Beyond the Chain Link Lay the Kingdom of the Mighty Mites

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.

masonic 22 meatSome 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 And the chain link fence has been replaced by a fancier steel panel fence.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 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.

cornerstone land title sanguinetHaggart and Sanguinet designed the Land Title Block Building.

masonic list 12-9-99 regOn 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.

Masonic cornerstoneIn 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.

Masonic first classPhoto from The Campus News, 1949.

Masonic home van leer

Blake Van Leer, the only boy in the 1909 class, became president of Georgia Tech. (Photo from The Campus News, 1949.)

masonicPhoto 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.

sealeyAnother 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.

bench mighty mites

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.

The result?

mites headlinesCorsicana won a 0-0 tie on penetrations in one of the hardest-fought games in Texas high school history.

mites photos

mites storyScott 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.”

masonic 25 adminiArchitect 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.

Masonic home small girlsmasonic 23 girls dormThe junior girls dorm (1924). (Bottom photo from The Campus News, 1949.)

Masonic home large girlsThe 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.

convert masonic dairy barn 1915The dairy building (1915).

Belltower Chapel (1958).

masonic home googleAnd 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.

mites driveBut 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.

Other Cowtown benefactors of orphans:
Lena Pope
Edna Gladney
Belle Burchill
Belle and I. Z. T. Morris and the orphan trains

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27 Responses to Beyond the Chain Link Lay the Kingdom of the Mighty Mites

  1. Linda Weber says:

    My grandmother, Etta Mae Stephens and her half sister Ella Mae Clawson and maybe other family members grew up in this Masonic home. I would like to locate material that could have mentioned those two names. My name is Linda Weber at 3220 West Bdwy. in Ardmore, Ok. 73401 My email is linweber@aol.com

  2. Tim Foust says:

    I just finished watching the movie and brought me to tears. My wife of 40years just passed last week, but she never got tired of hearing about mini nights and mighty mite football. The education I received at the home got me thought the university of Montana. I was shipped from the home in 1966 due to to many trips to the girls building. Coach Reaid had great expectations of me being the next quarter back af McClellan left .McClellan

  3. Ken Smith says:

    Mike, I just saw the movie and really teared up at the end. Until all of this, I never realized Coach Sealey and Coach Whitley were Mites. What a great and wonderfully true story.

  4. James Reed says:

    My great uncle was Glenn Roberts and was one of the 1932 Mites. He and his older brother and younger 2 sisters wenr to The Home. Thank you so much for helping them.

  5. Ted Thetford says:

    My Life was changed forever in 1962 when two two of my Sisters Mary and Linda and one brother James all were accepted to attend the Masonic Home and Schoo.
    All four of us graduated high school and remember how unbelievable a large family could really be. The great life experience we enjoyed at the Masonic Home and School have been pasted to our children and grandchildren. We have no LBGQs in our family. we have twelve millionaires 26 president of corporations and 8 retired community leaders. Thank You, GOD for your directions to a Godly Christian Life made possible by the good works of the Masonic Home and School!
    Keep it going all you Mighty Mighty Student. Just a shout-out to Kenneth Duncan, Robert Snell, Boyd Blyeth, Russel And TD Tucker, Ray Churchwell, Danny Funk, Billy Nichols, James Nesel, Jerry Goodwin, Bert VanNater, Ronnie and Donnie Vorhes, Pudu and Scrubles. And our Ladies Sheri and Judy Foust. May God continue to bless all you wonderful family of mine.

  6. Danny Andrews says:

    I enjoyed reading this information, especially the Masonic Home-Corsicana game account. Obviously, contrary to the movie, “12 Mighty Orphans,” Masonic Home did not play Amarillo High in the state championship game in 1936 and a UIL site reports Corsicana won on penetrations 3-0 rather than 5-1. My friend, Van Redin, was one of the still photographers for the movie and another friend, Bill Coward, coached at Masonic Home from 1983-93.

  7. Deborah Carl says:

    The book The 12 Mighty Mites is available at the Stockyards bookstore located in the Stockyards Museum which is in the Exchange Building. A very good book! It of course, covers much more than the movie does. I saw the movie last week at the Modern and it’s a good flick.

  8. Glenda Bone says:

    Arthur “Buster” Bone grew up there as did his mother Loyce Bates…Uncle Woody…aunts & sisters & half brother. His mother was classmates with Hardy Brown. We have his autograph in her book. They called him Gordy though not Hardy. Buster was the quarterback & graduated in 71 as Valedictorian…he went to UTA & went back to the home to teach & coach. In 1995 he & another coach that he hired named Tom Hines took the Mighty Mites to the only state championship they ever won in Groesbeck Tx! He is still teaching to this day & is beloved by all in Godley TX. And lives in Rainbow with me, his wife Glenda. Remember this.

