Escurial Lodge #7
Virginia City, NV
Chartered: October 13, 1864
Escurial Lodge #7, F. & A.M.
164 C St
Virginia City, NV 89701
P.O. Box 997
Virginia City, NV 89440-0997
Stated Meeting: First Saturday 10:00am
Fellowship Breakfast: 9:00am
(Meets year round)
Worshipful Master: James Phelps, P.M.
Secretary: J. David Miller, P.M.
Torrence’s “Masonry in Virginia Ciry”
The history of Nevada mining begins with the invasion of territory by a band of Mormons sent out by Brigham Young in early months of the year 1850 to effect a settlement in the country adjacent to the Truckee river and on the Trail which wound its tortuous course across the rugged slopes of the Sierra mountains in California.
After days of harassing experiences and heartbreaking adventures they penetrated the Valley of the Truckee, and made camp, the location afterwards becoming known as Ragtown. From this base they gradually extended their operations, some penetrating the adjacent hills and mountains in search of gold, others selecting promising locations along the grass-covered banks of the river where they eventually developed valuable agricultural tracts.
Those who ventured into the mountains soon decided that the rocky slopes were barren of mineral values and turned their attention to the mountain streams in the hope that they might be successfully panned for gold. After days of discouraging search they reached a spot near which the present town of Dayton is located, and entered the mouth of what they named “Gold Canyon” where the first recorded discovery of gold in Nevada was made. The amount of gold panned was negligible, but with dogged persistency characteristic of their sect, they continued to pan only miserly returns, for months unmindful of the fabulous wealth which lay just ahead of them, beneath the windswept slopes of Sun Peak mountain, which, within the next decade was to astound the mining world with its richness, and from whose subterranean depths would issue a flow of wealth, compared to which the yield from the fabled mines of Solomon, King of Israel, would be a mere pittance.
The years passed by; occasionally the monotony of their existence was relieved by the arrival of other caravans, pushing westward. The little band of placer miners in Gold Canyon had been augmented by other arrivals and quite a settlement had now been established at that point. But by far, most of the travelers trekking along the trail, wended their way up the steep canyon, sometimes stopping for the night at the foot of Sun Peak mountain at the spot where later huge mining enterprises were to be established, and where a sizeable city should be founded and where in a day in June, 1859, Peter O’Reilly and Patrick McLaughlin cleaned their first rocker of rich ore, which topped the deposits of the fabulous Ophir mine; and where, on the same day, Henry Paige Comstock came riding by, and, sensing the value of the discovery, fraudulently claimed all rights to the ground by reason of previous purchase, and made his claim good. He later formed a company to work the claims, including Peter O’Reilly, Patrick McLaughlin, Emanuel Penrod, Kentuck Osborne and James Finney, or Old Virginia, and gave to this and surrounding district, the name “The Comstock Lode,” a name to be conjured with in mining history, embracing a district which would become the arena of gigantic civic and industrial activities; the spot from which would develop fierce personal and commercial strife, involving millions in capital, creating Napoleons of finance and developing mental and physical giants among whom loom the names of Wm. A. Stewart, afterwards to become U. S. Senator, Philip Deidesheimer, who developed a method of timbering which came into universal use in western mines and made possible the working of soft ground in high stopes. Adolph Sutro was also a developed product of the Comstock whose bulldog persistency completed the Sutro tunnel in spite of financial and political antagonism, which project not only drained the mines of the district, but also became a means for their ventilation, and, upon one occasion, an agent through which food and supplies were conveyed to the starving inhabitants of Virginia City who were snowbound and buried in gigantic drifts and cut off from communication with the outside world.
To this district also came Wm. Sharon, W. C. Ralston, D. O. Mills and Alvinza Hayward, to become prominently allied with the commercial, industrial and financial activities of the camp.
The Comstock was also responsible for the development of Jno. P. Jones, shrewd politician and financier, who was later elected U. S. Senator from Nevada.
The list is long, and wealth, fame and honor came to many who cast their lot and fortune here. Later came John W. Mackay, James Graham Fair, Wm. S. O’Brien, and James C. Flood, destined to rule the Comstock and become its Bonanza Kings; to coax fabulous riches from its depths, and establish immense fortunes, portions of which, as in the case of the Mackay riches, would be set aside for the purpose of contributing to the education of the youth of our state with the endowment of the Mackay School of Mines at the Nevada State University. The wealth of the other bonanza kings found outlet in commercial enterprises, giving employment to thousands, and contributing to the convenience of professional and industrial pursuits.
