The Valley of Galveston, founded in 1867, is the oldest Scottish Rite body in the State of Texas.  We are the home of the Mother Consistory of Texas, where the "high" degrees of Freemasonry began in our great state. With an illustrious history going back one-hundred fifty years,  the Galveston Valley of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite has survived in face of near insurmountable obstacles, from fevers, to floods, and fires. Throughout all of this the valley has contiued to thrive and be of invaluable service to its membership and community. Our history is rich and our future even more so.

 

A History Lecture of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry in Galveston

As compiled by Roy “Abbie” Hughes and edited by Jeff Modzelewski


Eminent Scottish Rite Freemason Albert Pike’s Masonic career started in Arkansas in 1850, when he was raised a Master Mason in Star Lodge No. 2 in Little Rock.  In 1853, Albert Mackey communicated to Pike the 4th through the 32nd Scottish Rite Degrees in Charleston, South Carolina.  Ten days later, Pike was appointed Deputy Inspector General in Arkansas.  Upon the resignation of Grand Commander John Henry Honour, on January 3, 1859, Pike was officially elected Grand Commander of the Southern Jurisdiction.

It is therefore of little surprise that Albert Pike appeared before the Supreme Council on March 29, 1860, announcing the importance of propagating the Order in Texas.  Pike had many friends in Texas and, based on his travels, he knew how rapidly Masonry was spreading throughout the entire state.  He told the body that the time to move was then and now.  He further stated that, in spite of the many obstacles that stood in the way of our Fraternity, the Supreme Council would commence work immediately to find a Deputy Inspector General for Texas.

However gallant were his efforts, they did not immediately bear fruit, for in early 1861 the War Between the States began.  On November 22, 1861, Albert Pike was commissioned a brigadier general by the Confederate government and assigned to command the Indian tribes in the territory west of Arkansas and north of Texas.  As bad as already was the situation of the Scottish Rite at this time, the Civil War made it even worse.  During the war, Masonic activities in the South almost ceased.  By 1865, the Southern Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite was in a chaotic state; Grand Commander Pike had fled to Canada, since he was not included in the Amnesty Proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln, a non-Mason.

President Andrew Johnson, who was a Mason, did grant Albert Pike amnesty on August 30, 1865.  Pike moved to Memphis, Tennessee, and later summoned the Supreme Council into session in Charleston, South Carolina, on November 16, 1865, to resume Scottish Rite activities.

At the Supreme Council session in 1866, Albert Pike reported that after many miles of travel and much correspondence with James C. Bachelor, 33⁰ and Sovereign Grand Inspector General in Louisiana, he had humbly implored Philip Crosby Tucker of Galveston to be the new Deputy Inspector General in Texas.  Tucker accepted his invitation to lead the Scottish Rite in this state and indicated his readiness to act when asked to do so.

In July, 1866, Albert Pike expressed his warm appreciation to Philip C. Tucker for accepting the position and made known his desire that Tucker travel to New Orleans in August of that year to receive his Scottish Rite Degrees and thereafter be appointed Deputy Inspector General in Texas.  On August 1, 1866, Philip C. Tucker accepted Albert Pike’s proposal.  However, the plans were postponed, because Tucker fell victim to a serious illness.  For weeks his recovery was in doubt.  Nevertheless, he did eventually recover, return to his law practice, and, on February 5, 1867, traveled to New Orleans from Galveston to receive the 4th through the 32nd Degrees.  And on February 13, 1867, by the authority of Grand Commander Albert Pike, he was presented with a certificate documenting his appointment as Deputy Inspector General of Texas.  Tucker’s Degrees were communicated by the aforementioned James C. Bachelor, 33⁰, and Samuel M. Todd, 33⁰, with the assistance of H. R. Swansey, 32⁰.

Neither Albert Pike nor Philip C. Tucker knew how bad the conditions in Galveston were at the end of the Civil War.  Little significant development was occurring in the city at the time, and there seemed to be no end to its misfortune.  Port commerce was lagging because of the shallow maritime channel, so dock activity, a major source of income, was extremely sluggish.  Island businesses in general were struggling to survive.

If this were not enough, historical records of Galveston tell of a devastating yellow fever epidemic that literally shut down the entire city in early 1867.  Of an estimated population of twelve thousand, eight thousand cases were recorded, with the number of deaths reaching eleven hundred.

In this atmosphere of calamity and misery, the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry in Galveston was born.  Like a phoenix rising from the ashes of adversity, San Felipe Lodge of Perfection No. 1 was constituted.

