By Bryce Abshier – Contact Bryce@TheVOSM.net
Strangers passing through town probably would not know it now, but it was once a thing of beauty. The two-story building at 6108 SE Front Road in Belleview has survived the test of time – as well as a 1920s fire that destroyed almost all of the neighboring wood buildings.
However, now more than ever, the future of the structure seems murky at best. Property records show that the historic building was sold on March 10, 2021 for the sum of $27,900.00. Property records also indicate that the current owner is not a resident of Marion County, but relatively nearby in Central Florida. When reached for comment on the future plans of the building, a representative of the owner would say only that things are uncertain for now.
At 4,054 square feet, most locals probably remember the building warmly as the office of longtime Belleview physician Ronald Shelley, DO. A popular town doctor, Shelley practiced medicine there for decades before retiring.
The building’s history in Belleview goes much deeper than Dr. Ronald Shelley. It was originally constructed in 1904 near the railroad tracks as the Masonic Hall. The painting shown above on left, by local artist Peek Hames, depicts the building in its heyday as a pristine structure in what was the center of town at the time.
In typical fashion for most early 20th century communities, developments and business districts were mainly focused near railroad tracks. As trains were the primary means of long distance travel, building near railroad tracks made the most logistical sense for commerce. As such, Belleview’s Front Road (or what is commonly called Front Street by locals) was the focal point of the fledgling town. This also made the Masonic Hall the perfect place to house the Belleview Post Office downstairs.
Belleview’s Mason Lodge No. 95, a group that is still in existence today, shared much of its early history with the building. After their original meeting place burnt down in a now defunct town called “South Lake Weir”, about two miles east of CR 25 and Highway 42, the Masons moved to Pedro for a short two year period. Then in 1892, the Masonic Lodge No. 95 relocated to what would become their permanent home in Belleview.
The charter for Belleview Masonic Lodge No. 95 was officially issued in 1904, the same year the historic building was constructed. The group would go on to hold meetings upstairs there all the way up until 1975. The lodge then finally moved, but not very far away. To this day, the group meets about a quarter of a mile away from the original hall, at 5871 SE Baseline Road.
You don’t get to the ripe age of 119 without suffering a few bumps and bruises along the way. As mentioned previously, a 1920s fire ravaged the center of town but left the Masonic Hall relatively unscathed. An article by the late Vince Murray, a longtime Marion County reporter and author, chronicled the blaze. “During the 1920s, fire destroyed almost all of the wood buildings in the center of town. Only the Masonic Hall, which housed the post office, was spared and it still stands to this day,” wrote Murray.
Now well showing its age from a street view, the historic Masonic Hall building appears to be in need of serious repairs that are more far-reaching than a run-of-the-mill “handyman special”. With all windows and doorways covered by plywood panels, the warning of “NO TRESPASSING” is nailed to the building’s front. One could only speculate as to the amount of money that would be needed to restore such a building, as well as the willingness of a new owner to invest funds into something so old. Many may consider the future of the building, a century-long fixture of Belleview’s landscape, to be bleak. But only time will tell.