Montana's Fraternal Halls

Fraternal societies flourished in Montana and throughout the United States in the mid to late nineteenth century, an era sometimes called the “Golden Age of Fraternalism.” By 1897, approximately six million Americans were members of a fraternal group and over 200,000 new members were accepted every year.

Fraternal organizations were typically racially segregated and, although membership overlapped, they often catered to different social classes, ethnic groups, and religions. Though exclusively male organizations, each fraternal organization had its own female auxiliary (the Rebekahs and the Pythian Sisters, for example). Fraternalism was tailor-made to counteract increasing isolation associated with industrialization, immigration, and urbanization. Also, before work-place insurance was commonplace, many fraternal orders offered members health insurance and funeral benefits.

Fraternal societies arrived in Montana with early gold seekers and became a central part of almost every Montana community. They typically operated out of rented rooms until they raised capital to purchase property. The Grand Lodge of Montana, formed in Virginia City on January 24, 1866, met in the space over Pfouts and Russell's drug store. In 1867, they moved into their new two-story stone building, still in use by the Masons today. In mining camps like Elkhorn, fraternal orders collectively built a Greek Revival false-front wooden building. Later lodges were built in the popular architectural styles of the day, including Beaux-Arts, Renaissance Revival, Neoclassical, and Egyptian Revival.

Some society’s converted buildings constructed for other purposes into lodges. For example, in Joliet, the Odd Fellows bought the Rock Creek Bank building and in Missoula the Knights of Columbus purchased the Joseph Dixon residence. When fraternal organizations designed a lodge or temple from scratch they often rented the first floor to businesses while reserving the second floor for themselves. In fact, one way to identify a Masonic Temple is to look for a windowless second-story room, where the Masons conducted secret ceremonies.

Lodge membership declined after World War II, but fraternal organizations remain important to many Montanans, and their buildings—many of which are architect designed—still grace Montana’s main streets.

Bestwick's Market

Established in 1910, this is one of Alberton’s earliest businesses. Joe Boileau, a former foreman of the planing mill at Lothrop, moved to the recently platted Alberton and opened a meat market. The original two-story, western false-fronted…

Billings Chamber of Commerce Building

J. Collins West, Exalted Ruler of Lodge 394 of the Elks Club, planned this turn-of-the-century Italian Renaissance Revival style building as a lodge hall. Billings Elks members attending the St. Louis Exposition in 1904 purchased a bar for their…

Gallatin Lodge No. 6, A.F. & M.

Chartered in 1866, Gallatin Masonic Lodge No. 6 built this brick corner block in 1883 for an estimated $20,000, then a princely sum. The grandest of several buildings erected during the early 1880s following the arrival of the railroad, this Masonic…

Independent Order of Good Templars, Butte

Both men and women were admitted to this temperance organization, whose Montana Grand Lodge was organized in 1868. Butte Lodge #14 commissioned architect H. M. Patterson to design this appealing three-story building, completed in 1891, which served…

Knights of Columbus, Butte

The Butte chapter of this fraternal organization was founded in 1902 and its present quarters constructed in 1917-18. Architect Wellington Smith designed the three-story Renaissance Revival style building, which features “tapestry” brick from Helena…

Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Butte

Fraternal organizations were an important facet of most mining towns and helped establish social and civic stability in early communities. Members of Fidelity Lodge #8 constructed this meeting hall, one of the district’s oldest standing buildings, in…

Masonic Temple, Butte

The first Masonic Lodge in Butte was chartered October 3, 1876. With a membership of 550 after the turn of the twentieth century, the organization had outgrown its old quarters on West Park. The new temple, completed in 1902, provides an early…

Masonic Temple Annex / Fox Theatre, Butte

An overabundance of copper on the world market all but halted building activity in Uptown Butte during the 1920s. This splendid, long-established theater is one exception, completed in 1923. Following the example of Butte’s most significant…

321 West Galena Street

Butte School District #1 constructed this attractive four-story building between 1918 and 1920 to house the high school’s Manual Training Department. The United States Army Recruiting Center was located here during World War II and, later, from 1954…

Scandia Hall

The Scandinavian Brotherhood, organized at the Silver Bow County courthouse in 1889, endeavored to unify Scandinavians through fellowship, promote high standards of citizenship, and “fulfill a vacancy in the social world.” Butte No. 1, the mother…

Masonic Temple, Deer Lodge

The Ancient Free and Accepted Masons offered its members support, camaraderie, connections, and community. To the geographically mobile men of the Montana frontier, nothing was more valuable. In 1870, Deer Lodge became home to the fourteenth Masonic…

304 Cottonwood

Only the jail, the county courthouse, the Episcopal Church, and a few Main Street businesses boasted two stories when this frame building joined their ranks, sometime before 1884. That year the false-front building served as a combination residence…

Fraternity Hall, Elkhorn

Swiss miner Peter Wys discovered the lucrative silver veins of the Elkhorn Mine that would eventually yield $14 million. After Wys died in 1872, Helena entrepreneur Anton M. Holter and partners developed the Elkhorn Mine. Holter sold out to an…