 Upon returning from New Orleans in February 1867, Philip C. Tucker met with two of his oldest Masonic friends, Jonathon Sturges Beers and George Krausse, who held Scottish Rite membership out of state.  Their objective was quite clear: to search the rolls of Master Masons in Galveston and select those who would be best qualified to serve as officers in the newly chartered Lodge of Perfection.

After days of meditating, praying, and searching, Tucker, Beers, and Krausse called together the Master Masons they had selected to be the first officers of the Lodge of Perfection.  It was at this meeting, held in mid-February 1867, that Philip C. Tucker communicated the 4th through the 16th Degrees to Nahor Briggs Yard, and the 4th through the 14th Degrees to all of the other Master Masons present.

Tucker also announced that the name of the lodge would be San Felipe Lodge of Perfection No. 1 and selected May 15, 1867, for the birth of San Felipe Lodge of Perfection No. 1.  On that Wednesday evening, in the Masonic Hall, a session of the Scottish Rite was held.  Philip C. Tucker, Deputy Inspector General, presented and read a charter constituting the new lodge.  Following the presentation of the charter, officers of the newly constituted San Felipe Lodge of Perfection No. 1 were appointed and installed as follows:

Deputy Inspector General:        Philip C. Tucker, 32⁰
Venerable Master:            Nahor Briggs Yard, 16⁰
Senior Warden:                Benjamin Overfield Hamilton, 14⁰
Junior Warden:                Samuel Hidden Gilman, 14⁰
Treasurer:                Oliver Steele, 14⁰
Secretary:                David Wakelee, 14⁰
Almoner:                James Edward Haviland, 14⁰
Master of Ceremonies:            Milton Webb Baker, 14⁰
Expert:                    Marcus Fulton Mott, 14⁰
Assistant Expert:            George Krausse, 14⁰
Captain of the Host:            Austin Clay Baker, 14⁰

Other members present included James Sorley, 14⁰, and Jonathon Sturges Beers, 32⁰.

The following brief biographies of the Master Masons selected to serve as the first officers of San Felipe Lodge of Perfection No. 1 show that these brethren represented a good cross-section of the Galveston community at that time.

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Philip C. Tucker: A native of Vermont and a lawyer by profession, Tucker was forty years of age when appointed to serve as Deputy Inspector General.

Nahor Briggs Yard: A native of New Jersey, and a merchant and owner of a retail store, Yard was fifty-one years of age when elected to serve as Venerable Master.

Benjamin Overfield Hamilton: A native of Kentucky, and a carpenter and house-builder by trade, Hamilton was forty-two years of age when elected to serve as Senior Warden.

Samuel Hidden Gilman: A native of Louisiana, and a civil engineer and bridge-builder by trade, Gilman was fifty-one years of age when elected to serve as Junior Warden.

Oliver Steele: A native of New York and a hardware merchant, Steele was thirty-seven years of age when elected to serve as Treasurer.

David Wakelee: A native of New York, and a merchant and owner of a retail store, Wakelee was forty-one years of age when elected to serve as Secretary.

James Edward Haviland: A native of Alabama, and a mariner who had traveled the world, Haviland was a former mayor of Galveston and founder of the Galveston Dry Dock and Ship Repair Company.  Haviland was fifty-one years of age when elected to serve as Almoner.

Milton Webb Baker: A native of Kentucky, the older brother of Austin Clay Baker, and a partner in the Cotton Forwarding and Brokerage Company, Milton Baker was thirty-nine years of age when elected to serve as Master of Ceremonies.

Marcus Fulton Mott: A native of Louisiana and a lawyer by profession, Mott had been in the Blue Lodge just two years and was thirty years of age when elected to serve as Expert.

George Krausse: A native of Saxony, Germany, and a merchant by trade, Krausse was a Master Mason and Scottish Rite Mason with out-of-state membership.  He was forty-eight years of age when elected to serve as Assistant Expert and Orator.

Austin Clay Baker: A native of Kentucky, Austin Baker was the younger brother of Milton Webb Baker and likewise a partner in the Cotton Forwarding and Brokerage Company.  Austin baker was thirty-five years of age when elected to serve as Captain of the Host.

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This first meeting not only afforded Philip C. Tucker the opportunity to conduct the election and installation of the Master Masons he had selected to serve the new lodge, but also to discuss some negative remarks that were being circulated around Galveston regarding the Scottish Rite.  Tucker was so concerned over the narrow-minded opinions of some Master Masons and their families that he offered each of the new lodge officers of San Felipe Lodge of Perfection No. 1 the opportunity to reconsider their commitment to the Scottish Rite.

