A Landmark’s Legacy in Alexandria

A Landmark’s Legacy in Alexandria

George Washington Masonic Memorial celebrates 100 years.

Crowds gather for the laying of the cornerstone of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial in 1923.

Crowds gather for the laying of the cornerstone of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial in 1923.

When the cornerstone of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial was dedicated in 1923, over 15,000 Masons and guests came to witness the historic event. They celebrated with a grand parade from the Alexandria waterfront up to the Memorial, where dignitaries including President Calvin Coolidge and Supreme Court Chief Justice William Howard Taft were in attendance.

The vision of Masonic leaders for a towering Memorial that would forever honor George Washington and serve as a beacon of Masonic light was beginning to come true.

Their purpose stated: “To erect and maintain in the City of Alexandria, Virginia, a suitable memorial temple to George Washington, the Mason; one which will express in durability and beauty the undying esteem of the Freemasons of the United States for him, in whose memory it shall stand throughout the coming years.”

President Calvin Coolidge and first lady Grace Coolidge, standing, attend the laying of the cornerstone of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial in 1923.


“For the 100th anniversary of the laying of the Memorial Cornerstone, we plan to follow the 1923 program of events as much as possible,” said George Seghers, Executive Director of the Memorial. “The public events will begin with a parade up King Street to the Memorial. The Cornerstone Ceremony will take place on the terrace directly in front of the Memorial, the same level as the original cornerstone.”

The Memorial is a National Historic Landmark built as a tribute to George Washington. Funded through philanthropic efforts of Freemasons across the country, the Memorial remains a museum sustained through charitable efforts of Freemason organizations and The George Washington Masonic National Memorial Association, a charitable nonprofit organization.

“More than 15,000 people came to Alexandria in 1923 to place a cornerstone and to dedicate our city’s memorial in honor of George Washington and his virtues,” said historian and Freemason Mark Tabbert.  “Among them were President Calvin Coolidge, Chief Justice William Howard Taft, Virginia Governor E. L. Trinkle and representatives from around the world.”

In laying the cornerstone in 1923, Taft used the same trowel that George Washington used to lay the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 18, 1793 (the trowel was owned by the Alexandria-Washington Lodge).

Land for the Memorial was originally purchased in 1909 by Charles H. Callahan, Senior Warden of the Alexandria-Washington Lodge. Callahan had purchased several lots on Shuters Hill, in turn giving the lots to the Lodge for the site of a fireproof Lodge Hall. Grand Masters from across the country assembled in the Alexandria-Washington Lodge on Feb. 22, 1910, for the purpose of forming an association to plan and build a suitable Memorial to George Washington, the Mason.

According to the Memorial’s website, the site was selected because it followed the ancient tradition for the location of temples on hilltops or mountains. It was also located on land with which Washington was familiar; it was the very spot once proposed by Thomas Jefferson as the ideal site for the nation’s Capitol building.

Groundbreaking took place on June 5, 1922, with the laying of the cornerstone the following year. According to news reports at the time, every state deposited an item into the cornerstone.

“One hundred years later, we return to lay a new cornerstone that shall remain built upon the same foundation of values George Washington instilled in our democracy and national character,” said Tabbert.

The Memorial is fashioned after the ancient Lighthouse of Alexandria in Egypt. The 333-foot tall memorial sits atop 36 acres on Shuter's Hill. Construction began in 1922, the building was dedicated in 1932, and the interior finally completed in 1970. It remains one of the largest-scale private memorials to honor Washington.

“The George Washington Masonic National Memorial, American Freemasonry’s gift to mankind, is many things,” said Seghers. “It is a repository for the history of Freemasonry, it is a museum that preserves and presents the Masonic Life of George Washington and the history and heritage of American Freemasonry, it is a research and educational center, and a fine arts and community events center. But above and beyond all this, it is a Masonic Memorial to George Washington, the Man, the Mason and Father of our Country. Its purpose is to ensure that his memory and legacy will never be forgotten.”