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Virginia City Lodge in Montana

Virginia City Lodge #1
Virginia City, Montana
Grand Lodge of Montana, AF&AM
One of the oldest Masonic lodges in Montana.  (You have to attend Lodge to find out the role played in its history by “ladies of negotiable affections.”)

Stated Communications:
dark – December, January, February
meets 3rd Thursday, March, April, May, 7:00pm
June, July, August, 1:00 pm
September, October, November, 7:00 pm

photo by Pat Dunn, Bozeman, Montana

by John D. Ellingsen
In the dark days of late 1863, the isolated communities of Alder Gulch were held in the grip of fear by almost constant murder and robbery. No one knew exactly who they could talk to about the crimes for fear of their own life. Only one group could trust each other -those men united by the bonds of the Masonic fraternity. While the Vigilantes were not all Masons, and their organization was not sanctioned by the Masonic Lodge, it was the trust between Masonic brothers that made it possible for them to unite to rid the area of the murderous “road agents” and make life safe for law-abiding citizens.

Even as Plummer’s reign of terror was at its height in early December, 1863, the Grand Lodge of Kansas, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, granted a dispensation for Virginia City, Idaho Territory, to form Kansas Lodge No. 43. Though granted December 7, 1863, it took until February 1864 for the dispensation to reach isolated Virginia City. Many of the same men who had been hanging the road agents only days before met in solemn dignity on February 27, 1864 at the first Masonic meeting in Montana, held in the Montana Billard Hall, next door west of the present Fairweather Inn.

Paris S. Pfouts, a civic leader from the start, was instrumental in the layout of the townsite of Virginia City, and its first mayor, and was president of the Vigilantes. He was also elected first Master of the Virginia City Masonic Lodge. Jack Slade was arrested in Pfouts store, built in the summer of 1863, on March 10,1864, and hanged by the Vigilantes on a corral post across the alley. In 1865, Pfouts, a loyal Mason, built a second floor on his store and gave it to the Virginia City Lodge for a meeting room. The first meeting in this Hall took place June 10, 1865. On January 24, 1866, Virginia City Lodge No. 43 (of Kansas); Colorado No. 9 (also a Virginia City Lodge), and Colorado No. 10, of Helena, became Montana Lodges No. 1, 2, and 3, and the Grand Lodge of Montana was formed in this room; giving it the unique distinction of being the oldest Lodge Room in the United States in which a Grand Lodge was formed and which is still in use.

In 1867, Paris Pfouts went to St. Louis, and his brother W.G. Pfouts and partner Samuel Russell, took over his general merchandise store. Apparently in 1877, W. W. Morris moved his drug store business from the Hangman’s Building to the Pfout’s building. Morris was an original partner of the firm of Clayton & Hale, Druggists founded in July, 1864, and the original tenants of the Hangman’s Building. In 1877 Morris joined the Drug Firm of Hinchman & Crockett, which shortly became Hinchman & Morris, and in 1880 when Morris moved to Pony, Montana, it became Hinchman & Alward.

In January, 1883, Hinchman and Alward sold the drugstore to C.W. Barber, son of O.B. Barber, of the Montana Post. In 1888 C.W. sold the store to Dr. Scmalhausen who sold it in August, 1889 to J.S. Allen and C.W. Rank. At this time it became “Rank’s Drug”. Charles Rank ran the business himself until 1939 and his wife ran it until ]946, when it was sold to James H. Vanderbeck, Jr. He ran it till 1951 when Mr. & Mrs. Charles Haggett took over. In 1985, their son, Herb, operated the store until January 1989 when it was sold to Don Drummond. Grace Quilici took over the operation of Montana’s Oldest store on September 16, 1991.

In 1881 the Virginia City Lodges purchased the ground floor and basement of the Pfouts Building, and formed the Virginia City Masonic Temple Association, the current owner of the two Masonic buildings.

Following the Vigilante activities, the Masonic Lodge grew tremendously in popularity and by 1866 a larger building was needed. Besides Virginia City Lodges No. 1 and No. 2, in 1866 Virginia City also became home to No. 1 of the Royal Arch, Council, and Knights Templar. Loren B. Olds was the architect of the classic cut stone facade of the New Masonic Temple that rose in the summer of 1867. Stephen J. Gainan was the master stone mason. The hard rock was quarried on the hill northeast of Virginia City. The building would be the most expensive erected in Montana at that time costing $35,000.00. Much of the tremendous cost was transportation charges for shipping barrels of real Portland Cement from St. Louis to Fort Benton by steamboat and then hauling them 300 miles by ox team to Virginia City in order that the walls would stand the test of time. To raise funds, the Virginia City Lodges sold stock, redeemable with interest at a future date. It is said some of the major purchasers of the stock were the “ladies of the evening”.

The first meeting held in the New Temple was on December 27, 1867, when it was dedicated by Bishop Tuttle. It was no doubt the grandest social event yet held in Montana Territory. So proud was the town of the building that its picture was included on the border of the plat sent to Washington, D.C. with the application for a townsite patent in 1868.

There have been few changes in the ground floor tenants of the New Masonic Temple. Tootle Leach & Co. were first, but they moved to Helena in 1868. Patten and Lambrecht, hardware dealers, were there until 1877 when F.E.W. Patten continued alone until 1881. At that time Wiling, Knight & Cc., also a hardware store, moved in and continued here until 1916 when the U.S. Post Office located here. They have a lease with the Masonic Temple Association until September, 2012, which we hope will then be renewed.

Few changes have taken place inside the Masonic Lodge Rooms in over a century. After the new building was completed, the old hall became the dining room and is still in use as such. The main lodge room, last redecorated about 1918, retains much of its original 1867 appearance including the original handmade, grained, 1864 special furnishings and 1867 black walnut, oak, and maple chairs made in the East and shipped up the river on the steamboat, then hauled to Virginia City by mule team.

Except for 125 years of wear on the stone step, there have been absolutely no changes in the front of the “New Masonic Temple” since it was built in 1867 and only minor charges to the front of Rank’s Drug. It is today, not only one of Montana’s most historic buildings, but also one of its best preserved.

For further reading on this subject, see “What Law There Was” (fiction) by Al Dempsey, ISBN 0-312-85113-8

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