Benjamin Overfield was extremely disturbed by Philip C. Tucker’s remarks.  He promptly rose to his feet and said, ”We are not about to let a gang of sinister rowdies delay the birth of the Scottish Rite in Galveston.  None of us are going to resign office.  Now, Bro. Tucker, let us return to the business of the day."

On the evening of May 15, 1867, in the lodge room of the Masonic Hall, the first official meeting of San Felipe Lodge of Perfection No. 1 was opened.  The presiding officer was Nahor Briggs Yard, Venerable Master.  The first order of business was the instruction of Yard to Secretary David Wakelee to call the roll and to see that the names of all the officers and members present became part of the minutes of that first meeting.  The result of the roll call was to attest that all newly installed officers of San Felipe Lodge of Perfection No. 1 were in attendance, as well as two non-officers, James Sorley and Jonathan Sturges Beers.

Following the roll call by David Wakelee, Philip C. Tucker addressed the group.  He thanked each one of them for staying the course and making this first meeting possible.  He reminded the group that the Scottish Rite is an apostle of human liberty and seeks nothing more, and that its duty to all Masons is to encourage them to join together in a study of Freemasonry that all might gain a stronger respect for the Fraternity.

Comments endorsing the Scottish Rite and its teachings were also presented by Marcus Fulton Mott, Benjamin Overfield Hamilton, and Oliver Steele.  Bro. Nahor B. Yard thanked the brethren for their support and reminded them that they had other issues that they must address.

The next topics discussed were the amount of dues to be collected and the time when said collection should commence.  Bro. Milton W. Baker suggested that, rather than waste time, Secretary Wakelee and Treasurer Steele be appointed to investigate the financial needs of San Felipe Lodge of Perfection No.1 and report back at the next stated meeting.  Nahor B. Yard agreed to Baker’s suggestion.

The topic of the requirement of a possible source of funding was then raised, but was withdrawn after some discussion.

The final topic to be introduced at this meeting was the preparation of by-laws to govern San Felipe Lodge of Perfection No. 1.  Nahor B. Yard stated that he would prepare the same and have them ready for the next stated meeting, at which time the brethren could discuss them and take whatever steps were necessary to make them acceptable to all.

The meeting was closed on an air of hope that the Scottish Rite would be a success in due time.

Historical writings show that little headway was made following the first meeting.  Times were still very disturbed in Galveston.  Recovery from the yellow fever epidemic proved to be extremely costly.  Many members of the community remained very ill, and no doubt some expired.

The second meeting of San Felipe Lodge of Perfection No. 1 was not held until February 14, 1868, with Nahor B. Yard, Venerable Master, presiding.  It was at this meeting that Philip C. Tucker sadly reported that one of their most beloved brothers, James Edward Haviland, had died and they did not have a replacement.  He also stated that several others were recovering from their illnesses and should return soon.

The names of three applicants for the Degrees were read.  They were Ralph Levy, lsadore Lovenberg, and M. Strickiand, and they were elected to receive the work.  The amount of $2.65 was contributed to the box of fraternal assistance.  Minutes of this second meeting did not reveal the adoption of bylaws.  Nahor B. Yard closed the lodge on an air of sadness with the admonition that ”In this hour of darkness, let us not forget that all things are possible through prayer.”

During the first twelve years of the existence of San Felipe Lodge of Perfection No. 1 times were very difficult.  Many friends both within and without the Masonic Fraternity made little effort to keep the Galveston Scottish Rite alive. However, survive it did, and after years of struggling, a startling surprise occurred: in 1880, a large influx of new members resulted in the Galveston Scottish Rite becoming stronger than it had ever been.

At a called session on August 8, 1882, B. F. Disbrow, the presiding officer of San Felipe Lodge of Perfection No. 1, announced that the purpose of the meeting was to form a Chapter of Rose Croix.  After the adoption of his proposal, the request was forwarded to Philip C. Tucker, now Inspector General in Texas.  On August 23, 1882, Letters Temporary were granted to start the new chapter.

At this same time, the members realized that communicating the work was no longer acceptable; that to preserve the Scottish Rite and keep it growing, it was absolutely necessary to exemplify each degree using the Albert Pike ritual as a guide.  Costumes were made, props were fabricated, and a few basic scenes were painted, all to be used in the Scottish Rite lodge room of the Masonic Hall.

The list of candidates increased rapidly between a late-1882 degree conferral and the subsequent Reunion.  The inclusion of stage equipment was a part of Masonry that few had ever witnessed, and the membership grew.

In 1898 a petition was submitted to form a Council of Kadosh, and said request was granted; in 1899, Letters Temporary for a Consistory were requested.   Scottish Rite Masonry in Galveston, Texas, had grown into a vital part of the Masonic family.  However, the future of Masonry was about to change very quickly.