The romantic and glamorous story of the Comstock is replete with experiences, adventures and situations sufficient in themselves to induce thrills in the most sedate, arouse the interest and attention of the most taciturn and phlegmatic, and quicken the pulses of those who are susceptible to excitement.
While volumes have been written recording the history of this unusual district, penned by such notables as Dan DeQuille, Charles Howard Shinn, Mark Twain, Rollen M. Daggett and Bret Harte, contemporaneous with the growth and development of the Comstock lode, or compiled by authors who in after years devoted months and years to the collection of data for their manuscripts, yet the story of the Comstock has never been completely told, for there is left to the imagination, the real picture of hardship incident to the first months of promotion, the subsequent subjection of the elements, heat and cold, as during the first summer and hard winter when they threatened to depopulate the district, and almost succeeded; but when these forces were overcome, and the breast of Sun Peak yielded up its treasure, there remains to be sensed the thrill of amassing and helping to amass wealth; the departure from the old mode of living – and the resorting to metropolitan and cosmopolitan airs. And, when the final touches had been given to the structural units which made the composite city, the canyon streets sounded to the din of commercial activity, the gulches echoed to the confusion incident to the mining of fabulously rich ore, and an era of prodigality was ushered in unparalleled in the history of any mining camp, and the world looked on in amazement – these are some of the things to be conjured with as we recall the story of the Comstock, for they give us a new slant on those times and people who promoted and developed what was preeminently the greatest mining district the world has ever known.
And so, as the mining history of Nevada was born in territory adjacent to the wind swept slopes of Sun Peak Mountain, and was developed in the fabulously rich bonanza mines of the Comstock, resulting in the founding of new mining camps in the adjoining district, so in like manner Masonry was cradled in the same district and found sanctuary in Gold Hill, Silver City, Dayton and Virginia City. Keeping pace with the development of the metal industry of the district and eventually becoming a factor which aided in shaping the destiny of individuals, Masonry exerted its moral and refining influences on municipal, county and state affairs long before Nevada was admitted to statehood.
Although the first unit of Masonry in the Territory of Nevada was not established in Virginia City, yet it is historically true that the first Masonic gathering in the state was held in that thriving camp in June, 1860, and was called to observe Masonic funeral rites over the body of Capt. Edw. F. Storey, killed in an engagement with hostile Indians, near Pyramid Lake, to which reference has been previously made. Many notables were present at this meeting, prominent among whom was Wm. Henry Howard, Past Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Louisiana, and a Past Grand Master from California, who was selected to preside over the meeting, and who is said to have pronounced the funeral oration. An old time resident of Virginia City, who later became a member of Virginia City Lodge No. 162, was authority, before his death, for the statement that following the funeral services, Masonic matters were discussed by the brethren which contemplated the establishment of a lodge in Virginia City and the acquiring of suitable quarters in which to house the lodge.
Although this after-meeting stimulated interest in Masonry in the district, it was nevertheless productive of no immediate results. In the meantime the brethren in Carson City had become active, resulting in the organization of Carson lodge No. 154 under California jurisdiction, and having the honor of being the first unit of Masonry to be established on Nevada soil.
However, interest in Masonry in Virginia City had not languished. The organization of the lodge in Carson City served as a stimulus to further activity and not only aroused the resident Masons of Virginia City to action, but was the instrument whereby sojourning Masons living in Gold Hill and Silver City felt the urge to organize in their respective communities to spread Masonic light. The movement in Silver City was started in the early months of 1863, meetings of sojourning brethren being called, to formulate plans for the purpose of organizing and to arrange for suitable quarters in which to perform their Masonic work. The brethren at Gold Hill were led in their undertaking by Bro. Charles E. Ollney and Duane L. Bliss, while Silver City Masons accepted the leadership of Brother J. C. Currie, and in Virginia City Brother William H. Howard, a Past Grand Master from California, but at that time a resident of the premier mining camp in Nevada, was responsible for the inauguration of the movement to found a Masonic unit in that place. However sincere and anxious the brethren in this district may have been to spread Masonic light, a dissenting factor gradually intruded upon their plans, a factor born of sectional animosity induced by the Civil War then in progress between the North and the South, and represented in this section of Nevada by scores of sympathizers who had come from both sides of the Mason and Dixon line, to cast their lot and find pastime in this unique mining center.
