History of the Scottish Rite in the District of Columbia

I. Introduction

The introduction of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite into the District of Columbia may be said to have begun when the Supreme Council, 33°, of the Southern Jurisdiction of the United States, elected Benjamin Brown French to receive the 33rd Degree of Sovereign Grand Inspector General and Active Member of the Supreme Council for the District of Columbia. He was duly invested with that degree by the Sovereign Grand Commander, Ill. Albert Pike, 33° on December 12, 1859.

In the spring of 1860, Grand Commander Pike conferred the several degrees of the Rite, from the 4th to the 32nd inclusive, upon Brothers George C. Whiting, William D. Haley, John G. F. Holston, Gustavus A. Schwarzman, Christopher Ingle, Joseph W. Nairn, William G. Parkhurst, Aaron Van Camp, Ezra L. Stevens, Goff Alfred Hall, and Peter P. Pitchlyn. Brother Haley, after having received the degrees, was authorized to confer the same upon a few others, who were unable to be present at the several meetings called by the Grand Commander.

On June 22, 1860, having previously assembled a cadre of Brethren willing to assist in establishing Scottish Rite Freemasonry in the District of Columbia, Brother Pike issued Letters Patent constituting a Grand Consistory of Sublime Princes of the Royal Secret, 32nd Degree; with the members forming this body being drawn from those mentioned above, along with Benjamin Brown French, Ben Perley Poore, Samuel T. Schugert, and Aaron H. Palmer: these officers were installed by Brother Pike on the same day. On June 28th, the new Grand Consistory gave a complimentary banquet in honor of the Grand Commander. The sitting officers of the Grand Consistory, except Pitchlyn and Poore, were reelected on January 22, 1861.

It appears that the original concept for the structure of Scottish Rite bodies within a locale (Orient), was to first establish a Grand Consistory of the 32°, have that body charter such subordinate bodies as needed to support a hopefully expanding membership. Thus, the following:

Letters Patent for a Lodge of Perfection of the 14th Degree had been issued by the newly chartered Grand Consistory on the same evening as its own creation to be called Osiris Lodge of Perfection No. 1. It was constituted on the evening of June 22, 1860 with Albert Pike, Grand Commander, presiding. The following officers were elected and installed: Joseph W. Nairn, Christopher Ingle, Ezra L. Stevens, John G. F. Holston, Benjamin B. French, G. A. Schwarzman, William G Parkhurst, Aaron Van Camp, and Goff Alfred Hall.

These bodies held their meetings in the Masonic Hall, at the corner of Ninth and D Streets, N. W., where they did considerable work; Brother Ingle receiving for his excellent services the 33rd Degree, at the hands of the Supreme Council at their sesion in New Orleans on the first of April 1861.

The great Civil War coming on, the stress of military and civic affairs rendered it impossible to continue the activities of the Rite, and it became dormant, the last meeting of the Consistory was held on April 5, 1861.


II. The Revival

On January 19, 1867, Brothers Benjamin B. French, George C. Whiting, Christopher Ingle, and Ben Perley Poore met at the “Club House,” corner of Fifteenth and H streets, Northwest, to consider the status of the Scottish Rite in the District of Columbia. They agreed to do all they could to revive the Rite. Although the Grand Consistory and the Osiris Lodge of Perfection still had a dubious existence at this time, they evidently did little or no work, for we find Brother French, the Active 33rd, assisted by some of the other brethren, conferring and communicating the degrees on worthy Master Masons, at various times and places.

On May 20, 1870, Brother French appointed Joseph Thomas Brown, 33°, to be his Deputy for the District; and he, at the death of Brother French on August 12, 1870, became Special Deputy for the District of Columbia, by appointment of Grand Commander Pike.

At their May 1870 session in Baltimore, the Supreme Council had recalled the Letters Patent of Osiris Lodge of Perfection, and so on December 16, 1870, the following brethren met at the Masonic Hall with a view to the organization of a new Lodge of Perfection, viz.: Christopher Ingle, Joshua Otis Stanton, George D. Patten, William M. Ireland, James B. Gibbs, Charles T. Nutze, Benjamin S. Hedrick, Richard S. Olcott, Leonard Stoddard, James F. Wollard, Henry C. Barr, George A. Hall, John J. Bell, James Gozler, Clement W. Bennett, George W. Balloch, Joseph W. Nairn, Abner T. Longley, Joseph Daniels, Upton H. Ridenour, John G. F. Holston, Morton P. Chipman, Ben Perley Poore, and Thomas L. Tullock.

