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Grand Lodge A.F. & A.M. of Montana Museum - Helena, Montana
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member BK-Hunters
N 46° 35.468 W 112° 02.406
12T E 420324 N 5160255
Quick Description: More than just a Grand Lodge, this Art Deco Masonic Grand Lodge also houses a library and the Grand Lodge of Montana Museum.
Location: Montana, United States
Date Posted: 3/27/2019 9:46:23 PM
Waymark Code: WM109P3
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member Where's George
Views: 0

Long Description:
The first recorded meeting of Masons in what is now Montana was on September 23, 1862 when three brethren with the first Fisk Expedition, then camped on the Mullan Road at the summit of the Rocky Mountains opened and closed a lodge of Master Masons. The Virginia City Lodge, holding its first meeting on February 27, 1863, was chartered October 20, 1864, by Grand Lodge of Kansas as Virginia City No. 43. On January 24, 1866 it joined with Montana No. 9 (now No. 2) and Helena City No. 10 (now No. 3) to form the Grand Lodge of Montana, chartered January 26, 1866 by the Grand Lodge of Montana as Virginia City No. 1, at Virginia City. At that time Virginia City was the Montana Territorial Capital and in 1868, when Virginia City was fading and Helena booming, the Grand Lodge was moved from Virginia City to Helena. Seven years later, in 1875, Helena became the Territorial Capital.

Designed by Master Mason Chandler Cohagen of Billings, the Art Deco styling and bright beige stone of the Grand Masonic Lodge tends to contrast nicely with the nearby Italianate and Romanesque buildings. Since the fire of 1874 the Masons had intended to build for themselves a “more stable and commodious office", but this did not come about until the laying of the cornerstone for this building on July 18, 1936.

The Grand Lodge Office, Museum and Library were built on a former placer mining claim, the cornerstone was laid on July 18, 1936. Since that time the Library and Museum have enjoyed a growth and patronage that distinguishes it as respectable museum and library with collections of Masonic items, books and manuscripts. Some of the many valuable and historic items on display within the Masonic Grand Lodge Museum include the Masonic apron of Brother Meriwether Lewis, the hand written manuscript of Paris Pfouts (the first mayor of Virginia City) and Olaf C. Seltzer's depiction of the first recorded Masonic meeting in Montana on Mullan Pass.
From Visit Montana
The "crowning jewel" of the museum's collection is an apron which once belonged to Meriwether Lewis (Lewis & Clark), which has been in the museum's possession for many decades. In 2003 the Grand Master decided to loan the apron to the Missouri Historical Society, causing much dissention within the lodge. Their feeling was that it may never return, greatly diminishing the museum's appeal to tourists. Excerpts from a news article on the situation are further below.

Meriwether Lewis’s Masonic apron and an O. C. Seltzer mural depicting the first Masonic meeting in Montana are among the treasures displayed in “the home of Montana Masonry.” A dynamic political and social force since early territorial days, the Masons founded the Grand Lodge in Virginia City in 1866. Headquarters moved to Helena by 1868. After a catastrophic 1874 fire, Cornelius Hedges, then grand secretary, warned that the lodge needed a “more stable and commodious office than [my] coattails.” It took more than sixty years for Hedges’ vision to materialize, but in 1935 the lodge retained architect and Master Mason Chandler Cohagen of Billings to design a building to hold its increasingly significant collection of books, photographs, and artifacts. Carved Masonic symbols ornament the windows and doors of the resulting Art Moderne museum, whose horizontal massing, smooth finish, and restrained detailing reflect the streamlined aesthetic of the 1930s. In 1937, the Masons dedicated their new Grand Lodge, which today continues to house a public museum and the Masons’ state administrative offices.
From the NRHP plaque at the building
Masonic rift caused by explorer's apron leaving for traveling bicentennial exhibition
Martin J. Kidston | Dec 1, 2003
For an apron, this one has seen better days. But then again, this is no ordinary relic. It once belonged to explorer Meriwether Lewis, the first Mason to ever set foot in Montana, and it was found on his body after his suspicious death on the Natchez Trace in 1809.

Now, nearly 200 years later, the apron lies at the heart of a growing controversy within the Masonic order. The problem? Who should display it and where?

In what some Masons say was an impromptu decision, Alan Harkins, the grand master of the Grand Lodge of Montana, agreed to remove the apron from the Masonic museum in Helena and loan it to the Missouri Historical Society. There, the relic will become part of the travelling National Bicentennial Exhibition on Lewis and Clark. Those who disagree with Harkins' decision to loan the apron to the Missouri museum point out that the traveling exhibit will never stop in Montana. More importantly, they say, the apron will be as far away as Philadelphia when the bicentennial reaches Montana in 2005.

Reid Gardner, the curator of the Masonic museum in Helena and the grand secretary of the Grand Lodge, said that while he respects Harkins' decision to loan the apron, he ultimately disagrees with it. "I'm not one of the people who are in favor of that," Gardner said. "The apron is the focal point of our museum and we would hate to see it leave." Gardner fears that once the apron leaves Montana it may never return. He said the Missouri Historical Society has shown interest in obtaining the apron for nearly 15 years. What's more, he said, allowing the relic to leave the Grand Lodge in Helena would break a promise made to Joseph Hopper more than 40 years ago.

In 1961, during a Grand Lodge session, Hopper, then the grand master, presented the apron with the promise that it never leave the Grand Lodge of Montana. The motion, Gardner said, passed unanimously. To send the apron away, he said, would violate the lodge's fraternal promise...

...what troubles the curator the most isn't the promise made to Hopper in 1961. Rather, he said, without the apron, the museum won't be able to attract many visitors when the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial comes to Montana. Before Gardner took over as curator, the Masonic museum lacked organization. Relics weren't identified or inventoried and Lewis' apron sat unprotected under glass. Gardner turned the museum around, hoping to make it a stop for tourists.

“We've been working diligently on this museum, gearing up for the bicentennial,'' Gardner said. “To let that apron go as an artifact — it would be sad to let that happen. The more you let things leave Montana the less of a reason people have to come here.'' Gardner's efforts to promote the museum didn't end with labels and plaques. He helped commission Helena artist Bob Morgan, who recently painted Lewis wearing the famous apron near the confluence of the Deerborn and Missouri rivers in Montana. That painting hangs above the fireplace in the Grand Lodge museum, proudly centered over the display of Lewis' apron.

"That apron is probably the most significant artifact in the museum — it's our crown jewel,'' Gardner said. "That's the image we were trying to present with the painting.''
From the Montana Standard

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Monday - Friday: 9:00am - 4:00pm

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