From various publications dealing with the history of the Comstock lode, it appears that there was unusual bitterness manifested among the adherents of both the Northern and Southern factions in Virginia City at that time. The Union sympathizers maintained no established headquarters in the town, the whole community being their field of operations, and their following was represented by the majority of the citizens of Virginia City, among whom were found many Masons.
The Secessionists, however, most of whom were of prominent Southern families, had, by either a tacit understanding or mutual agreement congregated at the Virginia House, the leading hotel in Virginia City, and there maintained recognized headquarters. Prominent among those domiciled at that hotel were Judge Reardon, Frank Herford, Frank Denver, Judge Raeborn, and Charles Fairfax, the latter a native of the State of Virginia, and the recognized leader of the Southern sympathizers in Virginia City. Wm. Henry Howard was also a frequent guest of the Virginia House and, being a native of Tennessee, and for many years a resident of Louisiana, had imbibed many of the customs and beliefs of the South, and was an acknowledged supporter of the Confederate cause. His southern sympathies therefore weaned him from the confidence of those northern factionists who were members of the Masonic fraternity, and although Bro. Howard was foremost in the movement to organize a Masonic lodge in Virginia City, and through his endeavors Virginia lodge No. 162 was finally chartered, yet it has been assumed by some that his southern sympathies were instrumental in depriving him of the honor of having the lodge bear his name, although it was originally intended that this honor should go to him. Whether this is so or not, and there is no authentic record to sustain such contention, it is nevertheless true, but likewise inexplicable, that when the Grand Lodge of California issued a charter to the brethren at Virginia City to organize under dispensation, the wishes of the brethren of Virginia City were ignored, and the charter was issued to the brethren of Virginia Lodge No. 162 instead of Howard Lodge No. 162. The authority granting permission to organize under dispensation was issued January 15, 1863, under the hand of Grand Master William C. Belcher, and the Grand Lodge of California on May 24th, 1863, issued to them a charter, with the following officers and members:
William H. Howard, Worshipful Master; Joseph DeBell, Senior Warden; James Z. Kelley, Junior Warden; James Bolan, Treasurer; Charles M. Cornell, Secretary; Hypolite Hugnet, Senior Deacon; Ferdinand Waiter, Junior Deacon; A. S. Olini, Marshal; T. M. Adams and Columbus Walker, Stewards; and John Doyle, Tyler, together with the following Master Masons: Joseph Barnett, Isaac C. Rateman, Harver Beckwith, S. A. Chapin, Orman Crandall, Lewis Goodwin, I. Heilshorn, Charles Tones, Isaac Kraimer, Charles Lintott, Samuel Lubeck, Julius Marsh, W. B. May, W. F. Meyers, Reuben J. Mitchell, John A. Paxton, L. Rawlings, Charles Rawson, Hugh M. Reed, L. Reynolds, F. S. Rising, Richard Rising, John W. Stattler, Samuel Symons, Levi W. Taylor, and Walter Winn. The following Entered Apprentices were also named in the charter: E. W. Adams, , Rufus E. Arrick, Allen M. Cole, Stephen T. Gage, D. M. Hanson, Charles L. Strong and J. Warner.
The receipt of the charter by the brethren at Virginia City, brought with it expressions of disappointment, dissatisfaction, and disapproval of the action of the Grand Lodge of California in its refusal to honor Brother Howard by naming the new Masonic unit for him; but he very graciously accepted their decision and pointed out to the brethren of the lodge, that while their wishes had not been gratified in the bestowal of a name for the new unit, and he had not been honored by having the lodge named for him, yet he had after all, been honored during the period of his incumbency as Grand Master of California, by having had Howard Lodge No. 96 of Yreka, Calif., bear his name, and too, he felt that he had been signally honored by being named as the first worshipful master of Virginia Lodge 162; he asked that the brethren accept the situation with good grace, and that a true Masonic spirit might prevail.
