History of the Western Arkansas Scottish Rite Temple

    Fort Smith, Arkansas

    Dedication ceremonies and Blue Lodge opening at the "new" Masonic Temple was on September 16,1929.  It was great day for the Masons throughout the Fort Smith area, with members and dignitaries from the Grand Lodges of Arkansas and Oklahoma and members representing a practically all Masonic organizations in the two states present. The ceremonies, of course, were open to Master Masons only. 

The Board of Directors of the magnificent new Masonic Temple were: Oscar Fentress, President; Hurd J. Miller, Vice-President; John Archer, Treasurer; R. L. Secrest, Secretary; J. L. Price, WB. Nichols, R. C. Mack, W. T. Oglesby, and J. H. Clendening.

     In a brochure entitled The New Masonic Temple, Fort Smith, Arkansas, commemorating the Dedication of the Temple, and printed in September, 1929, appreciation is expressed: "To the Masonic membership who, by their loyalty, sacrifice and labor have made the new Masonic Temple a reality, this book is dedicated. Built upon the bedrock of the Masonic faith," it is stated, "the new home of the Masons stands, a challenge to the future, a tribute to the past." 

     The way of the temple builders “was no path strewn with roses. Determined Masons had dreamed and planned the new Temple for many years. "Years and years of thoughtful labor are in the massive stones of the temple." 

During the month of November, 1919, the Baer Memorial Temple, located at North Sixth and C Streets, and occupied by Belle Point Lodge No. 20 and the York Rite and Eastern Star chapters since May, 1870, was so badly damaged by fire that it could no longer be used as a meeting place for Masonry in Fort Smith.

 The recent organization of a new Eastern Star chapter and its growth and the formation of another Blue Lodge, Sebastian No. 706, plus the Rainbow Order for girls, and the new DeMolay chapter for boys, together with a general increase in Masonic activity and the hope of being able to confer the Scottish Rite degrees, made it important that all these Masonic organizations be housed together. Judge Joseph M. Hill was asked to devise a plan for financing a suitable building. 

     As a result the Masonic Home Association was created. The first meeting was held august 3, 1920, in the Masonic Lodge Room of the Progress Club. Board members were: A.M. Forby, G. L. Oliver, R. L. Secrest, W. B. Nichols, M. B. Reed, John Archer, Leon Guthrie, and I. H. Nakdimen.                       

     Temporary quarters for the Masonic organizations were arranged for in a two story building at North Eighth end A Streets, but the continued growth of Masonic groups in the city soon made the new quarters inadequate. A Group of Eight, as it was called, got together and dreamed great dreams. This group consisted of Hurd J. Miller, R. L. Secrest, Neil Pryor, Tom Cutting, Fred Warren, W. R. Simpson, WT. Oglesby, and Curtis C. Wright. They gave substance to their dream by each contributing $500 towards the new temple fund. The Group of Eight appeared in a body before the Masonic Home Association and asked permission to undertake the task of raising funds to erect a new Masonic Temple, one that would house all the Masonic organizations in Fort Smith. 

Permission was granted on February 3,1924, and a committee was appointed to select a site. Upon recommendation of this committee a half block of ground was purchased at North Eleventh and B Streets for $49.250. General sanction of the Masonic orders for the erection of the temple on this site was approved unanimously at a called meeting February 16. 

     Architects were George H. Mann, Little Rock, assisted by Harlson and Nelson of Fort Smith. The general contract was let to Gordon Walker, Little Rock, on a bid of $208,500,June 11,1927. Ground was broken June 25. Other contracts not included in the general award, together with furnishings and equipment, brought the total cost of Masonry's new home in Fort Smith to $385,000. (It is interesting to note that the Temple and its contents are now, the year 2000, insured for several this amount.) 

     The cornerstone was laid December 7,1928, with officials of the Grand Lodge of Arkansas officiating, assisted by directors of the Masonic Home Association and the Group of Eight. The Temple was opened to the general public, September 7 and 8,1929. It was dedicated by the Grand Lodge of Arkansas September 16,1929. The first meetings were held in the temple the week of September 9,1929.

     The Temple is two stories in height, plus a basement. The building is of Bedford stone. The auditorium has a seating capacity of 900.  Capacity, with supplementary chairs, is 1,200. 

     The Fort Smith Masonic Temple is indeed a tribute to Masonry. Guarding the portals of the main entrance on the north Eleventh Street side are two cast sphinxes, symbolic of the secrets which worthy men may receive within the doors of the great edifice. 

     In the basement of the Temple is a large dining hall, 42 feet by 124 feet. On the second floor is a spacious lobby 70 feet long, which offers entrance into the beautiful Amrita Grotto Room, the Memorial Room, the Commandery Room, the Captain of the Guard Room, and smaller compartments. On the mezzanine is the Armory of the Commandery, a music room, and two lecture rooms. 

     The entire building is equipped with light fixtures of special design,  and the larger rooms have wall-to-wall carpeting. 

The Temple has all modern fixtures. Woodwork is of Philippine mahogany, and the dining room and lobby floors are all terrazzo. The dining room has a capacity of 600 persons at one time. 

    Executive offices are located directly to the left of the main entrance on North Eleventh Street.

  The Temple was placed on the National Historic Building in 1992.

   In 2003, the Valley of Fort Smith, AASR, took control of the operation of the Temple and it is now known as Western Arkansas Scottish Rite Temple.