Gary T. Scott, 32, K.C.C.H.
Region Historian, National Capital Area, National Park Service
The Washington Monument contains 22 Masonic memorial stones contributed by 14 Grand Lodges and 8 individual Lodges.
The cornerstone of the Washington Monument consisted of a block of Maryland marble weighing “twenty-four thousand five hundred pounds” and was presented to the Washington National Monument Society in 1848 by Thomas Symington from his quarry about eleven miles from Baltimore. The stone was shipped to Washington from Baltimore on the B&O railroad. Upon its arrival into the city of Washington, the stone was drawn to the site of the Monument by a large body of workmen from the Washington Navy Yard, assisted by other citizens.
Brother Gary T. Scott at the Washington Naval Lodge No. 4 memorial stone inside the Washington Monument.
On the 4th of July, 1848, under a clear sky in the presence of President James K. Polk and virtually every notable of the government, including former first lady Dolley Madison, the cornerstone was set with full Masonic ceremonies by the Grand Lodge of Masons of the District of Columbia. One of the principle addresses of the occasion was given by Benjamin B. French, Grand Master, 33, later Lieutenant Grand Commander of the Scottish Rite, S.J., who wore the Masonic apron Washington wore at the laying of the cornerstone of the United States Capitol.
In his address, French referred to the Master’s chair used by Washington as Worshipful Master of Washington-Alexandria Lodge, No. 22, and the gavel used by the first President to set the cornerstone of the Capitol, in the custody of Potomac Lodge No. 5 of Georgetown, DC. Both of these were on display for the occasion along with other Washington Masonic relics.
The Washington National Monument Society, in charge of fundraising for the Monument, sensed the importance of Washington’s Masonic membership and the great pride Masons felt across the country for their Brother, the father of our country. The Society in 1851 and 1853 solicited members of the Masonic Order nationally, through the Grand Lodges, to make contributions to the construction of the Monument.
In an effort to publicize the Monument fundraising campaign, the Society solicited each state and territory to present a carved memorial stone to be placed in the interior of the Monument’s walls. Stones in marble, granite, and sandstone began arriving from across the country. Although the Society specified the memorial stones be 4 feet long, 2 feet high, and 12 to 18 inches thick, they began arriving in all sizes, and all were placed within the Monument. By 1855, the Society had installed 92 carved commemorative stones within the walls of the Monument.
The Society solicited the Masons, the Odd Fellows, the
Sons of Temperance, and other fraternal orders as well. This action resulted
in the donation of 22 Masonic memorial stones contributed by 14 Grand Lodges
and 8 individual Lodges.*
*Note: Today, the Masonic memorial stones of the Washington Monument may be seen by the visitor who takes scheduled tours walking down the 897 steps of the interior staircase of the Monument. The walk down is a bit long and tedious and suitable for the athletically inclined. Monument visitors may inquire about these walking tours by calling the Washington Monument Ranger Station at 202-426-6841. The National Park Service will install an elevator with windows from which appropriately positioned visitors may view many of the 192 commemorative stones as they make the five-minute ascension to the top of the Monument.
The first Masonic stone ascending the Monument is that of the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia at the 50-foot landing. This earliest Masonic contribution was no doubt tied into the cornerstone laying ceremony presided over by the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia.
Next to it is another marble stone, that of Naval Lodge No. 4 of the District of Columbia. Founded among workers at the Washington Navy Yard, Naval Lodge members doubtless participated in dragging the cornerstone to the Monument site and took part in the cornerstone ceremony itself.
By 1854, the Washington National Monument Society had exhausted its funds and all work stopped at the 150 foot level. Turmoil within the Society, bad economic times, and the fury of the coming Civil War and its aftermath would halt monument construction for 22 years. There is still a discernible line between courses of differing stonework indicating the resumption of Monument construction funded now by Congress on August 2, 1876, and spurred on by the centennial celebration of the Declaration of Independence. The Army Corps of Engineers carried on construction of the Monument until its completion in 1885.
Rough pencil drawing as recorded in a National Capital Region record book of the memorial stone (5' x 26 1/2") placed in the Washington Monument by the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia.
In 1874, Society Secretary John Carrol Brent began again to send solicitations to Masonic Bodies and other fraternal orders. Between July and September 1874, over 200 pledges were received by the Society from every part of the country, chiefly from the Masons, Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias, Red Men, and other fraternal bodies.
By April 15, 1875, 211 Masonic Lodges across the country had responded to Brent’s call including four Grand Lodges-Florida, Illinois, Ohio, and Massachusetts, the last three giving $1000 each. The average Lodge gave from $10 to $50. Mithras Lodges of Perfection, A.&A.S.R. Washington, DC, made a contribution as did 24 Royal Arch Chapters and five Commandaries. The Odd Fellows had an equal number of participating Lodges, and gave many stones.
The Monument’s aluminum metal apex, representing a small pyramid, 5.6” on each base side and 8.9” high was set December 6, 1884, on top of the 3,300-pound capstone. The apex was engraved with the names of the engineers and notables who completed the monument, and on one side contained the words: Laus Deo, Praise God.
The Monument’s official dedication was held on a cold winter day, February 21, 1885. Again the Grand Lodge of Masons of the District of Columbia participated using an adaptation of the cornerstone ceremony they had used in 1848. Grand Master Myron M. Parker gave an oration, and again the Washington Masonic relics were displayed and Washington’s Masonic career was discussed. Naval Lodge No. 4, my own Lodge, was present, as it had been at the laying of the cornerstone 37 years before.
Harvey, Frederick L., History of the Washington National Monument and Washington National Monument Society, Washington, Government Printing Office, 1903.
Scott, Pamela and Antoinette J. Lee, Buildings of the District of Columbia, New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.
The Washington Monument, Washington, D.C.: The Society of American Military Engineers, 1929.
Torres, Louis, “To the Immortal name and memory of George Washington,” The Unites States Army Corps of Engineers and the Construction of the Washington Monument, Historical Division, Office of Administrative Services, Office of the Chief of Engineers, Washington, D.C.: US Government Printing Office, 1985.
Wilcox, R.W., “Facsimiles and Descriptions of the Blocks
Contributed to the Washington National Monument,” unpublished manuscript,
National Capital Area, National Park Service, n.d.
This article was taken from the Internet web-site of the National Park Service, District of Columbia. It is the abbreviated version of a longer, fully detailed and illustrated article by Bro. Scott on the Masonic stones of the Washington National Monument.
The complete article will be published in 1997 in Heredom (the Transactions of the Scottish Rite Research Society) which is composed of articles contributed to the Society in 1996. To obtain copies of Heredom or become a member of the Society, Freemasonry’s fastest growing research society, write: Scottish Rite Research Society, 1733 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20009-3103. Tel 202-232-3579 Fax 202-387-1843.
Annual Membership is $20.00; Life Membership (individuals only) is $300.00. All 1997 members will receive a gift copy of the recently revised, greatly expanded second edition of Is It True What They Say About Freemasonry? The Methods of Anti-Masons by Ill. S. Brent Morris, 33, and Bro. Art deHoyos, 32, in addition to Heredom and the Society’s quarterly newsletter, The Plumbline.