By the early 1920’s the fraternal organization known as the Scottish Rite Masonic Order of Western Pennsylvania, with an existing temple on North Street in New Castle, had plans to erect a grand cathedral for all its members in the region. The Masons had previously bought a valuable plot of land from the Knox family in New Castle at the intersection of Highland Avenue and Lincoln Avenue, and would make additional purchases of adjoining properties between 1921-1924. John S. Wallace, the highest ranking Masonic brother in the area who also lived in Lincoln Avenue, led efforts to build the new cathedral as a central meeting place for all the Masons in the region.
The Knox property along Lincoln Avenue was cleared in June-July 1923 as plans were set in motion. Architect R. G. Schmidt of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was hired to draw up the designs. His drawings called for a magnificent structure, to be known as the Scottish Rite Cathedral, to be built on a hillside overlooking the city. It would be 244-feet in length, 181-feet in width, and 110-feet high in the back. The front of the impressive-looking cathedral, facing Lincoln Avenue, would have six 32-foot-high columns. The inside would contain a 2,800-seat main auditorium, two halls in the left and right wings, and a host of smaller meetings rooms. The construction company contracted to build the cathedral, which was projected to cost $1.7 million, was also from Milwaukee. Construction efforts may have been delayed but finally got underway in October 1924.
The cornerstone of the cathedral was laid on Wednesday, June 10, 1925. A parade was followed by a ceremony at the cathedral site. The cornerstone laying ceremony was a major event in the city and attended by well over 10,000 people. The festivities were led by Samuel M. Goodyear of Carlisle, the so-called Right Wonderful Grand Master of the Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania.
Work continued on the building and it was finally completed in late 1926. On October 26, 1926, a community dinner, attended by 2,600 people from New Castle and around the region, was held at the Cathedral to officially christen the magnificent new edifice. Two weeks later, on November 8, it was opened to the Masons for regular business. The facility was initially utilized by almost exclusively by the Masons, but I believe a few public events were held there as well. The Scottish Rite Cathedral, in conjunction with the luxurious Castleton Hotel that opened in October 1927, gave New Castle much more stature within the state. At the time of its opening the massive Cathedral was the largest such structure between New York and Chicago.
During the Great Depression the Masons were unable to pay the taxes on the building and lost the property to the county. On December 27, 1944, the county commissioners sold the Cathedral for a paltry $25,000 to the group a local Masons known as the Cathedral Foundation, with the premise that the facility would be made open to the general public. The new owners abided by the agreement and rented it out for weddings, banquets, conventions, and concerts. Years later, I believe beginning in April 1964, the renowned Pittsburgh Symphony began making regular visits to perform at the Cathedral. The facility has hosted many events over the years and continues in operation today.
To read a September 1922 article that announces the plans of the Masons to build the Cathedral click on: CATHEDRAL PLAN ARTICLE. To read a lengthy article that provides details about the proposed Cathedral click on: DETAILED PLANS ARTICLE. To read a short article about the Knox property being cleared in July 1923 click on: PROPERTY RAZED ARTICLE. To read a blurb about work commencing at the site in October 1924 click on: WORK COMMENCES ARTICLE.
This old postcard shows the Masonic Temple on E. North Street in downtown New Castle. This is where the Masons met before the Scottish Rite Cathedral was opened in late 1926.
A photo showing the massive Cathedral under construction in June 1925.
Another photo of the Cathedral as the exterior nears completion in about late 1925.
Members of the New Castle Consistory, a high-level meeting composed of Scottish Rite Masons of the 32nd degree, meet at the Cathedral in November 1943. (1943) Full Size
About 800 Penn Power employees and their family members enjoy the company’s third annual Christmas Party, held at the Cathedral on December 14, 1946. Maurice Spitalny and his orchestra – and singer L. F. “Hem” Hemenway – provided the entertainment for the evening. (Dec 1946) Full Size
A Christmas party for the veterans (at least ten years of service) of Johnson Bronze, held at the Scottish Rite Cathedral on December 11, 1948. (1948) Full Size
The Scottish Rite Cathedral. (c1945) Full Size
The main auditorium of the Scottish Rite Cathedral sits about 2,800 people. (c1970) Full Size
The Cathedral has played host to many weddings, banquets, conventions, and concerts over the years. (c1972) Full Size
The grand Scottish Rite Cathedral sits atop a hill along East Lincoln Avenue. (Jul 2013) Full Size
(Jul 2013) Full Size