The History of Federal Lodge No. 1

1800 Etching of Original design of White House. Library of Congress.

Federal Lodge was first chartered on September 12, 1793 as Federal Lodge No. 15 by the Masons responsible for the construction of the White House and the US Capitol Building.

The first Master of Federal Lodge, James M. Hoban, a native of Ireland, came to the District of Columbia in June of 1792 from Charleston, South Carolina, at the request of President George Washington to design and construct the Executive Mansion (The White House).

The construction of the US Capitol Building was soon afterwards transferred to Hoban’s charge. On October 13, 1792, James Hoban and Collen Williamson, along with members of Lodge No. 9 of Georgetown, were present at the laying of the cornerstone of the White House, and their names appear on a brass plaque laid under the stone.

In the Beginning…

Federal Lodge No. 1 has been laboring in our nation’s capital, DC for the benefit of the Craft for more than 231 years.

Regardless of our lodge number, Federal is not the first lodge in the region that was designated to be the capital of the new United States.

Maryland Lodge Georgetown No. 9, located in the town of Georgetown, was constituted in 1789, predating the establishment of the District of Columbia, and lays claim to being the “oldest Masonic body in DC.” (It’s known now as Potomac Lodge No. 5.) However, there were others lodges in close vicinity in Virginia and Maryland prior to Georgetown No. 9 being constituted.

The Masons working on the construction of the White House and US Capitol Building had to travel three miles to Georgetown to meet at No. 9; however, it was a long journey through woods, swamps and streams traveling on foot and horse bridle paths. For this reason, and a few others, they felt it was time to establish their own lodge.

Nine Masons came together to formally establish Federal Lodge under a sense of urgency in order for the new lodge to be present at the laying of the US Capitol Building cornerstone set for September 18, 1793.

Brother Clot Worthy Stephenson, as representative of the original founding nine brethren, journeyed to the Grand Lodge of Maryland with a petition to form the first lodge in the nation’s capital, and Federal No. 15 was officially established on September 12, 1793.

James Hoban

The charter designated architect James Hoban as the Worshipful Master, Master Mason Clot Worthy Stephenson as the Senior Warden and Master Mason Andrew Eastave as the Junior Warden.

“Federal” was chosen as the name for the new lodge because President George Washington referred to the new capital as the “Federal city.”

First Meeting of Federal Lodge

The first meeting of Federal Lodge No. 15 was held on Sunday, September 15, 1793, in a home of a Lodge member located on the site of the present office buildings for the US House of Representatives.

Artwork showing the first meeting of Federal Lodge on September 15, 1793

The Brothers of this new lodge had to quickly work together to formalize the Lodge and finalize plans for the upcoming cornerstone-laying ceremony at the Capitol.

This required putting aside real differences — among the brothers making up the Lodge were Irish Catholics and Scottish Protestants, two groups that did not get along. Yet, they did put aside those differences in order to form the Lodge.

Laying of the Cornerstone of the US Capitol Building

The first public appearance of Federal Lodge was Wednesday, September 18, 1793, at the laying of the cornerstone of the United States Capitol Building.

Painting of the Laying of the Cornerstone at the US Capitol on September 18, 1793.

Brother Joseph T. Clark, Worshipful Master James Hoban and the members of Federal Lodge No. 15 received President George Washington and Georgetown Lodge No. 9 and retired to a temporary lodge room prepared by Worshipful Master Hoban. Right Worshipful Brother Joseph Clark, Grand Master pro tem, opened the Grand Lodge of Maryland and from there the lodges proceeded in parade formation to the site of the Capitol Building and laid the original cornerstone.

Brother Clot Worthy Stephenson, first Senior Warden of Federal Lodge, was the Grand Marshal of the parade.

A Funeral, a Pulled Charter, a New Grand Lodge and a New Number

In December 1794, the Lodge had 14 members, and the Lodge moved from Capitol Hill to “the little hotel” on the north side of F Street NW above 14th Street NW in 1796.

In 1798, Alexander McCormick became Master at a time when the Lodge was faltering, and worked to keep the Lodge functioning. By 1799, the Lodge had 16 members — interestingly, Hoban and the other charter members were gone from the rolls.

Square and Compasses

Upon invitation of Alexandria Lodge, Federal Lodge attended the funeral of Worshipful Brother President George Washington on Wednesday, December 18, 1799. Worshipful Master McCormick was one of the bearers of the “lesser lights” at the funeral. The candle he carried was inscribed and preserved and is now in the possession of the Grand Lodge of DC. The Great Light used at the funeral is still in possession of Federal Lodge.

Shortly after Naval Lodge was chartered in 1804, they made allegations that Federal was initiating “immoral men” and filed charges with the Grand Lodge of Maryland, resulting in our Charter being pulled.

Federal took its case to the Grand Lodge at its next Stated Communication and won our case. Our Charter was restored and Federal was awarded costs to be paid by Naval Lodge. (Don’t worry, our two lodges remain very close today.)

The open charter of Federal Lodge No. 1
The original Charter of Federal Lodge No. 1

Under the leadership of Past Master Alexander McCormick and Lodge Secretary Charles Glover, the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia was formed on December 11, 1810 by the lodges in what was then the District of Columbia: Federal, Columbia, Naval, Georgetown, Brooke-Lodge and Alexandria Lodge (of Virginia). The organization of the Grand Lodge was completed on February 19, 1811.

