At an impressive 333 feet, the nine-story George Washington Masonic National Memorial (GW Memorial), built on a hill in Alexandria, Virginia, can be seen from almost anywhere in Alexandria. Ever since I moved to Alexandria in 2018, I have been meaning to visit the GW Memorial, in particular the observation deck, but somehow I never got around to it. It took some out-of-town visitors to finally get me to go, and I am glad I did!
The GW Memorial was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2015. The National Park Service awarded this designation to “recognize the significance of the Memorial as the only major unified, fully national initiative of the Freemasons and among the boldest attempts by a private organization to memorialize George Washington.” According to the website, the mission of the Memorial 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.” To that end, every floor of the building is dedicated to a different purpose, where you can learn about the life of George Washington, his life as a Freemason, and about Freemasonry in general. The tour visits every floor of the building, with the exception of the research library, which is open to the public and researchers by appointment only.
The building was designed by the architect Harvey Wiley Corbett, who later built the Rockefeller Center. Although the building was dedicated in 1932, it was not finished until 1973, when the final granite facing was installed. The design was inspired by the lighthouse of Alexandria, Egypt, and the building was therefore constructed in the neoclassical style to reflect the Greek and Roman architecture. The trowel used to lay the cornerstone of the building was also used by George Washington when he presided over the ceremony to lay the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol on September 18, 1793. He later presented it to the master of the Alexandria Lodge No. 22, who assisted in the ceremony.
If you have ever wanted to know about George Washington’s life as a Freemason, the GW Memorial is the place to go. I learned, among other things, that in 1752, George Washington became a member of the Masonic Lodge in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and was initiated as an Apprentice Freemason (First Degree). In 1753, he was first raised to Fellow Craft Freemason (Second Degree), and then to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason (Third Degree), the highest basic rank among the Freemasons. When he died in 1799, he was buried in accordance with American Episcopal Church burial rites accompanied by a Masonic funeral ceremony conducted by members of Alexandria Lodge No. 22.