A Brief History of the Memorial
The two Lodges most closely associated with George Washington are Fredericksburg Lodge at Fredericksburg, Virginia, his Mother Lodge and Alexandria-Washington Lodge at Alexandria, Virginia, where he was elected Charter Master under the Grand Lodge of Virginia. No precise date can be found when the Lodge at Fredericksburg was chartered. The date of its first meeting is usually ascribed as September 1, 1752, under a dispensation from the Provincial Grand Lodge of the Colony of Massachusetts. The Lodge was granted a charter on July 21, 1758, by the Grand Lodge of Scotland. Washington was initiated an Entered Apprentice on November 4, 1752, passed to Fellowcraft on March 3, 1753, and raised to Master Mason on August 4, 1753.
The Lodge at Alexandria, Virginia was first warranted by the Provincial Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania on February 3, 1783, as Lodge No. 39. George Washington attended a St. John the Baptist Celebration of the Lodge in June of 1784. He was later made an Honorary Member of the Lodge. On April 22, 1788, the Lodge received a Charter from the Grand Lodge of Virginia as Alexandria Lodge No. 22. The Lodge asked Washington to be its Charter Master under the Virginia Charter and he agreed. Washington was inaugurated as the First President of the United States on April 30, 1789 while holding the office of Master of Alexandria Lodge. After his death on December 14, 1799, the Lodge was renamed Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22, by the Grand Lodge of Virginia.
Through the generosity of Washington's family and friends, Alexandria-Washington Lodge became the repository of many artifacts of Washington and the Washington family. The Lodge rooms were inadequate for the display and storage of the memorabilia and fire in the Lodge in 1871 destroyed many of the invaluable and significant Washington artifacts.
History is replete with men who, out of necessity, arise to undertake a great enterprise. For this occasion, it was Charles H. Callahan, who in 1909, while Senior Warden of Alexandria-Washington Lodge, purchased several lots on Shuters Hill, which he gave to the Lodge for the site of a fire proof Lodge Hall. Following consultation with and with the urging of the Lodge, Joseph W. Eggleston, the Grand Master of Virginia, invited every Grand Master in the United States to assemble in Alexandria-Washington Lodge on February 22, 1910 for the purpose of forming an association to plan and build a suitable Memorial to George Washington, the Mason. Representatives from twenty-six Grand Lodges did assemble and approved and endorsed the erection of the Memorial, and The George Washington Masonic National Memorial Association was formed. Thomas Shryock, Grand Master of Maryland, was elected the first President of the Memorial Association.
Ten years after the first official meeting of the Association, the concept of a colossal building as a Memorial "lighthouse" to Washington was approved by the Grand Lodges of the United States. The site was selected because it followed the ancient tradition for the location of temples on hilltops or mountains. It was also located on land with which General Washington was familiar; it was the very spot once proposed by Thomas Jefferson as the ideal site for the nation's Capitol.
The groundbreaking ceremony took place on June 5, 1922. Louis A. Watres, President of the Memorial Association and Past Grand Master of Pennsylvania, and Charles H. Callahan, Past Master of Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22, and a future Grand Master of Virginia participated in the ceremony. Despite the great expense, the Memorial Association was determined not to borrow money. Construction only proceeded as money was collected for each stage of the project.
On November 1, 1923, the Memorial's cornerstone was dedicated in a Masonic ceremony. President Calvin Coolidge, former President and Chief Justice William H. Taft and numerous other dignitaries performed the ceremony before a crowd of thousands of Freemasons from around the nation. The onset of the Great Depression did not stop work on the Memorial. For over 10 years, Freemasons steadily and faithfully contributed to the construction of the Memorial. On May 12, 1932, the bicentennial year of George Washington's birth, the dedication of the Memorial took place with President Herbert Hoover participating.
After World War II, work on the Memorial's interior began in earnest. By 1970, the George Washington Masonic National Memorial was completed. In 1999, the large square and compasses were added to the front lawn, a visible sign to the Masonic nature of the Memorial. A repository of many artifacts and the history of American Freemasons, the Memorial remains a lasting monument to George Washington, the Man, the Mason, and Father of our Country.