Federal continued to work under its Maryland charter until May 1811, when Worshipful Master Nicholas L. Queen declared Federal Lodge No. 15 of Maryland “Closed without delay” and ceremoniously instituted Federal Lodge as “Number One” of the new Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia.

Making Masons and Making Peace

On January 4, 1830, President Andrew Jackson, John H. Eaton, Secretary of War, and William T. Barry, Postmaster General, were elected honorary members of Federal Lodge.

Setting the standard for our Lodge’s inclusivity, Cherokee Chief William P. Ross received his degrees at Federal in 1848. This was at a time when Native Americans were being removed from their land, killed and discriminated against as the US moved further and further West.

Black and white portrait of Cherokee Chief William P. Ross
Cherokee Chief William P. Ross

At the next communication of Federal, Brother Ross helped restore the peace between the leaders of the Cherokee Nation after a long disagreement.

Laying the Cornerstone for the George Washington Monument

Laying of the cornerstone of the George Washington monument.
Laying of the cornerstone of the George Washington monument.

On July 4, 1848, 50 Federal members joined a parade for the laying of the 25,400-pound white marble cornerstone of the George Washington Memorial.

President James Polk and his cabinet led the parade with 18 military units and two marching companies of 180 Marines. Next came firefighter companies and members of the Freemasons and the Temperance Society. They were followed by the carriages of the widows of James Madison and Alexander Hamilton.

The Grand Master of DC began the ceremony by formally presenting the “working tools” to architect Robert Mills.

Making Masons on the Level

During the Gold Rush in the late 1800s, the US went through a period of anti-Asian sentiment, including the Page Act of 1875 and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

During this difficult time, Federal conferred the degrees of Masonry in 1896 to Brother Chung Mun Yew, Chief of the Chinese Delegation to the US. (He was also a celebrated coxswain at Yale University when he was younger, and became a 32nd degree Scottish Rite Mason while in China.)

Chung Mun Yew as featured at the Connecticut Historical Society Museum in 2022 (from NBC)

Later, Federal conferred the degrees on more Chinese brothers: in 1898, 1903 and in 1908.

A Lodge Grows

On November 9, 1848, the Lodge obtained a charter from the Grand Lodge for some members who were migrating to the El Dorado in California. The new lodge, chartered as California Lodge No. 13, still survives in San Francisco as California Lodge No. 1.

Federal sponsored the petition of Washington Centennial Lodge No. 14 in 1852, and the petition of Benjamin B. French No. 15 in 1853.

In 1854, the Lodge moved to the new Masonic headquarters at the southwest corner of 9th and D Streets NW.

After the end of the Civil War, the Lodge moved to the new Masonic Temple at 9th and F Street NW. The Lodge paraded at the dedication of the Washington Monument in 1885.

On September 11, 1893, at a cost of over $1,000 ($33,000 in 2024 dollars), the Lodge carried on a two-day celebration of its 100th birthday, one of the most memorable events in the local history of Freemasonry.

Upon invitations by the Grand Lodge of Virginia, on December 14, 1899, the Lodge attended the solemn commemoration at Mount Vernon of the 100th anniversary of the Masonic burial of George Washington.

In 1899, Federal Lodge was bequeathed $20,000 under the terms of the Will of Past Master Anthony Buchly. Known as a shrewd and kindly man, Buchly also bequeathed $15,500 to the St. John’s Mite Association.

The Buchly Charity Fund has done very well and is still used today for charitable giving as well as providing $1,000 a month to Federal widows and orphans.

On November 12, 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt appeared in Federal Lodge to accept honorary membership in the Lodge.

Theodore Roosevelt

Daniel C. Roper, who served as Secretary of Commerce under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, affiliated with Federal Lodge.

Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd, the polar explorer, and J. Edgar Hoover, the first Director of the FBI, both became Master Masons at Federal Lodge, as did Senator Homer Capehart of Indiana and Representative Sol Bloom of New York.

Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd

Federal Leads in “Firsts”

In 1986, Brother Zina Andrinarvelo was raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason and is the first known African American Brother on the Lodge’s rolls.

In 1992, Worshipful Brother George Colson was raised as a Master Mason and later became the first African American Master of Federal in 1996.

The signing of the Protocols of Mutual Recognition by the Grand Lodge of DC and the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge was completed at a Special Communication of Federal Lodge held at the House of the Temple on September 11, 2000. (This means each Grand Lodge recognizes the other as Regular Lodges and their members may formally visit.)

From Lean Times to Sustainability

The MM Degree

In the 1980s and 1990s, Federal went through many lean years with concerns that the Lodge would need to merge with another to survive. Fortunately, Federal experienced a “revival” in the mid-1990s led by WB Paul Dolinsky with an influx of new members.

In January 2010, Federal moved locations from the Scottish Rite on 16th Street NW to our current home at the IOOF on 7th Street NW, not far from our earlier lodge on 9th Street NW.

In September 2022, Federal had the distinction of having its Charter pulled for the second time in its history. The issue was resolved without Masonic charges ever being filed and the matter dropped.

Today and the Future Ahead

Federal Lodge continues to be a robust Masonic lodge in our nation’s capital with more than 180 active members and petitioners knocking at the door.

Federal receives guests and brothers from around the world who want to learn about Masonry in DC. We are proud to continue our tradition of seeking diversity, inclusivity and embracing all men of good character who seek the Light of Masonry.

There is a beautiful, wide open future ahead for Federal Lodge No. 1.