by Sir Knight Mark A. Tabbert
The George Washington Masonic Memorial opened a new exhibit in February featuring forty-five historic White House stones. Each stone is marked by a Scottish stonemason who helped build the White House. The stones are reassembled for the first time since President Harry S. Truman sent one to every United States Masonic Grand Lodge in 1952. Complementing the stones is a minute book from The Lodge of Journeymen Masons No. 8 of Edinburgh, Scotland. It lists members of the lodge who, in 1794, immigrated to help build the White House. Accompanying the minute book is the lodge's mark book, showing each stonemason's trade mark. By comparing these marks to the marks on the stones, visitors may identify the men who helped to build the President's House. The exhibit opened in conjunction with the Memorial Association's 100th Anniversary and will run through May 2011.
In 1789, president George Washington and the United States Congress were determined to build a great capital city. By 1792 the site was chosen, designer Pierre L'Enfant's street plan was adopted, and work began. At the city's center would be the United States Capitol, the "People's House." The President's House would be located on Pennsylvania Avenue. Washington reviewed the site and personally selected architect James Hoban's design. The mansion's cornerstone was laid with a small civic and Masonic ceremony on October 13, 1792.
Although foundation work then began in earnest, the government soon discovered that the young nation had an abundance of craftsmen but few master stonemasons. What's more, those it did have were working on the United States Capitol. After a thorough search in America and Europe, agent George Walker traveled to Edinburgh, Scotland. By spring 1794 he had recruited at least eight stonemasons from The Lodge of Journeymen Masons No. 8.
With the arrival of the eight Scots stonemasons, the White House walls rose to completion in 1798. During construction, the stonemasons, being Freemasons, joined the local lodge. Federal Lodge No. 15 had been chartered September 12, 1793 by the Grand Lodge of Maryland. James Hoban was its first Worshipful Master. Federal Lodge became the first lodge when the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia was constituted in 1811. The exhibit also includes Federal Lodge's first account book listing the Scots stonemasons and White House architect James Hoban as its first Master. Additional materials include a letter from President Truman, historic photographs, and other items.
The White House stones were discovered soon after Truman became president in 1945. With major plaster cracks appearing and a piano dropping nearly through the floor, it was obvious that the executive mansion needed a complete overhaul. The First Family relocated to Blair House as work began. By 1950, only the White House facade and some of the original foundation stones remained. President Truman inspected the work often, and during one tour he noticed a large number of stones engraved with mason's marks. Recognizing that they were made by Scottish stonemasons, he contacted the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia and had more than 100 of them delivered to the Grand Lodge headquarters on New York Avenue-just three blocks away.
In 1952, President Truman asked the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia to send one of the marked stones to each United States Grand Lodge. Each stone had a small White House brass plaque affixed to it accompanied by a letter - framed of recycled White House wood - to the Grand Master. Additional stones were distributed to Canadian Grand Lodges, several Order of The Eastern Star state Grand Chapters, a few local lodges, DeMolay International, the two United States Scottish Rite Supreme Councils, the Grand Lodge of Israel, and the Grand Lodge of the Philippines. Many were hand delivered by Truman or by Carl Claudy, Executive Secretary of the Masonic Service Association. In 2004, the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia presented stones to the recently independent Grand Lodge of Alaska and Grand Lodge of Hawaii.
This unique exhibit of American and Scottish Masonic history is sponsored by the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, Southern Jurisdiction, Valley of Washington, Orient of the District of Columbia, and by the Grand Lodge of F.A.A.M., of the District of Columbia. It is also made possible by the cooperation and support of many United States Grand Lodges, the Grand Lodge of Scotland, the Lodge of Journeymen Masons No. 8 of Edinburgh, Federal Lodge No. 1 of the District of Columbia, and the White House Historical Association.
The George Washington Masonic National Memorial Association is a private, non-profit, educational organization. Its membership is comprised of fifty-two Grand Lodges (fifty states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico), representing nearly two million Freemasons in the United States. The Memorial Association was created on Washington's Birthday, February 22, 1910. Between 1922 and 1932, it built the George Washington Masonic Memorial through volunteer donations from American Freemasons. The Association's mission is: "To inspire humanity through education to emulate and promote the virtues, character, and vision of George Washington, the man, the mason, and father of our country."
Sir Knight Mark A. Tabbert is the Director of Collections of the George Washington Masonic Memorial and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.