It was a warm, summer day.  The date was September 8, 1900.  The Great Storm of 1900 came ashore in Galveston.  Six thousand lives were lost and nearly half of the Island lay in ruins.  Many thousands left by boats and barges to make their homes elsewhere.  Bot order was quickly reestablished, and the rebuilding began.  Although one railroad trestle bridge across Galveston Bay to the mainland was rebuilt, no non-rail vehicular connection was made until years later.  From this calamity, Masonry had to rebuild.  Amazingly, the Masonic Hall suffered little damage because of its location in the downtown area.

In 1902 the city was still struggling to recover from the Great Storm of 1900 when the Galveston Scottish Rite Bodies were afforded the opportunity to purchase Harmony Hall from the Jewish community.  The building had previously been used as a rental venue but it had been vacant since the Great Storm.  The structure was located on the northeast corner of Twenty-second and Church Streets in the downtown area.  It had survived the wrath of the 1900 storm without suffering significant damage, and only minor repairs were required before the Scottish Rite could move in.  Funds were not available for any major remodeling.

It was in this structure in late 1902 that the Galveston Scottish Rite, the Mother Consistory of Texas, had the unique distinction of being the first body in the Southern Jurisdiction to confer all of the degrees on stage using scenery, props, and costumes, and without the use of ritual books.  James D. Richardson, 33⁰, Sovereign Grand Commander, visited Galveston on March 2, 1907, and remained to witness an entire Reunion.  At the close of the event he said, ”My pleasure has been enhanced by being afforded the opportunity of seeing that which I had never seen before, namely the conferring at a reunion of every one of the degrees of the Rite from the 4th thru the 32nd inclusive.”

In 1914, after years of spectacular growth in members as well as assets, an extensive remodeling program was carried out which required the building to be closed for four months.  During this time much of the interior was dismantled and a new, more elaborate one was installed.  The reading and lounging area of the first floor was trimmed in solid mahogany panels with furniture to match.  The ladies restroom and auditorium were finished in gold and white, while the game room was paneled in quarter-sawn oak.  White Georgian marble covered the lobby and the staircase leading to the second-floor auditorium, and the lodge room with its Egyptian motif was completely refinished.  The kitchen and office areas were repainted. A large pipe organ, a gift from the William Browning Lockhart Family, was installed in the beautifully finished auditorium.  On May 28, 1914, the newly remodeled Cathedral was formally opened to throngs of members and visitors who were overwhelmed by its beauty.
 
 For the next fourteen years, Galveston was the centerpiece of Scottish Rite Masonry in Texas.  A number of Degree Teams were even staffed with members from other Consistories.  During this period, membership experienced spectacular growth.  But this magnificent structure and its years of success passed into history on February 5, 1928.

That dark and dreary Sunday afternoon, at about 5:00 P.M., a fire was discovered in the northeast corner of the second-floor stage area.  It spread with lightning speed, and within hours only a burned-out shell remained.  Years of grandeur and beauty were now ashes and rubble.  During the fire, the entire contents of the first-floor library and much of the furniture from the reading room and lounging areas were carried across the street to the Kahn & Levy building.  The structure was gone, but the spirit of the Scottish Rite rallied to re-establish the tangible for the intangible.

The clean-up and evaluation of the burned structure began immediately.  Care was taken to remove every component that could be salvaged and used in a new Cathedral.  At a meeting of the Masonic Temple Association with the Masters of the four Scottish Rite bodies held on March 8, 1928, it was decided to build a new structure on the same site, a structure more lavish then the one that had been destroyed by fire.  A masterpiece of architecture, from stage to lodge room, was planned and then brought to life.  It was further decided that every fireproofing technique known at that time would be incorporated into the rebuilt structure.  To expedite construction and avoid related pitfalls, the best-qualified architectural designer in the area was hired, with instructions to start immediately.

After numerous committee meetings, in April, 1928, the following firms were hired to replace the structure destroyed by fire:

Alfred C. Finn Company of Houston, architectural designers

M.C. Bowden Company of Galveston, contracting engineers

A.T. Vick Company of Houston, construction electrical engineers

A.J. Warren Company of Galveston, contracting plumbers

In June 1928, excavation for the building began.  Included in the project was a vacant lot east of, and adjacent to, the two lots occupied by the structure that burned.  This represented a significant increase in the size of the new structure compared to the old.

In early July, 1928, the concrete foundation was poured and erection of the super-structure started.  The floors, walls, and ceilings were constructed of marble, sandstone, plaster, brick, concrete, and steel.  Very little wood or other combustible material was used.  The will of the Masonic Temple Association was being carried out - a structure was actually being erected that could never, ever be destroyed by fire.

