Masonry in Washington DC
In 1811, representatives of five Masonic lodges operating in the District of Columbia met in a convention to form their own governing body, the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia. The new Grand Lodge was comprised of four lodges first chartered in Maryland and one from Virginia. The five lodges reorganized under new charters issued by the new Grand Lodge: Federal No. 1, Alexandria-Brook No. 2, Columbia No. 3, Naval No. 4, and Potomac No. 5. In the early decades, the Grand Lodge convened in the Masonic Hall constructed by Federal and Columbia lodges. By the end of the first decade, membership in the fraternity totaled 250 members.
The Morgan Affair
A wave of anti-masonic sentiment swept across the United States between 1830 and 1850. While the events around the "Morgan Affair" caused lodges across the country to suspend or terminate operations, men across the District continued to apply for membership and proceedings recorded a net-positive increase in applicants through the period. The Grand Lodge conducted and participated in several public events including the laying of the cornerstones of the Washington Monument and extension to the US Capitol. On November 9, 1848, a petition was submitted by several members who had traveled to California during the Gold Rush to form a lodge "in the town of San Francisco, Upper California" and titled California Lodge No. 13. Two years later, this lodge helped form the Grand Lodge of California, which then became California Lodge No. 1 and ceased to be a member of the Grand Lodge of D.C.
The Golden Age of Fraternalism
The Grand Lodge entered the first golden age of the fraternalism between 1850 and 1920s when the Craft saw a large influx in membership. The Grand Lodge laid the cornerstone of their Masonic Temple on the North West corner of Ninth and F Streets Northwest in 1868, in the presence of President Andrew Johnson. Dr. Albert Gallatin Mackey moved to the District and continued to publish his seminal works on Freemasonry. By 1907, membership had grown so high that it required a larger building to house the various masonic bodies and clubs. President Theodore Roosevelt laid the cornerstone of third Masonic Hall on June 8, 1907, located on 13th and New York Avenue. The Grand Lodge also performed the cornerstone ceremony of the House of the Temple, the headquarters of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, Southern Jurisdiction.
In 1909, Kenyon N. Harper, a Past Master of Naval Lodge and Grand Historian, compiled and published the first seminal history of the Grand Lodge of DC in time for the body's centennial anniversary in 1911. A digital copy may be found here.
The first and second World Wars resulted in a great influx of new members in the District. Freemasons joined other organization to help support the war effort by organizing fundraising campaigns, welfare, and assistance programs. In 1952, the Grand Master of the District of Columbia, Renah Camalier, was tasked by President and Past Grand Master of Missouri, Harry S. Truman, to distribute the White House stones. A series of stones were discovered in the original foundation of the White House bearing masonic symbols and marks. The President, recognizing the historic significance of the marks, requested that the stones be cut and distributed to the many Grand Lodges across the United States and abroad.
In 1961, Past Grand Master Ray B. Harris, of Potomac Lodge No. 5, published the sesquicentennial history of the Grand Lodge of D.C. 1811-1961. A digital copy can be found here.
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 25,000 in the early 1950's. With growing operational costs, the Grand Lodge decided to sell the Masonic Temple on 13th Street and moved to their existing location on MacArthur Boulevard.
In 1992 and 1993, the Grand Lodge organized and participated in the bicentennial celebrations of the laying of the White House and US Capitol cornerstones. The most recent review of the history of our Grand Lodge was written by Carl R. Levine in 1992 and covers the years from 1962-1991. This volume can be viewed here. A comprehensive list of Proceedings of the Grand Lodge since 1810 are available from the Grand Lodge by request.
A New Age of Fraternalism
Also around this time, the Fraternity in D.C. entered into its current phase of membership--the period of international brotherhood. Masons of different languages and nationalities organized and formed lodges to celebrate those affinities, while two lodges also organized as academic affinity lodges for The George Washington and American Universities.
Today, the Grand Lodge continues to grow and support the District community. There are 45 lodges operating in the District of Columbia and Lebanon, consisting of over 3,500 individual members and over 4,200 memberships.