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HISTORY & PREHISTORY

Masonic Temple

Masonic Temple

Masonic Orders played an important role in the history of Montana and Alder Gulch. Many of the Vigilantes were Masons. The Grand Lodge of Kansas, A.F.A.M. granted Paris Pfouts and other Masons a dispensation to form Virginia City Lodge No. 43, on December 7, 1863, during the height of Plummer's reign of terror. The first meeting under this dispensation took place February 27, 1864, in the upstairs of the Montana Billiard Hall, just west of the Fairweather Inn.

The Grand Lodge of Montana was formed on January 24, 1866, in the Masonic Temple over Pfouts and Russell's store, with Virginia City being Lodge No. 1. According to a pamphlet on the wall of Rank's Drug, this room is unique because it is the oldest lodge room in the nation in which a Grand Lodge was formed and is still in use.

With the addition of York Rite bodies, a larger lodge room was needed, and the new Masonic Temple was built in 1867 at a cost of $35,000. Stephen J. Gainan was one of the stone masons employed to erect the cut-stone façade, which has not changed for well over 100 years. The same doors and hinges are in constant use today.

The first meeting in the new lodge was held December 27, 1867, when it was dedicated to Bishop Daniel S.Tuttle. In 1868, when Virginia City sent its town plat to Washington, D.C., to be granted a patent as a townsite, embellishments around the edge included a drawing of the new Masonic Temple, as well as, a proposed capitol building and church. Since the surveyor was poor at architectural rendering, an actual photograph of the proud, new Temple was pasted over his crude drawing.

There have been few changes in tenants on the ground floor of the Masonic Temple in over 100 years. Tootle, Leach & Company were first to have a store there, but they moved to Helena in 1868. They were succeeded by the prominent hardware firm of Patten & Lambrecht, who were there until 1877. F. W. Patton ran the hardware business alone till 1881, when he moved to Butte.

In January, 1881, Elling, Knight and Company took over the inventory of Patrick Largey (formerly of Creighton's Stone Block) and opened their new hardware store in the Masonic Temple. They were located there for thirty-four years. They not only filled the first floor and basement with retail goods, but also had a large two-story warehouse located a block south of the store. This warehouse is now the Virginia City gym.

Elling and Knight had various partners in the firm, including Patrick Walsh, and S. P. Buford; however Julian M. Knight was always the manager. After his death in 1911, the store continued for a short time under the name "Elling Hardware Store."

Since 1916 the U.S. Post Office has occupied the ground floor of the classic, beautifully maintained building.

Special acknowledgements to: John D. Ellingsen, John N. DeHass, Tony Dalich, and Ken Sievert, Tom Cook and Ellen Baumler of the Montana Historical Society.

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