By T.S. Akers
Recently the town of Guthrie, Oklahoma, played host to a historic event. On the first weekend of September in 2013 over 50,000 people flocked to the first capital of Oklahoma for the Mumford and Sons Gentlemen of the Road Stopover music festival. In an interview with a local television station, the band Mumford and Sons noted they chose Guthrie owing to its “weird” history.[i] This of course was not the first time the population of Guthrie exploded overnight with a thriving tent city. It was on April 22, 1889, that roughly 50,000 settlers raced across the prairie to stake their land claims. On that day, the bustling town of Guthrie sprang into existence. Owing to the number of people wanting lots within the city limits, four towns were actually established in what is present-day Guthrie: Guthrie, East Guthrie, West Guthrie, and Capitol Hill. With the passage of the Organic Act in 1890, the four towns were merged as one with Guthrie serving as the territorial and then state capital until 1913.[ii]
Those men who came to Guthrie to start new lives in a new territory brought with them their various associations, including Freemasonry. Much of the architecture that came to comprise the Victorian city of Guthrie still exists as it has become the nation’s largest Historic Preservation District.[iii] Walking the streets of Guthrie can transport a visitor to a bygone era. To the benefit of Masonic historians and lovers of architecture, many of those early Masonic edifices of Guthrie stand today, offering a glimpse of early territorial Freemasonry.
(Courtesy of T.S. Akers)
Like all Masonic journeys, one must begin with Ancient Craft Masonry. Four short months after the Land Run of ’89, a dispensation to work was issued to what would become Guthrie Lodge No. 35 on August 29, 1889, with a charter being issued the following November by the Grand Lodge of Indian Territory. The building Guthrie Lodge No. 35 first met in no longer stands, but the second does. The structure residing at 121 E. Oklahoma Avenue was completed around 1902 at a cost of $15,000. Guthrie Lodge No. 35 moved from this building to the Grand Lodge building around 1926 but returned to the 121 E. Oklahoma Avenue structure in the 1960s. The Brethren of Guthrie Lodge No. 35 continued to meet there until 1994.[iv] Today the building houses the Double Stop Fiddle Shop and Music Hall.
The De Steiguer Building
(Courtesy of T.S. Akers)
What is probably the most prominent Masonic structure in the City of Guthrie is the Scottish Rite Temple residing at the end of Oklahoma Avenue. The temple that stands today is actually the third meeting place of the Guthrie Valley of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. After the Guthrie Valley was organized by Harper S. Cunningham on January 19, 1896, the Brethren commenced meeting in the De Steiguer Building which still stands at 110 and 112 E. Oklahoma Avenue.[v] The cornerstone for the first Scottish Rite Temple in Guthrie was laid by Grand Master of Masons William L. Eagleton on October 4, 1899 at the corner of Broad Street and Harrison Avenue. On May 26, 1900, the Scottish Rite Brethren of Guthrie opened the doors of their new temple for the public to see.[vi] In time, the Guthrie Valley of the Scottish Rite outgrew its first temple and transferred the building to the Grand Lodge of the State of Oklahoma in 1922.[vii] The first temple, deemed unsuitable for use, was razed in the 1950s.[viii]
(Courtesy of T.S. Akers)
Upon transferring the first Scottish Rite Temple to the Grand Lodge, the Brethren of Guthrie set out to erect their second temple. Guthrie had originally served as the capital of Oklahoma Territory and at the end of Oklahoma Avenue sat a prime piece of property that was to serve as Capitol Park. The City of Guthrie erected a convention hall there for the purpose of a capitol building. Unfortunately, Guthrie lost the bid to serve as the state capital on June 11, 1910. The Methodist Church in Oklahoma and Texas then showed an interest in the convention hall, hoping to occupy it as the Methodist University. Ultimately, the church could not support a campus in Guthrie and closed it in May of 1919.[ix] The very next month, the City of Guthrie agreed to transfer the convention hall and area known as Capitol Park to the Guthrie Valley of the Scottish Rite for one dollar.[x] Standing as a testament to the men of Guthrie Scottish Rite, the second temple was completed in 1924 and would be labeled the largest Masonic structure in the world.[xi] The original convention hall also remains connected by way of a corridor, though now serving as a dining hall and hotel for Brethren attending events at the temple.
(Courtesy of T.S. Akers)
While downtown Guthrie contains many architectural treasures, another former Masonic jewel resides just off the beaten path. In 1907 the Grand Lodge of Indian Territory established a Masonic Home at Atoka for orphans and the elderly. By Act of Congress, the Grand Lodge was able to purchase the former Cheyenne-Arapaho Indian School at Darlington and the Home was moved there in 1910. In 1922 the Home moved again, this time to Guthrie.[xii] It was ultimately decided that the elderly should be housed separately from the children and they occupied their own quarters. Located at 602 E. College Avenue, what was originally the Masonic Children’s Home now serves as a wedding and event venue. The campus originally contained numerous structures including a print shop for Masonic publications financed by the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of Oklahoma.[xiii] Today only the federal style main building and gymnasium, now a ballroom, remain.
Freemasonry remained an active force in Guthrie in the latter half of the twentieth century as well. The current home of the Grand Lodge of the State of Oklahoma is situated on the same block as the original Scottish Rite Temple, which was once home to the Grand Lodge. A uniquely modern building, the cornerstone was laid in 1955.[xiv] Other more recent structures dedicated to Freemasonry include the former Masonic Retirement Home and the headquarters of the Grand Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star of Oklahoma. As can be seen, Freemasonry has gone hand in hand with the “weird” history of Guthrie since the beginning.
[i] "News 9 Sits Down With Mumford & Sons Before They Rock Guthrie,” News9.com, <http://www.news9.com/story/23370338/news-9-sits-down-with-mumford-sons-before-they-rock-guthrie>, Accessed 6 October 2013.
[ii] “Guthrie,” Oklahoma Historical Society’s Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, <http://digital.library.okstate.edu/encyclopedia/entries/g/gu003.html>, Accessed 6 October 2013.
[iii] “Guthrie Awaits Eager Suitors Nation's Largest Historic Preservation District Ready to Make Its Entrance,” NewsOK.com, <http://newsok.com/guthrie-awaits-eager-suitors-nations-largest-historic-preservation-district-ready-to-make-its-entrance/article/2243331>, Accessed 6 October 2013.
[iv] “About Guthrie Masonic Lodge No. 35,” Guthrie Masonic Lodge No. 35, <http://www.guthrielodge35.org/about.php>, Accessed 6 October 2013.
[v] Robert G. Davis and Frank A. Derr, 100 Years of Scottish Rite Masonry in the Valley of Guthrie (Oklahoma: Guthrie Valley AASR), 11-12.
[vi] Ibid., 28-44.
[vii] Ibid., 104.
[viii] Ibid., 177-178.
[ix] Ibid., 79-85.
[x] Ibid., 90-91.
[xi] Ibid., 128-134.
[xii] William H. Phelps, Memories: Oklahoma Masonic Children’s Home (Oklahoma: Oklahoma Lodge of Research, 1995), 2-16.
[xiii] Norman E. Angel, Kenneth S. Adams, and William A. Hensley, History of the Grand Chapter of the Royal Arch Masons of Oklahoma (Oklahoma: 1964), 52.
[xiv] “1955 - Oklahoma Grand Lodge - Guthrie, OK,” Waymarking.com, <http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WMGAXW_1955_Oklahoma_Grand_Lodge_Guthrie_OK>, Accessed 6 October 2013.