By T.S. Akers
Mount Moriah Masonic Temple
(Courtesy of the Pittsburg County Genealogical and Historical Society)
(Courtesy of the Pittsburg County Genealogical and Historical Society)
Visitors to Southeastern Oklahoma are often surprised by the majestic beauty they discover in the forested hills that encompass the area. The region is comprised of the ancient Ouachita Mountains and its subranges the Kiamichi and San Bois Mountains. The terrain can be described as both beautiful and unforgiving. The dense forests and rocky outcrops came to be favored hideouts of outlaws such as the Youngers, the Dalton Gang, and Belle Starr.[i] The clear streams and ample foliage would also prove highly conducive to the moon shiners of the region and natives can certainly attest to the fact that more than a few stills remain hidden.[ii] Today the hills of Southeastern Oklahoma also conceal a Masonic wonder of a bygone era.
Just north of the City of McAlester lies a road with what can only be described as a name entirely uncommon to the area. Unless seeking it out, one could easily pass by Mount Moriah Road without ever knowing it. Of course, this ordinary road has not always bore such a unique name. In the early 1900s the road that transects the prominent point that overlooks McAlester was anything but the paved feature encountered today.[iii] The citizens of McAlester were no strangers to Masonic structures. The Sir Knights of McAlester Commandery No. 3 took part in the cornerstone ceremony of their own meeting hall on Grand Avenue in 1906.[iv] That same year also saw the laying of the cornerstone of the second Scottish Rite Temple in McAlester.[v] It was in 1907 that the Royal Arch and Cryptic Masons of McAlester saw the need for a temple of their own and land was chosen west of the city. To mark the location a vault was buried in the earth containing trinkets of Indian Chapter No. 1 of Royal Arch Masons and Union Council No. 3 of Cryptic Masons. To the chagrin of these York Rite Companions, the land they chose was condemned by the newly formed State of Oklahoma for the construction of the State Penitentiary.[vi]
For several years interest waned but in 1915 the banner for a temple for the Royal Arch and Cryptic Masons of McAlester was taken up again. The vault originally buried in 1907 was exhumed and a building committee for the new temple was formed.[vii] The six man committee consisted of Christopher Springer, William H. Essex, Jabez H. Mann, Edmond H. Doyle, W. E. Vorches, and E.T. Richards.[viii] All were prominent Masons in McAlester with Springer, Essex, Mann, and Doyle having served as Grand Illustrious Master of Cryptic Masons.[ix] Richards had spent a considerable amount of time in the assorted Masonic libraries across the Nation and possessed many notes and sketches on King Solomon’s Temple. With these notes and sketches in hand, the committee decided that their temple should be a replica of Solomon’s and chose a location north of McAlester for the structure. To fund the project, stones imported from North Africa inscribed with name of the purchaser were sold for ten dollars a piece.[x]
The temple, which would come to be called Mount Moriah, was completed in 1917.[xi] Of the temple, Charles Creager penned the following:
Mount Moriah is a Lodge room built upon or in a hill a few miles north of McAlester. It is a beautiful site, commanding an uninterrupted view across the valley. Seven separate towns may be seen plainly on a clear day. A romantic landscape spreads itself a distance of twenty miles southward. No human artist could successfully imitate such a scene. Rich fertile valleys, beautiful lakes, noble mountains and everywhere the sign of enterprise, progress, wealth, happiness.
After several years, a dining hall was constructed to accompany the lodge building.[xii] Creager described the temple in 1919 as consisting of “two buildings, thirty by ninety feet, built into solid rock.” Each structure was two stories but the lower story of the lodge building was subterranean with the floor of the upper story being supported by nine stone arches. The dining hall was connected to the lodge building by way of a tunnel commencing from the ninth arch of the underground crypt with a series of three, five, and seven steps leading down to the passageway.[xiii] Within the lodge room of the upper story of the lodge building sat an altar of solid rock.[xiv]
The tunnel leading to the underground crypt
(Courtesy of the McAlester Building Foundation)
Masonic activity at Mount Moriah flourished for some time, but as the years passed the temple began to face several challenges. From the beginning, her biggest obstacle was location. With the original site for the temple ultimately being procured by the State, the Masons of McAlester were forced to move to a more secluded location. While the new site provided for breathtaking views the distance from town was ripe for vandals. It was not uncommon for the Companions to arrive at the temple on meeting days and discover windows broken. For this reason the practice of maintaining ritual paraphernalia at the temple was ultimately discontinued.[xv] What dealt the greatest blow for Mount Moriah, and Masonry in general, was the Depression; with so many out of work and unable to pay dues, many names were ultimately stricken from the membership rolls. Mount Moriah ultimately fell into disrepair and as the Companions of McAlester still held title to the temple, they were liable for any accident that could arise from the crumbling structure. Just as they had worked as Royal Arch and Cryptic Masons to erect Mount Moriah, so they worked to pull down the walls in the same fashion as the original Temple of Solomon was leveled.[xvi]
The sands of time have taken their toll on Mount Moriah. Ultimately, the temple and surrounding land was sold to private interests. As of 1957 all that remained of the temple were the stairs leading to the porch of the lodge building, remnants of the tunnel that connected the two structures, and portions of the dining hall’s walls.[xvii] Satellite imagery of the location today shows what appear to be portions of two walls forming a right angle. Unfortunately, not much else can be discerned. It is said that one can still find the engraved stones used to pay for the temple scattered across McAlester. When Mount Moriah was completed in 1917, a deposit was made in the northeast corner of the temple to be unearthed in the year 2014.[xviii] To the Masons that made a replica of Solomon’s Temple in Little Dixie a reality, Mount Moriah was built to be a landmark that would stand the test of time.
Satellite imagery of Mount Moriah today
(Courtesy of T.S. Akers)
[i] “Robbers Cave State Park,” Oklahoma Historical Society’s Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, <http://digital.library.okstate.edu/encyclopedia/entries/R/RO002.html>, Accessed 1 September 2012.
[ii] “Ouachita Mountains,” Oklahoma Historical Society’s Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, <http://digital.library.okstate.edu/encyclopedia/entries/O/OU001.html>, Accessed 1 September 2012.
[iii] Baird Martin, “In Yesteryears of McAlester Masonry, Mt. Moriah’s Temple Could Be Seen,” Indian Consistory News, August 1957.
[iv] Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of Indian Territory, Proceedings of the 13th Annual Conclave (Indian Territory: 1907).
[v] “History of the McAlester Scottish Rite Masonic Center,” McAlester Valley Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, <http://www.mcalesterscottishrite.org/HistoryMSR.htm>, Accessed 1 September 2012.
[viii] Lane Talburt, “Remains of Mount Moriah Hallowed Memorial for Members of Masonic Lodge,” The McAlester News-Capitol, 13 July 1957.
[ix] Grand Council of Cryptic Masons of Oklahoma, Proceedings of the 117th Annual Assembly (Oklahoma: 2011).
[xii] Charles E. Creager, A History of the Cryptic Rite of Freemasonry in Oklahoma (Muskogee, Oklahoma: Hoffman-Speed, 1925), 62-66.
[xiii] Charles E. Creager, “The Crypt at McAlester, Oklahoma,” The Phoenixmasonry Masonic Museum and Library, <http://www.phoenixmasonry.org/the_builder_1919_july.htm>, Accessed 1 September 2012.
[xiv] Creager, A History of the Cryptic Rite of Freemasonry in Oklahoma.
[xviii] Creager, “The Crypt at McAlester, Oklahoma.”