It’s not surprising that our classic venue has a record stretching back for many years. These are a few cool facts about the Masonic Event Center’s storied history.
Here Right from the Start
The Masonic Event Center was naturally built by Masons, who have been meeting in Freeport since way back in 1855, the same year Freeport was incorporated as a city.
Blackberries No Longer Included
The site of the center was once a huge bramble where the local children picked blackberries to their heart's content, and it remained so for decades after the first settlers arrived. Eventually, the Old Pennsylvania House Hotel and another smaller Masonic center were built where the bramble had been.
Time for an Upgrade
The idea for a new center was proposed in the summer of 1926, when the old building was becoming too small for the activities of over 3,000 area members. By 1950, the membership would reach 5,300 or more than an eighth of our county’s population!
A Big Crowd and a Quick Build
When the cornerstone of the Masonic Event Center was laid in March, 1928, the large crowd included dignitaries from across Illinois. The facility was built quickly, opening less than 9 months later.
We Spared No Expense
The total cost of the build was over $600,000, or around $9 million in today’s dollars.
Though the neoclassical architecture and Corinthian columns of the Center give the impression of ancient Greek marble, the building has a steel frame and brick structure, with stonework cut from high quality Indiana limestone.
Not 76 Trombones But Still Pretty Impressive
When the building was opened in December, 1928, the famous “March King,” who was also a Mason, John Philip Sousa and his 56-member band celebrated it with two special concerts, as part of Sousa’s 75th birthday tour.
Best Big Bands in the Land
The new ballroom was designed to be suitable for any large gathering, but it turned out to be the perfect setting for the Big Band style. It soon attracted some of the biggest names in popular music, such as Tommy Dorsey, Guy Lombardo, Liberace, and Spike Jones. Sold out concerts and dances were broadcast live over local radio stations.
The Bubble Machine Costs a Lot to Run
The world-famous bandleader Lawrence Welk bombed badly here in Freeport! The Masons guaranteed him and his big band $350 dollars, which is over $6,300 in today’s money, and ticket sales didn’t even come close. But eventually, Welk worked out; he would perform eight more successful concerts at the Masonic Event Center.
The Place to Perform
It wasn’t just big names from out of town who made the Masonic Event Center their home. Many local theater groups, bands, and the high school’s drama club held their performances in the Auditorium or Ballroom. One of these troupes was a children’s theater group that performed fairy tales and legends as original plays.
The Man in Black & Wings of Blue
After the Big Band era waned, the Center remained a popular venue for everything from high school proms and graduation parties to weddings, recitals, and cooking competitions. It also was and still is the venue of choice for entertainers on tour, ranging from Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn to the Victorian era Dickens Carolers and more rock concerts than we can count to the United States Air Force Band.
Make Us Part of Your History
Ready to hold your special event surrounded by timeless elegance? To learn more about the Center and the available options, simply contact us by phone at 815-365-8707, or fill out a brief contact form. We’ll get back to you as soon as possible to arrange a visit and answer any questions you may have.