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George Washington, a Masonic Temple and its Utah connection

Published: Monday, Feb. 15 2016 6:20 p.m. MST

Utahn Ridgely Gilmour, current president of the George Washington National Masonic Memorial in Washington, D.C., talks about Freemasonry in the auditorium of the Salt Lake Masonic Temple in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Most people are well aware of the Washington Monument that stands in the mall in Washington, D.C. It's one of many monuments in our nation’s capital.

But perhaps many aren’t aware of another memorial to George Washington only a few miles away, in Alexandria, Virginia, and of its connection to Utah.

“The George Washington Masonic National Memorial, and I view it as a living memorial where you go into the structure, you tour around, you see artifacts from his life,” Ridgely H. Gilmour, president of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial Association, said.

It stands 331 feet tall on a place called Shuter's Hill in Virginia. About six months ago it was designated as a National Historic Landmark.

Construction began in 1923 and was finished a decade later; it was completely privately funded and was built by the Masons.

“The memorial was put there by the Masons of America because we’re proud that George Washington was a member of our fraternity,” Gilmour said. “He’s our most famous national hero, and he’s our most famous Masonic hero.”

Gilmour is also a past grand master for the state of Utah. He spoke about the Masonic Temple in Salt Lake, an impressive building itself, built in 1927. It’s 86,600 square feet, has three separate lodge rooms and two auditoriums.

"This is a Masonic Temple, and there's some confusion sometimes because use of the word temple, in religious connotations means a place of worship. Here we use the term temple as a place of learning,” he said.

The Masons, also called Freemasons, is a fraternity with its roots going back to the early 17th century. Members embrace the tools and instruments of stonemasonry in a symbolic way to promote building of one's "inner" character; to become better people through honesty, kindness, dependability.

"Masonry is not a religion,” Gilmour said. “It is a philosophy that borrows from a lot of the religions of the world in their principles of good and evil and that sort of thing. … In our ritual we call it “a system of morality illustrated by symbols.”

There are 30 active Masonic lodges spread throughout Utah, with about 1,700 members. Utah is the smallest Masonic jurisdiction in the United States. There are approximately 1.4 million members in the U.S., according to Gilmour.

Washington joined his masonic lodge in 1752, at age 20, and was still a member when he was inaugurated as president.

The memorial is filled with memorabilia and personal items, as well as a number of displays showing various tools collected from Freemasons around the country.

Gilmour, who is serving a two-year term as president of the memorial association, said anyone who wants to get a real insight to our nation's first president should go.

“As a place where it gets you close to George Washington as a human being, that's a very good place to be, he said.”

Email: kmccord@deseretnews.com

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