Located in Alexandria, Virginia, this impressive landmark was constructed as a memorial to the nation’s most celebrated Mason, George Washington. 1932 photograph of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia (Library of Congress)
Freemasonry played a role in George Washington’s life from the age of 20 when he first became an Entered Apprentice in the Fredericksburg Lodge until the day he died, when a brother in his Alexandria lodge was one of three doctors at his bedside. A few days later, the Masons organized and conducted Washington’s funeral service. In the span of those 47 years, Washington would fight beside Freemasons in the Revolutionary War and select the organization to set the cornerstone of the United States Capitol. Washington stated that Freemasonry was “founded on benevolence and to be exercised for the good of mankind.”
Even during his lifetime, leaders of the Freemasonry movement in America clearly promoted
that George Washington was their most exalted of members, and someone whom others
should emulate. Throughout the 19th century, as the number of Freemasons swelled across
the nation, their exaltation of Washington never wavered-- in some circles, it grew even stronger.
Creating a “Suitable Memorial Temple”
In 1907, Grand Masters and other prominent Freemasons from around the country met in
Alexandra-Washington Lodge No. 22 and established the George Washington Masonic National Memorial Association. The Association had a lofty and straightforward goal: “To erect and maintain in the City of Alexandria,Virginia, a suitable memorial temple to George Washington, the Mason; one which will express in durability and beauty the undying esteem of the Freemasons of the United States for him, in whose memory it shall stand throughout the coming years.” Although securing funding to support the project would prove to be a daunting challenge, moral support for the Memorial came from the nation’s highest ranks. At one of the organization’s early meetings, President William H. Taft, also a Freemason, said: Brethren, every President of the United States feels heavy upon him the burden of following
George Washington and being in his place and making himself in some slight way worthy of
the First President, the Father of His Country ... No honor can be greater than to have a direct association with that great man, how, in every sense, was the founder of this Republic and who exhibited, as President, as man, and as Mason, all the principles of morality, of patriotism and of religion that we like to think is our highest ideal.
One of three murals in Memorial
Hall painted by Allyn Cox in the
1950s. This one depicts George
Washington in full Masonic regalia
as he lays the cornerstone of the US Capitol (Ron Cogswell)
Seeking to create a national rather than a regional tribute to George Washington, the Masonic Association thought big, they recognized that the structure would be an impressive physical landmark, towering over Old Town Alexandria, offering a perfect spot from which to view the Washington Monument in the District of Columbia.
The structure was also built to provide an impressive and secure home to a number of treasured Washington artifacts, which were given to the Alexandria -Washington Lodge No. 22 by family and friends of the first president of the United States, as well as the Charter Master of the Lodge.
At the time, Lodge No. 22 was headquartered in a modest building in Old Town Alexandria,
which was inadequate for both the storage and the display of artifacts. The problem became all too real in 1871, when a fire in the Lodge destroyed a portion of the Washington material.
It took a number of years for a grand plan for a national memorial to George Washington to
develop, and the men in Lodge No. 22 admitted they might need the assistance of Freemasons from coast to coast to do justice to a Washington Memorial. A turning point came in 1909, when Charles H. Callahan, who served as commissioner of Revenue for the City of Alexandria for a memorable 46 years, purchased several lots, strategically located on a hill, for the sole purpose of constructing a fireproof building. As an officer in Lodge No. 22, he also used his contacts to garner the support of the Grand Master of Virginia, who, in turn, contacted his fellow Grand Masters in every state. Within months, the movement to build the memorial had gained national prominence.