In 1811, representatives of five Masonic lodges operating in the District of Columbia (four from Maryland, one from Virginia) met in convention to form their own governing body, the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia. Once the new Grand Lodge was constituted, the five lodges reorganized under new charters as Federal № 1, Alexandria-Brook № 2, Columbia № 3, Naval № 4, and Potomac № 5. In its early years, the Grand Lodge convened in a Masonic Hall constructed by Federal and Columbia lodges, and by the end of their first decade, membership in the fraternity totaled 250 members.
On November 9, 1848, a petition was submitted by several D.C. members who had traveled to California during the Gold Rush to form a lodge “in the town of San Francisco, Upper California” calling themselves California Lodge № 13. Two years later, this lodge helped form the Grand Lodge of California, becoming California Lodge № 1 in the process. Also by 1850, the Grand Lodge had conducted and participated in several historic public events, including the laying of the cornerstones of the Washington Monument and the extension of the U.S. Capitol.
During the first “Golden Age of Fraternalism” (approx. 1850–1929), like the Craft in the rest of country, Washington, D.C., saw a large influx in membership. And in the presence of President Andrew Johnson, the Grand Lodge laid the cornerstone of a new Masonic Temple on the North West corner of Ninth and F Streets Northwest in 1868. By 1907, membership had grown so high that it required an even larger building to house the large family of Masonic bodies and clubs that had grown in the city. This time, President Theodore Roosevelt laid the cornerstone of this third Masonic Hall on June 8, 1907, at 13th and New York Avenue, Northwest.
In 1909, Kenyon N. Harper, a Past Master of Naval Lodge № 4 and the Grand Historian, compiled and published the first seminal history of the Grand Lodge of D.C. in time for its Centennial Anniversary in 1911. And in 1910, the Grand Lodge also performed a cornerstone ceremony at the House of the Temple, the new headquarters of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, Southern Jurisdiction.
The First and Second World Wars saw another great influx of new members into the District. In turn, D.C. Freemasons joined with other organizations and used their experience and expertise in organizing fundraising campaigns and welfare and assistance programs to help support the country’s war efforts. Later, during the extensive rebuilding and renovation of the White House begun in 1949, a series of stones were discovered in the original foundation of the building that bore Masonic symbols and marks. President Harry S. Truman, a Past Grand Master of Missouri, recognized the historic and fraternal significance of the marks, and requested that the stones be cut and distributed to the many Grand Lodges and other Masonic organizations across the United States. In 1952, D.C. Grand Master Renah Camalier (also a D.C. Commissioner at the time) was tasked by the President to lead the distribution of the stones on his behalf.
In 1961, Past Grand Master Raymond B. Harris, of Potomac Lodge № 5, published The Sesquicentennial History of the Grand Lodge of D.C., 1811–1961.
Interest in Freemasonry waned in the ensuing decades. By 1980, the Grand Lodge had dropped to around 10,000 members verses its high of around 25,300 in 1953. With growing operational costs and diminishing membership, the Grand Lodge sold the Masonic Temple on 13th Street and moved to their existing location on MacArthur Boulevard, in Northwest D.C.
In 1992 and 1993, the Grand Lodge organized and participated in the bicentennial celebrations of the laying of the White House and U.S. Capitol cornerstones. The most recent review of the history of the Grand Lodge was written by Carl R. Levine in 1992 and covers the years from 1962–1991.
Also around this time, the Fraternity in D.C. entered into its current phase of membership—the period of International Brotherhood. While a German speaking Lodge has existed in Washington since 1876, in the late part of the 20th and early part of the 21st Century, Masons of different languages and nationalities organized and formed lodges to celebrate their shared identities resulting in, Italian, French, African, Turkish, Filipino, Armenian, Spanish, and Arabic lodges (to name a few). And by the early part of the 21st Century, two lodges organized as academic affinity lodges affiliated with The George Washington and American Universities.
Today, the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia continues to grow and support its Capital area community. There are 45 lodges operating in the District of Columbia and Lebanon, consisting of over 3,500 individual members and over 4,200 total memberships. Our modern Grand Lodge has dedicated itself to the diversity of the brotherhood of men who practice and study the deep symbolism of Freemasonry in an effort to make themselves better men – socially, morally and intellectually, without reference to race, creed, sexual orientation, specific religion or national origin.The Grand Lodge of Free And Accepted Masons of the District of Columbia