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Former Chester Masonic Temple will be demolished

CHESTER, W.Va. – For nearly seven decades, it was the first building people saw as they came off the old Chester Bridge from East Liverpool – a place for fellowship, for secret rites and for public gatherings.

Although it sat vacant for the last 10 years, the former John Shrader home and Masonic Temple has held a prominent place in the memories of many Chester residents.

Now the historic building is coming down.

Property owner Tommy Ogden said he and his wife, Lori, reluctantly came to the conclusion that the building couldn’t be saved.

“This is a beautiful building, but at some point you’ve got to say you just can’t do it,” he said. “It took us several years to come to that conclusion.”

The Ogdens bought the house in 2010 in the hopes of renovating it. But the last 10 years have not been kind to the three-story brick building.

“Many unrepaired roof leaks have caused most of the problems,” said Ogden, co-owner of Builders Wholesale in Chester.

The spacious front porch is falling in, the stone foundation has cracks, the roof and windows need to be replaced, and there are electrical and plumbing issues throughout the 12,000-square-foot house, he said.

A quick tour of the interior reveals not only a once-majestic house, but also water stains, crumbling plaster, falling ceilings, cracked floors and rotting wood, among other problems.

But rather than do a quick demolition, Ogden says he wants to make parts of the house-the slate roof, rafters, joists, wooden floors (mostly pine), foundation stones and bricks-available to the public.

“We were trying to do it where we could conserve as much of the house as we could,” he said, “without it going to the landfill.”

Some materials, including tile and onyx from a fireplace, will be used for the construction of a new home the couple of 10 years wants to build on the rear of the property.

“There’s some really nice charm about this house,” he said.

It is unclear whether the house was built before or after the completion of the Chester Bridge in 1897. Ogden said he has heard stories of bridge builder John Shrader watching the bridge’s construction from a second-floor window-as well as stories of bridge materials sitting on the vacant lot where the house now sits.

Regardless, Shrader, a leading light in Chester’s early history, lived in the house until he sold it to Chester Lodge No. 142, A.F. & A.M. The Masons began holding meetings in the building in July 1921, according to Roy Cashdollar’s history of Chester.

The Masons added a large banquet hall and meeting room to the rear of the Shrader home and held a mortgage-burning ceremony in 1945, according to Cashdollar’s book. They sold the house in 2000 because of exorbitant upkeep costs, Ogden said.

Along with the house, Ogden acquired the Shrader family Bible, which he hopes to return to Shrader’s descendants. Shrader came to Chester from McKeesport, Pa., so Ogden thinks there may be family members still living in Allegheny County, Pa. Anyone with information should contact Ogden at Builders Wholesale or on Facebook.

Demolition of the house will take at least three months, he said. Ogden said he has received mostly positive responses to his plans, including from Masons.

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