Waco: Texas Scottish Rite Library and Museum turns 50

(Photo by Paul J. Gately)
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) The Lee Lockwood Texas Scottish Rite Library and Museum, on Waco Drive between North 27th and North 29th streets, is getting set to celebrate its 50th anniversary and for all that time it’s been among the best kept secrets in the city.

The library, the only one of its kind in the country and probably the world, serves as home to Scottish Rite Free Masonry in Waco and is significant to every lodge in the state.

An elaborate ceremony “Golden Gala: A Night at the Museum,” which is open to the public, is set for Sept. 21 to officially commemorate the anniversary.

“It’s a beautiful old building and very special to Masons because it houses so many documents and artifacts in the museum,” former Ambassador Lyndon Olson, Jr., himself a Mason, said.

The fraternity has several meetings there, on a regular basis, but the halls and meeting rooms are available for use by almost anyone, Olson said, and the large meeting hall is routinely used for public and government meetings because it is the largest auditorium of its kind in the city.

In years past the building has housed state district court trials because it was the only venue in town large enough to handle the extremely large crowd a particular court trial required.

The building is open to the public for tours and the library and museum for use as a research venue, Olson said.

The museum “is situated in the heart of Waco, minutes from Baylor University and downtown,” the library’s website says.

“(The) facility features a spacious and welcoming main atrium with marble floors; a stately, two story library; a state-of-the-art auditorium with a large stage and seating for over 300; another large atrium on the lower level; and an elegant 8,300-square-foot ballroom with a kitchen.”

On the day KWTX visited, the ballroom was crowded with several dozen area grade school students who are participating this summer in the Waco children’s theater program, one of two children’s theater programs the library supports every year.

The collection is amazing and includes ancient texts, first editions, all kinds of printed materials and photographs, about 1,500 of them by famed Waco photographer Fred Gildersleeve, the largest collection of his images that exists.

And the museum has Gildersleeve’s Graflex 5x7 box camera, with which he made most of those images.

Construction actually started in September 1967, the Masons laid the cornerstone on May 4, 1968 and the doors opened in September 1969.

The huge limestone blocks were quarried in Bedford, Ind., and each was precisely cut to exact specifications provided by the architect, Donald Nelson, of the Dallas firm Beard and Nelson, who also designed the Dallas Aquarium and Fair Park.

Nelson also is credited by the Texas State Historical Association with designing the Texas Memorial Grand Lodge Temple in Waco in 1950, as well.

Some of the huge blocks were transported from Indiana on rail cars to Waco, but others were taken to the west coast where they were loaded onto ships, sailed to Galveston, unloaded there and trucked to Waco for installation.

The building is owned and operated by the Scottish Rite Foundation of Texas, whose mission statement reads: “The sole purpose of the Scottish Rite Foundation of Texas is to administer the operations of the Lee Lockwood Texas Scottish Rite Library and Museum.

“Toward this goal the library and museum collects, catalogs, and preserves for the use and enlightenment of present and future generations the history of Freemasonry in Texas, as well as nationally and internationally.

“The library and museum accepts responsibility for these collections as a public trust, utilizing these collections for educational programs and exhibits, and for research.”

The foundation has a board of trustees, members of which come from each geographical subdivision within the state to facilitate the administration and activities of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry.

The subdivisions include Galveston, Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, Austin, Waco, Fort Worth, El Paso, and Lubbock, one representative per one thousand members.

The chairman of the Board of Trustees is the Sovereign Grand Inspector General (SGIG) in Texas, and the other officers are elected annually from the board of trustees.

These individuals are responsible for the oversight of the operation of the Scottish Rite Foundation of Texas and through the Scottish Rite Foundation of Texas, the Lee Lockwood Texas Scottish Rite Library and Museum.

But the real story behind the story is the building’s namesake, Robert Lee Lockwood, who was a philanthropist, visionary, builder, banker and a devout and dedicated Christian and a devoted Mason.

“Being an adult and reading about the things, all the things he did in business and in Masonry that we never heard about growing up because we were his grandchildren and family was very special to him,” Linda Howard Tinsley, of Dallas, and Lockwood’s youngest granddaughter, said.

She grew up not a stone’s throw away from her grandparents when Lockwood and his wife Marie lived on Austin Avenue in the house Lockwood’s father had built and Tinsley’s parents Duncan and Ann Marie Howard, lived right behind them on Oriental Drive.

Then in the early 1950s, when the Lockwoods bought property in northwest Waco, on Lockwood Drive, the Howards bought the lot next door.

Lockwood (Nov. 11, 1900-Aug. 6, 1980) was known as “a vigorous Waco businessman and a passionate Freemason.

“As head of Waco Savings and Loan, Farm & Home Savings, and Waco Homes, Inc., he was responsible for the financing and construction of over 1000 homes in the Waco area, including the subdivisions of Beverly Hills, Hilltop, Valley View, Live Oaks and Lake Oaks,” a Lockwood biography on the museum’s webpage says.

“Robert Lee Lockwood is a vigorous Texan with a distinguished ancestry reaching back to the American Revolution,” Dr. W. R. White, 33°, President Emeritus of Baylor University, said of Lockwood at his retirement ceremony.

“His patriotism is aggressive in peace as well as in war,” and “He believes that eternal alertness is the price of freedom,” White went on to say.

Lockwood’s great grandson, Lee Duncan Goble, currently serves as Worshipful Master at the James H. Lockwood Lodge, named for Lee Lockwood’s father, in a position his father held first.

“It’s very special to me,” Goble said, “because it means I’m doing something my great-grandfather and grandfather did and I’m privileged to be able to carry on their legacy.”

Tinsley says, setting all his Masonic work work, community and social endeavors aside, he was first, and always, a “wonderful granddad.

“He and my grandmother were a special team,” Tinsley said.

“He worshiped her, and she loved him deeply and they passed all of that caring and love on to our family. He was a great man.”

“His life and legacy are ones we all should strive to imitate,” Olson said. “He was true in all he did, from being a friend to being a patriot to being an insightful Texan and a great American, Lee Lockwood was honest in all he did.”

Author’s Note: I was delighted to research and write this story about the Lee Lockwood Library because it brought back so many fond childhood memories I have of growing up in Waco, right across the street from Lee Lockwood. The Lockwoods lived at 5000 Lockwood Drive, my family lived across the street at 5001 and their youngest daughter Ann Marie, her husband Duncan Howard and their two daughters lived next door at 5002. The Lockwood’s house was a study in recycling long before that became an issue because it was built from bricks he’d bought after an old Waco elementary school was torn down. It was a favorite destination on school afternoons because most days Mrs. Lockwood had a plate of cookies ready for any neighborhood kid who stopped by, and most of us did.

It was the kind of place people wanted to go and every year at Christmastime when the children’s Sunday School classes at the old Central Christian Church were out caroling, the Lockwood’s was always on the list. The teachers did it to thank the Lockwoods for all they did to support children’s ministry at the church, but it was especially important to us singers because every year there was hot chocolate and the best Christmas cookies ever made. Mrs. Lockwood stood at her big kitchen window that overlooked the neighborhood every day because while she was busy baking, she also was busy watching out for her neighborhood. She knew every child within three blocks, knew their parents, and made it her mission to be sure at least her part of the world was safe for kids. It really does take a neighborhood, and she was at the center of ours.

(Lee Lockwood Texas Scottish Rite Library and Museum photo)