Welcome to Empire Masonic Lodge #586

Empire College

 

Birthplace of the Empire Masonic Lodge No. 586

By Linda Hess

 

Overview:

The Empire College, birthplace of the Empire Masonic Lodge No. 586, was a historicplace in the southeastern part of Collin County and deserves recognition. It provided a place for early settlers toreceive an education. The legacy of the Empire College continues through the Empire Masonic Lodge No. 586.

Context:

The Empire College, also known at the Bear Creek Academy, was located in the southeastern part of Collin County about one and half miles southeast of Copeville and two miles northwest of Nevada along the south bank of the George Creek. It was located in a community known as Empire. The community was a thriving little communitywith a school, churches and a gin. Sam Grimes ran a general store and built a lean-toon the side of the store for Dr. Jim Williams' office and drugs. The Post Office opened January 28, 1885 with John T. Grimes serving as postmaster. The Post Officewas located about one mile west of the Bear Creek Cemetery in the home of Ben Bounds, who was a Methodist preacher. J. E. "Tarheel" Jones built a teacherage, a small store,doctor's office and a music room west of the school house. Mr. J. E. "Tarheel" Jones came to Texas from North Carolina in 1867. He was the teacher of the Empire College which was located on one acre of land deeded to Bear Creek Academy at Empirein 1869. In 1883 J. E. Jones called a meeting of the local land holders to build a public subscription school. The Empire Academy building was 26 by 50 and 18 feethigh. The lower floor was used for a first class school. The upper floor was used by the Masonic, Eastern Star and Knights of Honor lodges. It was located at the corner of the Josephine-Copeville Road and the road to Empire. The school buildingwas completed in 1884 and school started the same year. A dormitory was later built to house both males and females. This was one of the best schools in thecounty; Latin, mathematics and all the higher subjects were taught. Mr. Hill was superintendent and Z. A. C. Harris taught classes including band and music.

The Bear Creek Methodist Church was two miles northwest of Nevada on the southbank of George Creek. The Bear Creek Cemetery was south of the church.From 1881 to 1891, the Bear Creek Church was on the Forney Circuit of North Texas Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church South. The members of the Bear Creek Church built the Methodist church in Nevada in 1890, but a few members continued to attend services at Bear Creek Methodist until the church was disbanded in1902.

The Empire College was the birthplace of the Empire Masonic Lodge No. 586 on December 14, 1884 when twenty five Master Masons petitioned the Grand Lodge ofTexas to form a Masonic Lodge at Empire. Five of the Charter Members were also subscribers to the Empire College. The first officers for Empire Lodge No. 586 were M. W. McBride, Worshipful Master; E. B. Simmons, Senior Warden; W. M. Blakeman, Junior Warden; J. E. "Tarheel" Jones, Secretary; and J. L. Stallings, Treasurer. The meetings were held on the Saturday before the full moon.

 

In the years of 1886 and 1887, the Gulf Colorado Santa Fe Railroad came through Collin County with a route from Wylie to Copeville to Farmersville bypassing Empire to the northwest. In the years 1887 and 1888, the St. Louis Southwestern Cotton Belt Railroad came through the southern part of the county with a route from Wylie to Nevada and Josephine bypassing Empire to the south. With the railroads bypassing Empire, the community declined. The Post Office closed in 1888. The Bear Creek Academy school land was deeded back to the original owner in 1890 because it was no longer being used for school purposes. The school became a country school. In 1902, the Empire Masonic Lodge No. 586 relinquished its claim to the Empire College building and gave it to the Bear Creek School. The Academy building burned in 1914. The Bear Creek School District continued for many years until it was consolidated with the Community Independent School District.

 

With the decline of Empire, the Masonic Lodge moved from Empire to Nevada in 1888. The lodge bought lots 1 and 2 in block 2 in the town for $82.00 and built a two story wooden building facing west on Warren Street. On March 27, 1900, the lodge helped the Farmersville Lodge No 214 with the laying of the cornerstone for the First Baptist Church of Farmersville. On May 28, 1904, the Empire Lodge bought the J. E. Davis brick building on the northwest corner of the Nevada square for $2500.00; the firm of Evans and Gooch bought the old wooden building for $225.00. On May 9, 1927, the lodge was destroyed by the massive tornado which killed twenty-seven people, injured seventy-five and destroyed the town square. The lodge collected $1303 in donations from fellow lodges, $1,000 from the Grand Lodge and took out a loan for $1250 for the construction of a new building. The lodge met in the Odd Fellows Hall until construction was complete on its building. The lodge participated in the 100th Anniversary of the Grand Lodge of Texas celebrated on December 1-3, 1937.

With the need of a new building, a new lodge building was dedicated on April 1, 1972 on Hwy 6 in Nevada.

 

The Empire Masonic Lodge No. 586 adopted Bear Creek Cemetery since it is all that is left of the old Empire community, their birthplace. ( Over the years, the lodge has participated in many funerals for lodge members, helped get children of deceased lodge members into the Masonic Orphanage, has recommended area crippled children for the Scottish Rite Hospital, participated in Public School Week in March, given Bibles to the local Community School District and continues to be an active and vital part of the community. It is the oldest institution in the town of Nevada today but proudly honors Empire College as being its place of origination.

Significance:

The Empire College represents both the birthplace of the Empire Masonic Lodge and its commitment, from the very beginning, to support education. As one of the earliest educational institutions of its kind in this area of northeast Texas, the Empire College was an educational pioneer and deserves historical recognition.