Utah’s first Masonic Lodge was established by American soldiers with a lot of time on their hands.
You may be familiar with the imposing Egyptian-style Masonic Temple in downtown Salt Lake City, but did you know that this wasn’t the first Masonic building in Utah? The first Masonic Lodge was actually constructed in 1859 by soldiers sent to the Utah Territory by American President James Buchanan.
The soldiers, who came as part of Johnston’s Army expecting to quash a rumored Mormon rebellion, found life somewhat dull after the excitement of marching into Utah. They established their base about fifty miles southwest of Salt Lake, named it Camp Floyd, and quickly discovered they had very little to do. Some soldiers organized choirs and acting troupes to relieve the tedium, but one group banded together to establish a Masonic Lodge.
The Masonic Lodge is the basic unit of Freemasonry, a fraternal organization dating to 16th Century Europe, but with deep roots in the United States. Often called a “secret society,” Freemasonry counts among its ranks the likes of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and even Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith. Twenty-three soldiers from Camp Floyd requested a charter from the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Missouri, and received approval in April 1859 to organize the Rocky Mountain Freemason Lodge No. 205.
The new members of the Lodge constructed the first Masonic meeting hall in Utah, which was a 60 by 30 foot building made from adobe brick, just like the rest of Camp Floyd. At least 162 men became Masons during the Lodge’s short time of operation. They did charitable work, such as giving aid to western-bound migrants. The Masons also faced resistance from their fellow soldiers, some of whom considered the secret nature of Freemasonry to be grounds for dismissal from the Army.
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, orders came to send the Army back East. Members of the Rocky Mountain Lodge No. 205 were forced to give up their charter as Camp Floyd was disbanded.
Image: Camp Floyd Masonic Hall, 1907. From the book Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Utah. The building would have been made of adobe brick. The image shows a rock foundation, which would have made the building unusual in Camp Floyd. Courtesy of Camp Floyd State Park Museum.
See Moorman, Donald R. and Gene Sessions, Camp Floyd and the Mormons, Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1992; Proceedings of the M. W. Grand Lodge of the Free and Accepted Masons of Utah at its Thirty-Sixth Annual Communication, Salt Lake City, 1907.