The Capitol's Cornerstone
Ceremonies to commemorate the construction of a great public building can be traced to the ancient world and were particularly important to builders in the Middle Ages. The laying of a cornerstone is a symbolic act that celebrates humanity’s need to build and be remembered. On September 18, 1793, President George Washington laid the Capitol’s cornerstone in a ceremony attended by representatives of Masonic lodges from Maryland and Virginia, an artillery company, the city commissioners, and local residents.
George Washington's Seal, gold and carnelian, 1794
George Washington was given this seal to commemorate the laying of the U.S. Capitol’s cornerstone. The seal itself, used to close documents, is carved with Washington’s initials and coat of arms. It is set in a gold fob, engraved with inscriptions that refer to Washington’s membership in the Masons, who also took part in the cornerstone ceremonies.
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives, Gift of Ambassador and Mrs. Mel Sembler
Masonic Gavel, Trowel and Triangle, 1793
President George Washington, who was a Mason, used this marble gavel, silver trowel and wooden triangle to lay the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol. He then presented the items to members of the Masonic lodges in attendance, who continue to preserve them to this day.
Potomac Lodge No. 5, F.A.A.M. Washington, D.C. (Gavel)
Reproductions from Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22, A.F. & A.M. Alexandria, Virginia (Trowel and Triangle)