August 19, 2018

Arizona's First Masons Helped Steer Early Prescott

1907: Masons lay the cornerstone for their lodge on Cortez St.
It is difficult today to understand the social gravity and importance of fraternal organizations in the 19th century. These were the places where "networking" occurred. Generally each fraternal organization represented a particular group of socio-economic class or trade.

The Masons were the business owners, lawyers, doctors and politicians.

Indeed, organizing a Masonic Lodge in Prescott, (the Territory's first,) was considered so important that one was quickly established before the appearance of a denominational church!

Researching the history of Aztlan Lodge, Number 1, Free and Accepted Masons "leads one to believe that civic responsibility, duty and leadership was a precept of Masonic teaching for the early-day power structure of the town."

Original charter
Less than a year after Prescott was founded, the dispensation for the charter was granted by California in June, 1865. The application, penned by Master of the Lodge John T Alsip, states: "This is a small community, far removed from others--an advanced post in the army of civilization--fighting against barbarism, with a hostile and savage foe around, and depending only upon our own armed hands for the safety of life and property. But, I say proudly, nowhere are the Constitutions of Masonry more cherished and loved, or its principles better or nobly illustrated."

The first three meetings of the Masons were held in Governor Goodwin's house. In addition to usual Masonic exercises, it was here that the needs of the infant town were discussed and how these men of power and capital could see them achieved. Undoubtedly, discussions and plans were made to fight the "savagery" and "barbarism" that was faced in the Indian Conflicts as well.

For a time meeting locations were rented or shared. It was 1908, "six years after (the lodge) purchased the 50-foot lot for $5000," when the iconic building on Cortez St. was completed.

"A California builder won the $38,042 construction contract...(and) the temple was dedicated, with due pomp and circumstance, November 17, 1908." The Masons occupied the upper floors while renting street level spaces to businesses, doctors and attorneys. It would not be surprising if several of these tenants were fellow brethren.

Morris Goldwater's
artifact case.
Eventually one Mason rose high above the others: Morris Goldwater. No one had a bigger influence on the development of Prescott into a city than he. In 1964 he was named "Prescott's Man of the Century." Goldwater was also awarded the extraordinary, rare, and highest Masonic honor of 33rd degree--reserved for men the likes of George Washington.

A case containing all of Morris Goldwater's Masonic effects still resides in the Mason's current location on Willow Creek Rd. The plaque reads: "This case containing the Masonic effects of Morris Goldwater, 33rd degree, was presented to Aztlan Lodge #1 by Barry Morris Goldwater, 32nd degree, in recognition of the place this lodge held in the heart of his uncle."

Included inside this case is a potential treasure trove of historic information in the form of a large stack of yellowed correspondences which Morris, the lodge's historian, deemed important enough to preserve.

The story of Morris Goldwater and his oversight of the early development of Prescott, Arizona.

In the early 1980s, the iconic temple on Cortez St. was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Needing a more modern location with an elevator, the Masons then sold the building to Prescott Historic Properties for $212,000 who soon embarked on an ambitious 6.5 year restoration.

Today's lodge hall is a typical Masonic representation of Solomon's Temple. However, the chairs and pillars are the original ones that "came around the horn, landed in San Francisco and was carried overland by freighters."

Historic effects on display today

Dedication stone.


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     "Early Day Bigwigs Were Masons" by Jonne Markham. The Paper, January 1, 1976. (Available from Prescott Public Library Vertical File: "Prescott--Masons")
     "The History of Aztlan Lodge" by Morris Goldwater. (Available from Prescott Public Library Vertical File: "Prescott--Masons")
     "Preserving History: Restored Masonic Temple Monument to Proud Past," by Jenifer Arp. Prescott Courier, April 26, 1988. (Available from Prescott Public Library Vertical File: "Prescott--Masons")
     Interview / Tour with Greg W. "Scotty" Hays; Educational Technologist, Aztlan Lodge #1.

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