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Cracking the code: A trip to Waco reveals not-so-secret history of Masons in Texas

by Michael Barnes, Austin American-Statesman, November 14, 2022

Freemasons trace their history back to 13th-century European stonemason guilds. In the U.S., their private lodges were, for the most part, fraternal societies that outsiders found hard to crack. Sam Houston, Stephen F. Austin, Davy Crockett and Anson Jones were Masons, as were many later Texas governors. Their American leaders have included such luminaries as George Washington, Ben Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt. Masons filled 80 percent of the Republic of Texas’ higher offices, according to the Handbook of Texas Online.

Five of the six governors between 1846 and 1861 were members of the fraternity. There are over 90,000 Masons in the state and more than 900 lodges. In the public mind, Masonry is more closely associated with schools, hospitals, the arts and charitable causes. The Grand Lodge of Texas is one of the nation’s largest Masonic lodges. The assembly hall, which holds 3,700 people, is a dead ringer for the U.N.

Assembly Hall in New York. The Spanns estimate that a new museum could be open within a year or two. The building’s original elevator is more than 100 years old and takes you back down to the first floor. The Grand Lodge of Texas was built in 1948, and is one of the oldest fraternal shrines in the United States. A floor below the main entry level is dedicated to displays, historic photos, interpretive material and — my favorite — an L-shaped hallway lined with what looked like thousands of pictures of Texas lodges.

Waco also has the Lee Lockwood Library and Museum for the Scottish Rite Masons and the Improved Order of Red Men Museum and Library. The Grand Lodge of Texas is the headquarters for almost all Masonic lodges in Texas. Lee Lockwood Library and Museum is the Waco home for the Scottish Rite Masons. The Improved Order of Red Men was patterned after the American colonists who dressed up as Native Americans during the Boston Tea Party.

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