The Ancient Order of Pilgrims, headquartered in the Pilgrim Temple Building, was established in Houston in 1882 to enable the black community to provide for itself services often denied to them under the Jim Crow system.
In 1870 Henry Cohen Hardy, a Jamaican immigrant, moved to Houston. Teaching in the city’s public schools, he soon learned that African Americans rarely obtained medical care, life insurance, real estate loans, or loans to start a business. To address these issues in Houston, Hardy founded the Ancient Order of Pilgrims in 1882 to provide its members burial insurance and life insurance, real estate loans, loans to individuals in distress, and funds for community projects.
As membership grew, the Pilgrims formed additional chapters, called sanctuaries, and delegates met annually to review finances and hold elections. One of the most successful black lodges in the country, by 1915 the Pilgrims had grown to thirty-one chapters nationwide.
With sixty sanctuaries by 1926, the Pilgrims built a headquarters and office building at the corner of West Dallas Avenue (known as San Felipe Street at that time) and Bagby Street. Noted architect Alfred Finn designed the building—a four-story, brick, triangular-shaped structure with elaborate finishes, a rooftop garden, an auditorium, and a ballroom.
Popularly known as Pilgrim Temple, it became the center of activity for Houston's black community for more than forty years. It housed the Pilgrim’s offices and at times the Houston Negro Chamber of Commerce, the local chapter of the NAACP, the Girls Scouts, and the YMCA. The building held offices of physicians, dentists, and attorneys, as well as a drugstore and other stores. Other businesses operated from Pilgrim Temple, including Franklin Beauty School (see FRANKLIN, NOBIA A.)—the highly successful beauty school moved into the Pilgrim Temple in 1941. The temple also housed the Houston Defender newspaper, which advocated new parks and paved streets in black neighborhoods, increased black presence in police and fire departments, and promoted black voting rights and more black-owned businesses. The ballroom and auditorium hosted social functions for Booker T. Washington High School, sororities, fraternities, and other black community social clubs.
It is uncertain when Hardy passed away. The Order closed in 1931. In 1932 G. A. Kennedy reopened it as the Progressive Order of Pilgrims. In the early 1960s, the building was sold and later demolished. In 2006 a historical marker was installed near the Pilgrim Temple site and Bagby Street in Sam Houston Park.