Missouri's Unique Masonic College

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Steven L. Harrison, 33°, FMLR

From its inception Freemasonry has always been synonymous with continuing education and lifelong learning.  A few institutions have organized continuing education for Freemasons; and the Scottish Rite, in fact, is sometimes called "The College of Freemasonry."

In the mid-nineteenth century Freemasons went beyond Craft education and established a series of Masonic Colleges offering a liberal arts education.  These institutions were loosely connected with the common purpose of providing a variety of levels of education.  One of these, Eureka Masonic College, was the birthplace of the Eastern Star.  While there, in 1849, Rob Morris founded the order so that women could also participate in Freemasonry.

Perhaps the most iconic of all of these institutions was the Masonic College, which the Grand Lodge of Missouri established in 1844 in Philadelphia, Missouri.  Citing inadequate facilities, the Grand Lodge moved the college to its permanent home in Lexington in 1847.  Its purpose was to provide an education for the children of Masons, especially orphans, but it also admitted any child named "Mason," whether having a Masonic affiliation or not.

Among its alumni, the college boasted Missouri Congressman Thomas P. Akers, Lexington Judge John E. Burden, US Senator from New Mexico Thomas B. Catron,  US Senator from West Virginia Stephen B. Elkins, Kansas City businessman Robert Keith, Missouri Governor John S. Marmaduke, Lexington industrialist James C. McGrew and Lexington judge John E. Ryland.

At various times after the college closed in 1859, it served as a classroom for other institutions.  The building closed for two years during the Civil War, after which the Grand Lodge of Missouri deeded the property to the State of Missouri, which used it for a military academy.  The state handed the property back to the Masons in 1871.  Almost immediately, the Grand Lodge transferred ownership to the Methodist Episcopal Church, for use as Central Female College and later, Lexington College for Women.

A 40% scale replica of the original Masonic College building, 
which served as Union headquarters during the battle 
of Lexington, sits on the original site in Lexington, Missouri.
During the Civil War, the College served as Union headquarters during the Battle of Lexington.  There, Confederate troops attacked under the leadership of General Sterling Price, a member of Missouri's Warren Lodge #74.  Although his troops overwhelmingly outnumbered the federal army, the Union put up a surprisingly fierce fight.  Hemp was one of the major agricultural products in Lexington.  At the end of the second day of the battle, Price's men found dozens of large hemp bales stored in the area and in the final Confederate push forward, used them as cover as they rolled them in toward the Union forces.  This tactic proved effective as none of the Union artillery could penetrate the hemp.  Completely overwhelmed, the federal army surrendered.  Given the unique way in which the Confederates had advanced, the battle of Lexington is also known as "The Battle of the Hemp Bales." (Somewhat ironically, Lt. Colonel Benjamin W. Grover, former Grand Master of Freemasons in the state of Missouri, was mortally wounded fighting for the North and defending the Masonic College, which he had helped to establish.)

The building burned in 1932.  Two years later the Grand Lodge of Missouri built a 40% scale replica of the original building on the site and gave it to the city of Lexington "for the perpetual enjoyment of the public."  

The replica building still stands, surrounded by a garden walkway and four brick columns marking the corners of the original structure.


Bro. Steve Harrison, 33°, is Past Master of Liberty Lodge #31, Liberty, Missouri. He is the editor of the Missouri Freemason magazine, author of the book Freemasonry Crosses the Mississippi, a Fellow of the Missouri Lodge of Research and also its Worshipful Master. He is a dual member of Kearney Lodge #311, St. Joseph Missouri Valley of the Scottish Rite, Liberty York Rite, Moila Shrine and a member and Past Dean of the DeMolay Legion of Honor. Brother Harrison is a regular contributor to the Midnight Freemasons blog as well as several other Masonic publications. His latest book, Freemasons: Tales From the Craft, will be released later this year.

Editors note: If you enjoyed this article, I would highly suggest picking up a copy of Illustrious Brother Steve Harrison's latest book; Tales From The Craft. It has many interesting short stories just like this one! 

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