After the Civil War, African Americans faced difficulties finding insurance or securing loans. In the 1870s, Jamaican immigrant Henry Cohen Hardy came to Houston, where he was an educator. Hardy established the Ancient Order of Pilgrims in 1882 to help solve economic problems faced by Houston's African American population. The fraternal organization provided burial insurance and real estate loans. It soon branched out with chapters called sanctuaries. Members came from all economic levels. Each year delegates met at conclaves to review finances and hold elections.
By 1926, with about 60 sanctuaries, the order chose to build a headquarters and office building in Houston. Officers hired noted architect Alfred C. Finn. Located at Bagby Street and West Dallas Avenue, the four-story, brick Pilgrim Temple Building was triangular in shape and featured elaborate finishes and a rooftop garden. In addition to the order's headquarters, it housed the Houston Negro Chamber of Commerce, O.K. Manning and Roscoe Cavitt, executive secretaries; Madame N.A. Franklin Beauty School, Mr. and Mrs. J.H. Jemison, proprietors; the Houston Defender newspaper, C.F. Richardson, publisher; Askew Drug Store; and offices of physicians, attorneys and various businesses. Booker T. Washington High School, as well as sororities, fraternities and other social clubs used the ballroom and auditorium for functions. The temple was a focal point for Houston's black community for more than 40 years.
The Ancient Order folded in 1931 but was revived as the Progressive Order of Pilgrims in 1932 by G.A. Kennedy. In the early 1960s, the group sold the building, later razed. Business owners who once occupied it now work to preserve its memory as a historic site.