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What is the history of the old St. John’s building at 125 Market St.?

Ben Steelman

Sometimes called “St. John’s Hall” or “the Masonic Temple” in the 1800s, this imposing building was built in 1841 and 1842 as the third home of St. John’s Lodge No. 1, which occupied it until 1899.

Originally in the Gothic Revival style, the building lost much of its character in a 1907 renovation that removed the original facade. Earlier photos show Gothic touches such as “lancet-arch” windows.

St. John’s and a number of other Masonic bodies used the hall on the third floor. The second floor was a public hall, and especially before the erection of Thalian Hall in 1858, it was the site for a number of major functions.

A public reception for Henry Clay was held there on April 9, 1844; the Whig leader and “Great Compromiser” stayed at the now-vanished Carolina Hotel next door. Daniel Webster made a brief speech in the hall on May 6, 1847, and ex-president James K. Polk and his wife received “hundreds” of well-wishers there on March 8, 1849.

The first floor held a number of private businesses. The longest-lasting was The Groceteria No. 1, at this location from the early 1920s (the Historic Wilmington Foundation marker says 1926, but news clippings at the New Hanover County Public Library suggest an earlier date) until 1962. Troutman’s Beauty School occupied the space from 1963 to 1986.

Other groceries included S.P. Bunting’s (c. 186() and the Wilmington Grocery Co. (from 1904). “Professor” H.J. Brissenden advertised a dancing academy in the building in 1869. For many years after the Civil War, J.F. Rueckert taught music and sold pianos at this address.

After the Civil War, the hall played host to a number of recitals and concerts. Among those advertised, according to architectural historian Tony Wrenn, were “The Tremane Brothers and Mr. J.G. Pierson of New York,” plugged as “the finest Troupe of Vocalists before the public,” and an 1875 appearance by “Mlle. Oristorio LiFrama, the talented Belgian dramtic and operatic vocalist.” 

The Carolina Athletic Club was housed in the building until 1901. The Junior Order United American Mechanics, a quasi-Masonic fraternal organization, occupied the second floor of the building in 1907.

Currently the building is occupied by the Rhino Club, a bar which regularly features musical acts.

Note: Older sources often listed the building’s address as 125-127 Market St.

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