History of Naval Lodge No. 4
Naval Lodge No. 4 was originally chartered as Washington Naval Lodge No. 41 by the Grand Lodge of Maryland in 1805. However, only six years later, it joined with five other lodges in the federal district to form the new Grand Lodge of Washington, DC, and was re-chartered as Naval Lodge No. 4. Because of its start as a Maryland Lodge, Naval Lodge retains some parts of the Maryland ritual, making it the only Lodge in Washington to do so.
Originally, Naval Lodge was made up mainly of workers in the Navy Yard. In the early 1800s the Navy Yard was one of the largest employers in the city, and the Navy, freshly returned victorious from the war with Tripoli, enjoyed high regard.
Although the minutes of the first five years of the Lodge's existence have been lost, it is probable that the Lodge met in a small house just outside the gates of the Navy Yard (1129 Seventy St., SE which, alas, is now a parking lot) until 1821.
In 1821, the lodge built and moved into a building on the Northwest corner of Fifth Street and Virginia Ave. SE. It was two stories, with the Lodge using the top floor, and renting the bottom floor to a school.
Throughout this time, and for nearly the next 100 years, the Lodge was mainly composed of craftsmen and workers from the Navy Yard and the market nearby. However, visitors were common. During construction and expansion of the Capitol and the White House, international craftsmen who came to work on those projects would visit the Lodge. In 1849 the Chief of the Choctaw Indians attended the Lodge as a visiting brother.
During this time, Naval Lodge also began its long tradition of involvement in the community. Holding frequent fairs and fundraising parades, the Lodge raised large sums of money for the local orphanage and other charitable causes.
Naval Lodge, and its members, also took part in historic events throughout the city. In 1814, when the Navy Yard was burned to prevent its capture by the invading British army, members of Naval Lodge took charge of the all the Navy Yard records and other valuable documents and secreted them away to Maryland for safe keeping. In 1848, the Lodge took part in the laying of the cornerstone of the Washington Monument. Two years later they contributed a stone which can still be seen partway up the stairway of the monument. Other historic events the reshaped the city, also reshaped the Lodge.
The growth of the Craft, and of Naval Lodge in particular, during and after the Civil War, led to a decision to expand the building. In 1867, the Lodge building was expanded to three stories, and had gas lights added. However it only took less than 20 years for the growing pains to start again. After a nine-year effort to find a suitable spot and raise money for construction, Naval Lodge bought the lot and began building its current building in 1893. Naval Lodge met at Potomac No. 5's hall in Georgetown, and at the Odd Fellows Hall on 8th Street during the construction. Once the building was completed in 1895, it became a center of Masonic and community activity on Capitol Hill and Southeast Washington. Today it is the oldest Masonic building in the District that is still used for Masonic purposes.
As the Lodge grew through the 20th Century, its membership began to include more "white collar" professionals, including lawyers, architects, and Congressional staff. Its members suffered through the Spanish Flu epidemic, World Wars, race riots and all of the changes that shook our great nation. It was visited by Presidents, vice presidents, military and religious leaders, visiting soldiers, and Brothers from around the world.