Albert Pike was present, and presided at the meeting, while Albert G. Mackey acted as Secretary. A resolution was adopted by the brethren, organizing themselves into a Lodge of Perfection, to be known as Mithras Lodge of Perfection No. 2, subsequently changed to No. 1. A petition was prepared, praying for Letters Patent of Constitution; which being granted, the members assembled in the Commandery Room of the Masonic Temple on December 30, 1870, when the Lodge was duly constituted by Grand Commander Pike, assisted by the Secretary General of the Supreme Council, Albert G. Mackey.

On December 7, 1871, a Council of Princes of Jerusalem, 15th and 16th degrees, was constituted, under the name of Kedron Council No. 1, with the following officers: Joseph Daniels, Thomas L. Tullock, Joshua Otis Stanton, Abner T. Longley, George H. Moore, Clement W. Bennett, Charles A. Appel, and Joseph W. Nairn.

At the same meeting, a Chapter of Rose Croix, 17th and 18th degrees, was constituted in the parlor of the Chapter Chamber of the Masonic Temple, and designated Evangelist Chapter No. 1; the officers being Joshua Otis Stanton, Clement W. Bennett, Luther H. Pike, William M. Ireland, Abner T. Longley, Charles A. Appel, and Joseph W. Nairn. Later, the degrees in the Council of Princes of Jerusalem were merged with those of the Rose Croix Chapter; so that the latter body included the degrees from the 15th to 18th inclusive.

On December 11, 1873, the then Special Deputy for the District of Columbia, William Morton Ireland, 33°, convened a meeting in the Commandery Room of the Masonic Temple, for the purpose of organizing a Council of Kadosh, 19th to 30th degrees. On January 29, 1874, a Council was organized and duly constituted, as Robert De Bruce Council No. 1, with the following officers: William Morton Ireland, Luther H. Pike, Crawford C. Adams, Abner T. Longley, William R. Singleton, Clement W. Bennett, Henry J. Martin, and Jonathan M. Smith. Sovereign Commander Albert Pike, assisted by Secretary General Albert G. Mackey, constituted this body, and Brother Singleton delivered an impressive oration on the occasion.

Upon the written request of William M. Ireland and Clement W. Bennett, addressed to the 32nd degree Masons residing in the District of Columbia, the following brethren assembled at the Scottish Rite Sanctuary, corner of Seventh and D Streets, N. W., at 7.30 P.M., January 6, 1876; viz.: Albert Pike, Sovereign Grand Commander; William M. Ire­land, Clement W. Bennett, Christopher Ingle, James B. Gibbs, Benjamin S. Hedrick, Abner T. Longley, Joshua 0. Stanton, Luther H. Pike, Craw­ ford C. Adams, Henry J. Martin, Jonathan M. Smith, Leonard Stoddard, William R. Singleton, Frederick Widdows, John B. Dawson, Charles T. Nutze, Allen Wall, Ezra L. Stevens, Philip R. Wilson, Edwin B. MacGrotty, and John B. Wadsworth. Upon motion of Brother Hedrick, the members decided to organize a Consistory (31st and 32 degrees), and a committee was appointed to select a name. The same evening, they reported, recommending that the name should be Albert Pike Consistory; which was adopted unanimously. The following officers were then elected: Clement W. Bennett, Joshua 0. Stanton, Luther H. Pike (son of Albert Pike), Abner T. Longley, John B. Dawson, Crawford C. Adams, Allen Wall, James B. Gibbs, Henry J. Martin, and Philip R. Wilson. The Consistory was duly constituted on January 12, 1876.


III. Another Lodge of Perfection

On October 20, 1880, John Mills Brown, Surgeon General of the United States Navy, was crowned an Active Member of the Supreme Council and Sovereign Grand Inspector General in the District of Columbia. Under his administration, the Rite made rapid strides.

