Tower from Bottom

The George Washington Masonic Memorial—
Imposing, Intriguing, and Slightly Mysterious

Tower from Bottom

It looms over the city of Alexandria, Virginia, a 333-foot tall memorial to George Washington, the nation’s first president and a freemason. Tourists who exit the D.C. Metro at King Street, waiting in line to board the trolley that will take them to Old Town Alexandria, cannot help but notice and wonder about this strange looking tower, an amalgam of Greek, Roman, and Egyptian architecture. Local residents extol the building’s virtues, beginning with an imposing memorial hall with eight green granite columns that measure 40 feet high and more than four feet wide, an elaborate painted ceiling, and two magnificent murals that celebrate two events in Washington’s life, stressing his identity as a freemason. The imposing statue of Washington that dominates the memorial hall shows him wearing the freemason apron. The stained glass windows in the hall picture Benjamin Franklin and other well known freemasons.

Freemasonry is a fraternal organization that arose from obscure origins in the late 16th to early 17th centuries probably in the stonemason guilds of Scotland. Washington was initiated into freemasonry in 1752. On Washington’s birthday, February 22, 1910, freemasons from around the country met in Alexandria and proposed building a memorial to honor the first president. The site chosen was Shooter’s Hill (also known as Shuter’s Hill), the highest point in Alexandria, thus ensuring that this was one building that would certainly be noticed. It took more than 10 years for the groundbreaking to take place, and on November 1, 1923, President Calvin Coolidge and former President and Freemason William H. Taft, participated in a ceremony to lay the cornerstone. The building was finally dedicated on May 12, 1932, by President Herbert Hoover.

Fitting for a memorial to honor Washington, the Masonic Memorial is impressive and tall (standing six feet, three inches, Washington towered over his contemporaries). Architect Harvey W. Corbett, who also designed Rockefeller Center, created a monument that mixed ancient styles: the temple entrance was inspired by the Parthenon in Athens; a section of the tower was inspired by the Lighthouse of Alexandria, Egypt, one of the Seven Wonders of the World; and the tower is topped with an Egyptian pyramid.

There is much to see in the multi-level memorial. The George Washington Museum on the fourth floor details the life of the first president, tracing his beginnings as a Virginia planter, who went on to become a military officer, hero, and American icon. There are artifacts from Mount Vernon, donated by Washington’s descendants, including the 1792 family bible. From the top of the tower, there are sweeping views of Alexandria and Washington D.C. The Capitol can be seen in the distance.

The masons today include many different organizations, including some for women and children. One exhibit includes a circular graph showing the many groups and how they are connected. Costumes sometimes worn by the freemasons are also on display.

Lodge rooms within the structure are often used for meetings by local mason groups. Efforts have been made to open up the memorial for the city’s residents and tourists alike. Guided tours are offered daily and there are concerts in a classical theater that seats 400 people. The memorial can be booked for weddings and other social events. Parts of the building made it to the big screen in Nicholas Cage’s film, National Treasure (above).

The George Washington Masonic Memorial
101 Callahan Drive
Alexandria, Virginia

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