The on-site architect during the erection of the new Scottish Rite Cathedral was H. Jordan Mackenzie, a distinguished member of the Alfred C. Finn Company.  A unique result of contracting with this firm was a super-structure of brick, concrete, and steel that rendered the building hurricane-proof.  In almost ninety years, the building has never suffered any damage from Mother Nature.  Occasional breakage of window glass has only resulted from bricks, rocks, tire tools, and gunshots, never from wind or weather events.  The exterior of the multi-level structure was covered with hard-fired, buff-colored brick, trimmed in Indiana limestone.  The limestone is adorned with hand-carved symbols and signs of the Masonic Fraternity.  Exterior stairways are of gray polished granite with contoured edges.

The main entrance to the building was fitted with four massive bronze artistic doors.  The entrance opening is further beautified by two large polished marble columns, one on each side, set into a wall of white marble.  The interior of the building was finished in hand-crafted walls of marble and plaster.  The floors are highly polished terrazzo complete with colorful designs.  The art windows are of French plate glass, deeply carved and colored using an Italian process known as "Amerit."  This technique creates not only charm and beauty, but also a weather-proofing characteristic that renders the glass nearly permanent and indestructible.

The stage in the auditorium was equipped with scenery especially designed by the Great Western Stage Equipment Company of Kansas City, Missouri.  The scenery to be used was fabricated in the auditorium prior to the installation of the auditorium seats.  Cutting, gluing, sewing, and some of the painting of the canvas panels was begun on the floor of the auditorium and was completed after the scenes were hung above the stage.  The end result is the finest stage scenery that can be found in almost any Scottish Rite Cathedral in the Southern Jurisdiction.

The generosity of the William Browning Lockhart Family once again made itself manifest when the new auditorium was adorned with its gift of a state-of-the-art Henry Pilcher & Sons of Louisville, Kentucky, Model 1256 pipe organ.  The organ was fabricated, completely assembled, and its tone thoroughly regulated, all at Louisville.  After testing, the organ was dismantled and shipped to Galveston.  Henry J. Haury of Houston, a member of the Pilcher staff, supervised the entire installation of the organ.

With the completion of the new Cathedral, the mystic bond between man and edifice was now fulfilled.  The painstaking care to assemble none but the finest of craftsmen and materials had resulted in a structure that would remain as a legacy to generations yet unborn.

Now all four bodies of the Galveston Scottish Rite of Freemasonry once again had a home:
San Felipe Lodge of Perfection No. 1, constituted to service on May 15, 1867;
Galveston Chapter of Rose Croix, chartered on August 23, 1882;
Galveston Council of Knights Kadosh, chartered on October 6, 1898; and
Galveston Consistory, chartered on November 18, 1899

Today the Galveston Scottish Rite Cathedral and its Masons stand as a tribute to man’s ability to overcome adversity.  The principles of faith, hope, and charity are firmly anchored in the fundamental teachings of the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man – and may these principles never perish.

The magnificent structure has withstood the ravages of tornadoes, and of the hurricanes of 1943, 1961, 1983, and 2008, without any structural damage.  It continues to stand as man’s intellectual gift to Freemasonry.

During the hurricane of 2008 – “Hurricane Ike” - the flood waters reached a height of nearly eight feet in the city streets surrounding the Scottish Rite Cathedral, literally destroying many of the businesses in the downtown area.  However, the water never entered the building, and l know this to be a fact, because I was in the Cathedral during that hurricane.  It was reported several months later that the flood waters of that storm had exceeded those of the Great Storm of 1900.  The only damage to the building was the dislodgement of a section of the vinyl roof covering as a result of the hurricane-force winds, allowing rain water to enter the upper floors, and flood waters under the building damaged the basement lighting, but not the structure.

When I consider the history of our Fraternity and its edifice in Galveston, the events caused by Mother Nature and man have truly failed to alter their place in history.  As a “BOI” – “born on the Island” -, a Galvestonian of eighty-three years of age, a Blue Lodge Mason for sixty years, and a Scottish Rite Mason for fifty-four years, I have seen numerous structures destroyed by storms and fires.  However, the Scottish Rite Cathedral continues to remain unchanged.

In recent years I have often wondered if the Alfred C. Finn Company was divinely guided when it designed the Galveston Scottish Rite Cathedral.  To render a building fire- and hurricane-proof in 1928 was a stunning accomplishment.  Nearly eighty-eight years later, our building and our fraternity remain intact in downtown Galveston.

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