Opening Knight: Pythian Cornerstone Is Laid

The last quarter of the nineteenth century and the first quarter of the twentieth century were the golden age of fraternal lodges in Fort Worth. By one estimate in 1890 one in six men in town belonged to a lodge.

Among the early lodges in Fort Worth was the Knights of Pythias, organized in 1877. The international Knights of Pythias fraternal organization had been founded in Washington, D.C. in 1864. Pythias was a figure in Greek legend who exemplified friendship.

In 1881 the Fort Worth lodge built its first lodge hall on the northeast corner of Main at 3rd Street. In the corner niche on the third floor a suit of armor—nicknamed “St. George”—can be seen.  At some point St. George lost his right “hand” to gunfire, possibly inflicted by rowdy cowboys.

Two Knights of Pythias lodges—Queen City and Red Cross—met in the building. (One of Fort Worth’s nicknames was “Queen City of the Prairies.”) Max Elser was a Queen City officer; Williams Capps and George Gause were Red Cross officers. “L. August” is probably clothing merchant Larry August, whose brother and business partner Alphonse built the second Majestic Theater.

pythias-1885This 1885 map shows the lodge hall west of the 1883 opera house. Lodges commonly built a building larger than they needed and earned income by renting space. In 1885 the building housed a saloon at 315 and, at 317, a grocery store on the ground floor, “sleeping rooms” on the second floor, and the Pythias lodge on the third floor.

In 1894 the Texas & Pacific ticket office was at 317 Main.

In 1897 a restaurant occupied part of the building.

And in 1899 a cigar factory occupied part of the building.

In 1899 the two local Knights of Pythias lodges announced plans to replace the 1881 building. The projected cost: $12,000 ($330,000 today). Note that Wells Fargo occupied the first floor of the building.

Two years later, on December 5, 1901, the cornerstone of the new Knights of Pythias lodge hall was laid. Cost was now estimated at $17,000 ($468,000 today).

This is the 1901 architect’s sketch of the second building by Sanguinet and Staats. The new building added a turret and gabled roof. St. George’s niche was moved to the front gable.

This photo postcard shows that the building had two tall chimneys not shown in the Sanguinet and Staats sketch. (Postcard from Barbara Love Logan.)

The cornerstone boasts that the 1881 building was the first Pythian temple ever built.

knights 6-9-81 dwhBut the Dallas Weekly Herald on June 9, 1881 had clarified that: The Fort Worth temple was the first Pythian temple built in Texas. The cornerstone for that first building was laid on June 7. Note that the reception was held at the El Paso Hotel.

pythias cornerstone sanguinetSanguinet’s name appears on the cornerstone of the new building. The masonry contractor was William Bryce.

The new lodge building opened on May 19, 1902.

One of the new building’s first tenants was William Bailey Fishburn, who had opened his steam and dry cleaning business in Fort Worth in 1901.

In 1903 the Free Methodists rented space in the building to hold services as they built a new church on the South Side.

In 1905 Miller Electric Company rented part of the building.

And in 1916 directors of Hust Lake Art Club rented space. Physician William A. Duringer was president of the club, which in 1916 put its Hust Lake up for sale.

This photo is from 1925, when the ground floor housed Renfro’s Rexall drugstore no. 1. (Photo from University of Texas at Arlington Libraries.)

The Knights of Pythias occupied the building at least as late as 1968. In the 1970s Haltom’s jewelry store moved into the building from the old Fort Worth Club Building.

Some more views of the Knights of Pythias lodge hall:

window pythias

The current St. George is a replica that was made when the second lodge building was restored in 1981.

pythias column ionicwindow pythias2glass pythiasglass pythias gables

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2 Responses to Opening Knight: Pythian Cornerstone Is Laid

  1. Steve A says:

    How can they make that claim when the K of P Building in Virginia City was built in 1876 and still stands? Perhaps there is some difference between a building, a castle, and a temple that escapes me.

    • hometown says:

      I wondered about that, which is why I attributed the claim. Because so many lodges rented space in their halls–retail, etc.–I wondered if this one was built with no such intention (although I know the replacement hall was used by outsiders, including non-Pythian lodges). Or, as you say, the key may lie in the word “temple.”

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