort to share the charitable organization's history with the city.

The lodge, which like most fraternal organizations is dedicated to good works, plans to establish a museum inside its imposing but beautiful North Main Street building that will be open to the public once a month.

One of the goals is to show how the lodge's history is intertwined with the city's, especially with respect to industry - and in particular, the jewelry industry.

Written records go back to the 1800s, and most of the names on the rolls were business leaders, many were from the jewelry industry, Simmons said.

"When you start digging through the records, you realize that Attleboro's jewelry industry is rooted in this building," said the 34-year-old Simmons.

The movers and shakers, those with names like Balfour and Tappan, who built the city into a jewelry capital were almost all Masons, dedicating part of their non-business lives to good works, Simmons said.

During the day, they labored to strengthen themselves and the city economically, and in their leisure time they worked to help others.

So many members were connected to the jewelry industry, a jewelry museum was created in the lodge.

The same room is being used for the new museum, Simmons said.

The height of membership may have been reached in the 1950s and 1960s, when there were as many as 700 names on the rolls.

It was a time when jewelry factories, most prominently the L.G. Balfour Co., were located in or near downtown and were providing jobs for residents and customers for stores.

The lodge was bustling, as well.

Workers would flock there after their shifts to socialize and play games like cribbage, Simmons said.

Now lodge membership hovers around 100, with perhaps 40 active members, he said.

The big dip seems reflected in the downturn in downtown since the high times in the middle of the last century.

Most industry has disappeared from the center, including, of course, Balfour. Its former factory site is now a park.

But Simmons said interest in the lodge is returning, and a newly energized membership hopes to tell its story while putting it on track for a revitalized future, just as city officials are working to revitalize downtown.

Simmons and fellow members are not only setting aside a room at the front of the lodge to display its history, but are painting, polishing and restoring the luster to their building that was constructed in 1929.

He said the lodge plans to open the museum on Oct. 5, the day set aside for the annual installation of officers, the only meeting of the year to which the public is invited.

And after that, the lodge hopes to open the museum once a month on a weekend.

"It's a way to preserve Attleboro's history," Simmons said. "To show how all these businessmen are tied together in this building is important."

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