Upon his recommendation, Orient Lodge of Perfection No. 2, 14th degree, was constituted, January 12, 1885, with Dr. Thomas G. Loockerman as Master, Frederick W. Ritter as Senior Warden, and George E. Corson as Junior Warden. This body held its meetings in the Masonic Hall in Georgetown, D. C., and continued working for about eighteen years. In November 1902, this body surrendered its charter, its members affiliating with Mithras Lodge of Perfection.


IV. The Building of a New Cathedral

The Scottish Rite Bodies of the District of Columbia had no permanent abiding-place of their own, until 1888. In the spring of that year, they purchased the property at 1007 G Street, Northwest, and erected a Cathedral; the cornerstone of which was laid by the Grand Lodge, F.A.A.M., of the District of Columbia, on June 7, 1888. On October 30, of the same year, the Scottish Rite Bodies dedicated and occupied the building. It was destined to become the nucleus of a great renaissance of Scottish Rite Masonry in the National Capital, largely owing to the efforts of a group of young and enthusiastic Masons, who became members of the Rite, about the beginning of the twentieth century.

The Supreme Council of the Southern Jurisdiction, at its session of 1909, decided to erect a new and splendid House of the Temple, in Washington, D. C., and for that, purpose offered for sale its property at the southeast corner of Third and E streets, Northwest. The coordinate Bodies of the District of Columbia acquired the foregoing property, giving in exchange for it their old home; and on February 1, 1910, they took possession of the former House of the Temple, a place hallowed with memories of Albert Pike. The old building on G Street was subsequently sold and demolished, to make room for an extension of the department store known as the Palais Royal.

As time went on, the Cathedral on Third and E streets, Northwest was found inadequate, owing to increase of membership of the Order in the District of Columbia. In consequence, in February 1937, the Board of Trustees adopted a resolution calling for a mass meeting of the members of the Rite to be held, for the purpose of authorizing the purchase of several lots on Sixteenth Street, Northwest, near the intersection of Harvard Street and Columbia Road, and the erection thereon of a Temple. On May 17, 1937, the meeting was held, at which the authorization asked for by the Board of Trustees was voted unanimously, the cost of the lots, building and furnishings being limited to $500,000. The architects were Messrs. Porter, Lockie, and Chatelain, and the builders were the Charles H. Tompkins Co., all of Washington, D. C.

Toward the latter part of 1938, active operations were begun. Ground was formally broken for the new Temple, on November 15, 1938. Sovereign Grand Commander John Henry Cowles presided at the ceremony, and brief addresses were made.

The new Temple is distinguished by its simplicity of style. With outside dimensions of 129 by 114 feet, it has an approximate floor area of 36,000 square feet. The building is constructed of Indiana limestone. The central portion of the main façade contains only 33 stones, each about nine feet square, and weighs about 6 tons. The lintel over the main portal, weighing about 38 tons, is said to be the largest face area stone ever quarried in the United States.

The interior of the building is very handsome. The auditorium, which will seat nearly 400 persons, is well equipped for working the degrees of the Rite. The fine pipe organ of the foregoing room was donated by Bro. William R. F. Hines, in memory of his father, Bro. Stephen Henry Hines, who was a member of the Rite. A handsome lodge room is pro­vided on the third floor for business meetings of the Rite.


V. Laying the Corner-Stone

Thursday, June 8, 1939, marked an important epoch in the history of the Rite in the District of Columbia, it being the occasion of the cornerstone laying of the Scottish Rite Temple at 2800 Sixteenth Street, N. W., by the Grand Lodge, F.A.A.M., of the District of Columbia. This date is also memorable because of the visit of the King and Queen of England to Washington, D. C.

King George VI, who is a member of the Masonic Fraternity, is Past Grand Master Mason of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, and Honorary Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of England. He and the President of the United States, who is a Mason, were courteously invited to attend the ceremony, but unfortunately, every minute of their time was occupied with important affairs incident to the royal visit to the National Capital.

At 2 o’clock in the afternoon, under a bright summer sky, a large assemblage, including officials of the Rite, the Camp Guard, and the Order of De Molay, gathered to witness the cornerstone laying. To Melville D. Hensey, 33°, was delegated the duty of securing the items for the box, which was placed in the cornerstone. This stone, which is 8 feet long and 4½ feet high, weighs about 5 tons. The affair was concluded at 3:30 o’clock P.M.