The George Washington Masonic National Memorial – Alexandria, Virginia - Atlas Obscura

The George Washington Masonic National Memorial

This stately building in Alexandria, Virginia was built by Freemasons to honor one of their most famous members. 


If you’ve visited the National Mall in Washington, D.C., you’ve probably found yourself thinking, “Hmm, Lincoln, MLK, war veterans, Native Americans — sure sure, all fine and good, but how about some recognition for the Freemasons?” Well, good news: all you have to do is cross the Potomac, head down to Alexandria, and check out the George Washington Masonic National Memorial.

Sitting atop a hill overlooking Old Town Alexandria, the memorial is dedicated to noted Mason (and first President) George Washington, celebrating him and American Freemasonry, as well as serving as a functional lodge and meeting/event space. The structure stands 333 (!) feet tall, was built to resemble the ancient Lighthouse of Alexandria (!), and consists of nine (!) floors variously dedicated to Washington, Freemasonry, and specific rites and appendant bodies.

The idea for a Masonic memorial to George Washington goes all the way back to 1852, but the project did not actually get underway until 1909, when a plot of land was purchased and fundraising began in earnest. Support for the project was driven not only by a desire to honor Washington, but also to create a permanent, fireproof home for the collection of Washington’s personal effects (a.k.a., “Washingtoniana”) owned by the Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22 (Washington’s Masonic lodge, which he had led for a time as the lodge’s Worshipful Master). Ground was broken in 1922, and the memorial was officially dedicated in 1932 in a ceremony attended by thousands. A special Masonic ritual was created for the dedication that involved pouring wine, oil, and corn onto a model of the memorial that, for some reason, had been made in a nearby prison. The U.S. House of Representatives shut down so that members could attend the dedication.

While the all-granite structure and interior of the memorial was largely completed by the time of the dedication ceremony, the interior remained largely vacant and would not be fully finished until 1973. The first two floors consist of various halls and meeting rooms, while the upper floors contain the George Washington Museum (fourth floor), the Memorial Library (sixth floor), and various other attractions such as a replica Ark of the Covenant (fifth floor), a symbolic replica of the crypt beneath the Temple of Solomon (seventh floor), and a recreation of King Solomon’s throne room (ninth floor). If you want to learn more about the memorial, check out its excruciatingly detailed Wikipedia entry, including all 234 footnotes. It makes one suspect that the first Freemason was a guy who read that part of the Old Testament that resembles a contractor’s punch list from the Temple of Solomon construction project and exclaimed, “Now THAT’S what I call esotericism!”

The first and second floors are freely open to the public; docent-led tours of the upper floors occur every hour. When you’re on the second floor, be sure to check out the statue of George Washington in Masonic regalia, as well the Memorial Hall and the Memorial Theater, both of which served as filming locations for — you guessed it —  National Treasure: Book of Secrets.

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