During the twentieth century it was a kingdom unto itself: Two hundred acres of land surrounded a cluster of big institutional buildings that most outsiders saw only through the chain link fence that enclosed the property. The Masonic Home and School on Wichita Street on the East Side was cloistered, sprawling, and self-sufficient. It had its own artesian well for water, its own power plant for steam heat and electricity. It had its own church, school (and school district), and dormitories, its own dairy. It raised its own cattle and grew its own crops for food.
Some of that food ended up in local stores.
Despite my having grown up able to see this kingdom on a hillside from our back yard on Burton Street, I had never been on the property until 2012. It has undergone big changes in the new century. In 2006 the Masons decided that the home had become too expensive to operate and sold the campus to the Mallick Group. Mallick donated twenty acres and eight of the main buildings to ACH Child and Family Services. The remainder of the Masonic acreage has been commercially developed. And the chain link fence has been replaced by a fancier steel panel fence. The site is now home of ACH and Uplift Mighty Preparatory School.
The story of the Masonic Home began late in the nineteenth century. In 1897 the Masons’ grand lodge of Texas began considering locations on which to build a home for Masonic orphans and widows. Naturally B. B. Paddock and other members of Lodge 148 (the first in Fort Worth, 1855) lobbied to have the home located in Fort Worth. The grand lodge was offered “something near 200 acres” in Humphrey Barker Chamberlin’s Arlington Heights to the west of town but instead chose 212 acres that Lodge 148 had procured in the country southeast of Fort Worth. The cornerstone of the first building was laid in January 1899, and the Masons inspected and accepted the new home on September 4. The 1899 clip is from the September 5 Fort Worth Register. The 1897 clip is from October 10.
Note that the architect of the original buildings was S. B. Haggart, an early partner of Marshall Sanguinet.
Haggart and Sanguinet designed the Land Title Block Building.
On December 9, 1899 the Register printed this itemized account of expenses and assets of the new home, including the expense of stationery and the asset of horses and mules. Note the item “house bought of Cobb.” The Cobb brothers (see map below) owned a lot of land in that area, some of which became Cobb Park and Glen Garden Country Club.
Widows were moved to a facility in Arlington in 1910.
In 1949 the Masonic Home celebrated its golden anniversary. This photo is from the The Campus News, edited by the school’s journalism students and printed by its printing students.
Photo from The Campus News, 1949.
Blake Van Leer, the only boy in the 1909 class, became president of Georgia Tech. (Photo from The Campus News, 1949.)
Photo from Greater Fort Worth, 1907.
The Masonic Home was a stop on the Cleburne interurban line.
From the late 1920s into the early 1940s, of course, the school was famous for its football teams, originally called the “Masons” but later called the “Mighty Mites.” For example, the Masonic Home team was untied and undefeated in 1941. Team members had nicknames such as Wheatie, Snoggs, Spec, Donkey, Crazy, Fats, Wink, Brownie, Sleepy, and Hootie.
One of the early Mighty Mites was Abner McCall, later president of Baylor University and a Texas Supreme Court Justice.
Another Mighty Mite—Wheatie—grew up to be Poly High School coach Charles Drew “C. D.” Sealey. Sealey was raised and educated at the Masonic Home and played quarterback on Mighty Mites teams of the late 1930s. He graduated in 1941. Sealey earned the nickname by eating nine bowls of Wheaties cereal on a challenge.
Jack Whitley also played football and then coached at the Masonic Home before becoming a teacher and coach at Poly High School.
Mighty Mites bench at the Masonic lodge on Henderson Street.
The Mighty Mites teams were not always physically large, but they played with spirit and often beat teams who were physically larger and who represented schools with a larger enrollment. For example, in 1932 the Mighty Mites of Masonic Home, with an enrollment of about one hundred, competed in the Class A high school state championship game against Corsicana, a school with an enrollment of about one thousand.
Corsicana won a 0-0 tie on penetrations in one of the hardest-fought games in Texas high school history.
Scott McCall, the Mighty Mite mentioned in the story, was Abner’s brother.
The Star-Telegram in 1938 called the “diminutive” Mighty Mites “the spark-plug of senior high school football in Texas.”
Architect Wiley G. Clarkson, himself a Mason and designer of the imposing Masonic Temple (1931) on Henderson Street downtown, designed many of the home’s current buildings. Shown above is the administration building (1925).
The dining hall (1924) with separate entrances for girls and boys.
The junior girls dorm (1924). (Bottom photo from The Campus News, 1949.)
The senior girls dorm (1922). (Bottom photo from The Campus News, 1949.)
Two details of the print shop (1931). The home taught the printing trade to students, who printed material for lodges across the state. ACH renovated most of these buildings.
The dairy building (1915).
Belltower Chapel (1958).
And the kingdom of the Mighty Mites today? In this aerial photo Mitchell Boulevard is on the left, Berry Street along the top, Wichita Street on the right. The home’s original buildings are in the lower right corner. The land along Berry Street is now a shopping center: Renaissance Square. Thus, turf on which orphans such as Wheatie, Sleepy, and Hootie passed and punted in the twentieth century is concrete on which wireless phone service dealers and fast food outlets do business in the twenty-first century. Evolution lurches onward: The T formation yields to T-Mobile, and the single-wing formation yields to Wingstop.
But today there is some continuity, some link to the history of Masonic Home and School. A street running from Berry Street south to Grayson Street through the heart of the original campus is Mighty Mite Drive.
November 2019: I was biking through Gateway Park when I noticed that a football field with a small grandstand had been built within the past week and surrounded by screened fencing. Nearby were parked several antique cars and three box trucks with the sign “Twelve Mites” on them. Lots of contemporary cars (including one Fort Worth police car) and trucks and two mobile cranes were parked nearby, but very few people were in sight. I put two and two together and got twelve: On that temporary football field scenes for the movie 12 Mighty Orphans were being filmed. The movie opened in Texas on June 11.