That Brother Howard had believed that the new lodge would bear his name, and that he had been informed of the wishes and intentions of the brethren long before the charter was issued, and received by the brethren is evident, because upon the occasion of the instituting of the lodge, he presented them a complete set of officers jewels, which were wrought from native silver taken from the Comstock lode, and beautifully engraved with the name, “Howard Lodge” on each jewel. This set is said to have cost Brother Howard the sum of five hundred dollars.
Brother Howard continued his activities not only in Virginia Lodge, but throughout the district, attending and working with the various lodges in that section of Nevada.
To him may be accorded the honor of having been instrumental in effecting the organization of the Grand Lodge of Nevada which met in Virginia City in 1865. He died in 1866, a few hours before the second annual convention of the Grand Lodge was convened; his body was borne to the lodge room in which the convention was to be held, and lay in state while the Grand Body assembled, when Grand Honors were paid the distinguished brother. The funeral oration was pronounced by Bro. Jos. DeBell.
Bro. DeBell was assisted in the funeral services by Bro. J. C. Currie, who from that time on until his death, was prominent in Grand Lodge affairs, and who became Grand Master of Nevada Masons in 1860, and was re-elected again in 1867. He was master of his own lodge for ten years, and was mayor of Virginia City at the time of the great fire in 1875, and became chairman of the restoration committee appointed to take charge of reconstruction, following the fire. Later he withdrew from his lodge, and united with Virginia City Lodge.
Urged to intensive action by the accomplishments of the brethren at Virginia City, sojourning Masons living in Silver City, under guidance of Bro. J. M. Currie, expressed their desire to organize a lodge, by framing a petition to the Grand Lodge of California in the early months of 1863, asking authority to organize under dispensation, permission having previously been asked from Carson Lodge No. One, to organize in territory controlled by the latter lodge. Carson Lodge assented, and on March 20, 1863, authority was granted the brethren at Silver City, to establish a lodge under dispensation, naming J. M. Currie, W. M.; T. M. Henry, S.W., and W. B. Hickok, J. W. With the institution of the lodge, and the installing of its officers, the lodge entered upon an intensive year of service, and added a fine membership to its original roll.
On May 15, 1865, it was officially chartered, with its first officers appointed in the dispensation again named to guide its destinies. In addition thereto, August Koneman was named Treasurer, Henry Warnold, Secretary; James Cowden S. D.; Moses T. Burke, J. D.; Henry Lux, Tyler. In its first report to the Grand Lodge of California eleven members were reported in good standing.
With the organization of the Grand Lodge of Nevada, it was chartered as Amity Lodge No. 4 upon Nevada Roster, with the following officers in charge: Richard T. Mullard, W. M.; James M. Kennedy, S. W., and W. J. Burke, J. W.
Brother Mullard was the last master under California jurisdiction; he became Deputy Grand Master of Nevada Masons in 1868.
With the arousing of Masonic interest in both Silver City, and Virginia City, Masons in Gold Hill in the meantime had become aroused to the desirability of forming a Masonic unit in their own locality, and on the 11th of April, 1863, Wm. G. Alban, R. R. Barnes, Levi W. Lee, M. Frankenheimer, Lewis B. Frankel, Sigmund Ettinger, A. C. Hollingshead, Hugh McLeod, Henry Donnelly, N. A. H. Ball, Robert Webber, Charles E. Olney, Duane Bliss, Samuel Robinson, and H. H. Veasy framed a petition to the Grand Lodge of California asking permission to establish a lodge at Gold Hill. On the 20th of June, 1863, the document for which they petitioned was issued, and on July 1lth the dispensation was delivered, and W. G. Alban was installed Worshipful Master; E. R. Barnes, Senior Warden; L. W. Lee, Junior Warden; S. H. Robinson, Treasurer; S. Ettinger, Secretary; L. B. Frankel, Senior Deacon; A. C. Hollingshead, Junior Deacon; H. McLeod and M. Frankenheimer, Stewards; H. N. Veasy, Tyler. On the 13th day of October, 1864, the Grand Lodge of California issued a charter to Silver Star Lodge No. 165, with Chas. E. Olney, W. M.; L. W. Lee, S. W., Duane Bliss, J. W.; S. H. Robinson, