Tour to feature Scottish Rite Temple

Saturday, November 24, 2007
Robin Hixson/Herald-Tribune-- Visitors to the Scottish Rite Temple will be welcomed with a generous visual helping of holiday cheer.

By Robin Hixson

Herald-Tribune

FORT SCOTT, Kan. -- The Historic Preservation Association of Bourbon County's annual Homes for the Holidays tour, Dec. 8 and 9, will feature a number of exceptional attractions, this year, one of which is the Scottish Rite Temple, 110 S. Main St., Fort Scott.

For more than a century, the Scottish Rite Masons of Southeast Kansas have made their home at this site.

Around 1900, the masonic order purchased the old Huntington House at First and Main streets, remodeling it and dedicating the building as the Scottish Rite Temple in 1904, renting out first-floor space to local merchants.

The masons later purchased lots to the south of the temple and began construction in 1923 on the new Scottish Rite Cathedral, which abutted the older building. Where the two came together, a square, windowed tower rose into the sky, visible for miles. Dedicated on Nov. 14, 1926, the new cathdral, designed by architect William T. Schmitt, was built in a Spanish Gothic design and decorated with ancient symbols of the masonic order.

On the building facade is a huge stone bas relief, created by sculptor Heinz Warneke, depicting a double-headed eagle, symbol of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. The bird's wingspan stretches to 48 feet across the front of the building.

Once the cathedral was completed, the the old temple to the north was razed and a new one was built that matched the cathedral.

In the 1940s, the north building became the property of the Western Insurance Company, and the cathedral, with its first-floor dining hall, its luxurious lounges and its magnificent upstairs auditorium, took on the name of the Scottish Rite Temple.

At some point, the tower was removed, but no information is currently available as to why it was taken down.

Today, the temple is still used for various masonic ceremonies and functions, as well as weddings and many other community and religious events.

The balconied auditorium, accessible via a wide, handsome staircase, has seating for about 520 people. The stage features a set of more than 100 hand-painted backdrops created in 1901 by artist Thomas G. Moses and repainted in 1924. Used in combination with each other, these vividly colored backdrops create 48 different stage settings that depict scenes of Scotland, Rome, Egypt, lush gardens and other locations, all with stunning realism.

During the Homes for the Holidays tour weekend, the backdrops will change periodically to provide a variety of stage scenes.

The auditorium also features an Austin Brothers wind chest pipe organ built in 1924 at a cost of $15,000. Today, Scottish Rite officials said, it is valued at nearly $2 million.

The first-floor dining hall is a popular venue for community and service organizatioin fund raising dinners, awards ceremonies and other functions. It seats about 350 people and includes a full kitchen.

Other stops on the Homes for the Holidays tour will include the Nate Lyons home, 750 S. National Ave.; the Larry and Pat Lyons home, 742 S. National Ave.; the Cynthia Levine home, 747 S. National Ave.; the historic Fort Lincoln School at 18th and Horton streets; the Fort Scott National Historic Site, where visitors can see and participate in an 1800s-era Christmas Ball,1-3 p.m., Dec. 8; and the Liberty Theatre, 113 S. Main St., where tour-goers can enjoy holiday music by various performers from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Dec. 8, and 2-4:45 p.m., Dec. 9.

A favorite of tour goers has always been The Stocking Stuffer, where they can shop for unique and beautiful hand-made gifts. While there, they can stop and enjoy a barbecue brisket lunch or buy tasty desserts at the bake sale.

Again this year, there will be a special Moonlight and Mistletoe tour from 6-8 p.m., Friday, Dec. 7, which will include a festive light buffet and a bubbly beverage. Moonlight and Mistletoe tickets are $20 each and are limited to 100 guests. Moonlight and Mistletoe tickets, in addition to the special evening preview tour, will entitle their holders to admission at any of the Homes for the Holidays stops throughout the tour weekend.

Homes for the Holidays tour tickets are $8 each and may be purchased at Country Cupboard, 12 N. Main St., or at the Fort Scott Area Chamber of Commerce, 231 E. Wall St.

Reservations for the Moonlight and Mistletoe tour or information about the Homes for the Holidays tour may be obtained by calling (800) 245-3678 or 223-3678.

No tickets are required for admission to The Stocking Stuffer and the Christmas Ball. Those two events are free to the public.

The annual Homes for the Holidays tour is the primary fundraising event of the Historic Preservation Associa-tion of Bourbon County. HPA was established in 1974, succeeding its forerunner, the Bourbon County Historical Society.

Its mission is to save and preserve historic structures in Fort Scott and across Bourbon County. Its members also strive to preserve knowledge about the people and events of Bourbon County's past and to share that knowledge with the public.

For more than 30 years, HPA has worked to preserve a number of structures including the Old Congregational Church, the Ingham Building and the Union Block Building in downtown Fort Scott.

Its members have worked with the city of Fort Scott to preserve the old Union freight depot. HPA has also helped to fund acquisition of land for the Mine Creek Battlefield near Pleasanton.