    • Sam McClellan says:

      I was a classmate with Buster Bone, having lived at the Home with my three brothers and two sisters from 1963 to 1966. I remember running hurdles with him on the track team and also that he was the smartest boy in our class! It would be great to connect with him after all these years.

    • Bill Bell says:

      I played football against Busters team in 1971. That game was the hardest game I ever played. Buster was a great competitor. If all the different player I played against in 4 years of high school. I only remember two names Bine And Oakley they were both fierce competitors

  9. Larry Keeton says:

    I would like to have a copy , I would love to read about the The Home, cause I am one of the few that went there and graduated in 1980, with a class of seven. Larry Keeton. Thank you.

  10. Eve L Raine says:

    May I PLEASE have a copy? My dad grew up at the Masonic Home and School as a Mini Mite and a Mighty Mite from when he first was ‘deposited’ there as a 5-year-old in 1927 through his graduation in 1939. He was James/Jim “Freckles” Holmans (#40, Left Tackle). One of his brothers (Douglass Ross Holmans) and his only sister (Pearl) were there with him. Thank you for providing me your essay about your mom’s life there. My Aunt Pearl told me of her experiences that gave her such sadness because girls were kept so separated from the boys. The Home allowed male and female siblings to visit on Sundays in a great hall. However, her brothers sat silently, begrudgingly, at being forced to visit Pearl. The boys had such freedom to run and play (and sneak off campus). She said the forced visits really created an unfair situation to girl siblings, such as Pearl, because the boy siblings would have much preferred being outside, free to play. Pearl said the girls’ lives at the Home consisted of school and chores. While that was also true for the boys, they had freedom to play and roam.

    • Lanier Dement Whilden says:

      Eve, because she was a girl, Pearl, my mother, had to do the washing and ironing for her brothers. She graduated from the high school as salutatorian of the class and had been the state runner-up in a spelling bee due to the plural of the word volcano. She had a wonderful education but always had problems with abandonment since her mother had left them there.

      My brothers and I went to several homecoming weekends there and I must say that all the ex students seemed to be very close forever.

  11. Susan van Beuningen says:

    My mother graduated from MHS in 1942,and we grew up going there for homecoming weekends, meetings, and visits. My brothers and I loved roaming the large campus with friends who lived there, catching chipmunks, climbing those beautiful trees that grew along the long brick streets, taking part in games on the big porches, and sliding in the halls of the dormitories.My mother received an excellent education at The Home, and made a close circle of friends, like family, that have lasted a lifetime. Her years spent there, and the family of ex-students, have had an enduring influence on my entire family for generations.I have written an essay for her recalling events from her life at The Masonic Home, 1930 to 1942.I would love to send you a copy.

  12. Paul Underwood says:

    Texas Freemasonry provided hope to several thousand less fortunate children over the 105 year history of Masonic Home & School. I will be forever grateful. Dating back to the Republic of Texas days, Freemasonry continues to put educating children as the cornerstone of their benevolent work.

  13. David Underwood says:

    My having graduated from Masonic Home High School in 1965 I can say without a doubt, The Masonic Home was comparable to the finest private schools in the state of Texas.

    David Underwood CPA

    • Charlotte Taylor Mahler says:

      Yes! I graduated 1974. I received a great education that I don’t think I would have had otherwise.

  14. nancy brownlee says:

    And my grandmother’s little house was just across Wichita, on Eastland. I spent most of my childhood there; I could see the dairy from our back yard.

  15. Donna Donnell says:

    As a young man during the depression my Dad worked at the Masonic Home. After returning from the war he briefly worked there again. Years later, though he had 4 children of his own, he collected old worn out toys, gathered his his government co-workers and for months they turned those old toys into new. Then each Christmas, for several years, Daddy would go out to the home, dressed as Santa Claus, and distribute those toys to the children. Somewhere I have some old photographs of the home and Daddy with the kids. I think he did it, out of appreciation and respect. When times were tough for him, though it was tough for everyone, the Masonic Home gave him hope, and he played it forward, he certainly enjoyed doing it.

  16. Pat Pendley says:

    Although we frequently passed the Masonic Home (as we lived in Poly), I had no idea it had so many buildings. The new fence adds a real update to it.

    • hometown says:

      Most of the buildings were along Wichita, but the land stretched all the way to Mitchell Boulevard. When I was growing up, I never knew anyone who lived or worked there. And I lived two blocks away.

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