The George Washington Masonic National Memorial was erected in 1932 in Alexandria, Virginia, taking almost a decade to complete. The George Washington is supported by all 52 grand lodges of the United States which is not the usual practice of the Masonic lodges. It is common Masonic practice for the Grand Lodges to support only those buildings in the state of the particular lodge. Monies used for the construction of the memorial were provided by on-hand funds of the Freemasons and donations, making it one of few buildings that were built without any loans whatsoever.
The memorial was built to honor George Washington who was a Freemason in Alexandria Lodge 22, and to house numerous artifacts collected by the Alexandria Lodge 22 that included most of the fraternal artifacts of George Washington. The Alexandria Lodge 22, given numerous personal artifacts of Washington by the Washington family, almost lost many relics in a fire at their original lodge. Determined to preserve them, they designed the memorial to be fire-proof. Those artifacts include the trowel and working tools used to lay the United States Capitol’s cornerstone as well as a traveling bag Washington used during the Revolutionary War and an urn reported to contain a lock of his hair.
It was hoped that the cornerstone for the memorial could be laid on Washington’s 170th anniversary of initiation into the Freemasons. However, for various reasons, the ceremony was conducted three days earlier on November 1, 1923. Attending the ceremony was president at the time Calvin Coolidge, Freemason and former president Howard Taft, Virginia’s Governor and many of the Grand Masters of Masons across the nation. Taft, using the trowel Washington had used to lay the first cornerstone of the Capitol, spread the first cement for the cornerstone of the memorial.
The George Washington Masonic National Memorial is 333 feet high, ten floors including basement level and is modeled after the Lighthouse of Alexandria in Egypt. The tower is capped by an Egyptian pyramid and a flame-like finial. In the Memorial Hall on the ground floor, a giant bronze statue of George Washington is flanked by large murals that depict the president’s life. A museum of the first president is located on the fourth floor and displays many of Washington’s personal items.
On the first floor are three areas; the Assembly Hall, Dining Rooms, and Shrine Rooms which are dedicated to the Ancient Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine; the Shriners. The Assembly Hall features eight eighteen feet high green granite columns. The South Lodge Room is used by the Alexandria-Washington Lodge 22. Several of the floors are furnished by Masonic appendant bodies such as The York Rite, Tall Cedars of Lebanon, and Grotto.
The George Washington Masonic National Memorial is run by a 21-member Board of Directors who represents the 52 Grand Lodges in the United States. Past Grand Masters are the only men who are eligible for election to the board and members serve a three-year term. The Board meets twice yearly and the Executive Committee oversees the actual business of the memorial. Day-to day operations are conducted by professional paid staff at the memorial.
The George Washington Masonic National Memorial receives over 50,000 annual visitors. Guided tours take visitors around the memorial with unguided tours available on the first and second floors only. Visitors will learn little about the Masons on the tour even though each floor has one room that belongs to a different body of the Masons. However, the Masons are not a secret society. Only men can be Masons and they must believe in a “Supreme Being.” A member becomes a Master Mason after passing three initiation stages. Freemasonry became public in the 1700’s, but is thought to be dated back to stonemasons in medieval times. George Washington was the first Master in the Alexandria Lodge of 1788.