Masonic Temple, Forsyth

Terra-cotta medallions sporting the Masonic emblem of square and compass and the words “Masonic Temple” centered beneath the cornice proudly announce this building’s primary purpose. Chartered in 1898, the Forsyth Masonic Lodge met in borrowed…

Merchant's Bank Block

A 1912 fire at the next-door American Hotel likely provided the impetus to stucco the façade of this brick building. Thomas Alexander, a pioneer businessman and founder of the Merchant’s Bank, built the first story of the two-story business block…

Masonic Lodge #25, Fort Benton

Members of Masonic Lodge #25 built this brick structure in 1882, housing their temple on the second floor. Grocer W. H. Burgess rented first floor space. Economic decline in the late 1880s caused the Masons to lose title, and Burgess, too, went…

International Order of Odd Fellows Hall, Hamilton

A plaque centered under the cornice of this imposing two-story building reads “No. 48 I.O.O.F. Hall 1918.” I.O.O.F. stands for International Order of Odd Fellows, an organization that advocates love, friendship, and truth while offering fellowship…

Grand Lodge A.F. & A.M. of Montana

Meriwether Lewis’s Masonic apron and an O. C. Seltzer mural depicting the first Masonic meeting in Montana are among the treasures displayed in “the home of Montana Masonry.” A dynamic political and social force since early territorial days, the…

Ming Opera House Consistory Shrine

Masons have been a dynamic force in Montana since early territorial days, playing key roles in events that shaped the state’s history. Helena Masons first came together in 1865 for the funeral of Dr. L. Rodney Pococke, for whom Rodney Street was…

Masonic Temple, Helena

This grand structure reflects the prosperous 1880s and the importance of the Masons in the community. Awarded a $250 prize for their design, Helena architects Heinlein and Matthias also won the job of overseeing the building’s construction in 1885.…

Rock Creek State Bank

The Bank of Joliet opened in 1904 and began planning construction of this stately one-story building soon after. By the time the $8,000 building was completed in 1907, the bank had new owners and a new name. Built on Joliet’s most visible corner, the…

Masonic Temple, Kalispell

Seventeen charter members formed Kalispell Lodge No. 42 in 1892. Masons first held lodge meetings in several locations. Work began on this building in 1904, but when the Great Northern Railway moved its division point to Whitefish, the town paused…

Lavina State Bank

The arrival of the Milwaukee Railroad in 1908 established Lavina as an important regional center. D. W. Slayton’s Mercantile and L. C. Lehfeldt’s Adams Hotel were the cornerstone businesses of the bustling community. Slayton and Lehfeldt, along with…

McDonald & Charters Block

The beautiful blending of brick and handcut stone in this 1905 business block serves as a fine example of Lewistown’s distinctive architecture. Romanesque Revival arches, Renaissance Revival wall layering, and an Italianate cornice speak to the…

Livingston First National Bank / Masonic Building

The solid massing of this building follows a long Masonic tradition of erecting lodges whose size and bulk symbolize the permanency and stability of Masonry itself. Seemingly a colossal white stucco box, the building is actually comprised of three…

Krug Building

Neoclassical style elements including pilasters with decorative capitals and an elegant bracketed cornice enliven the façade of this significant building designed by Miles City architect Brynjulf Rivenes in 1910. Constructed by Joseph Wester for…

BPOE Lodge #383, Missoula

Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the U.S.A., Hell Gate Lodge #383, has offered conviviality, community service, and social support since its founding in 1898. In 1911 lodge members contracted with Montana’s premier architectural firm of…

Joseph Dixon Residence

Missoula architect A. J. Gibson designed this grand Neo-classical style landmark for progressive politician Joseph Dixon. Dixon married Caroline Worden, daughter of Missoula founder Frank Worden, in 1896 and the couple made their home here. Dixon…

Masonic Temple, Philipsburg

Meetings in Philipsburg of Flint Creek Lodge No. 11 date back to 1867. This structure, built in 1911, provided a permanent home for the community-oriented fraternal organization. Chambers for lodge meetings occupy the entire top floor. The ground…

Picket Block

Designed by Red Lodge carpenter and amateur architect Frank A. Sell and built by W. T. Pernham in 1902, this impressive brick commercial building was home to the Red Lodge Picket and, after 1918, the Picket-Journal, the primary news sources for the…

BPOE Lodge #534, Red Lodge

Americans organized much of their social life around fraternal groups at the turn of the twentieth century. The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks provided an important social and charitable outlet for Red Lodge's professionals, who…

City Hall/Elks Club, Virginia City

Dredge mining in the late 1890s brought new life to Virginia City and a dire need for modern office and meeting space. In 1896, town citizens voted to issue bonds to build a multipurpose City Hall with space for the city, law offices, and social…

Pfouts and Russel (Rank's Drug - Old Masonic Temple)

Paris Pfouts, Vigilante president and Virginia City’s first mayor, was instrumental in laying out the town. He and his partner, Samuel Russell, built a log store on this site in summer 1863. Local hell-raiser Jack Slade was arrested here on March 10,…

Woodburn Building/Wibaux Masonic Temple

Brothers Burl and William Woodburn collaborated to construct this substantial commercial building in 1917. The Masonic Temple was located on the upper floor and the Woodburn Brothers Grocery occupied the ground space until the building changed hands…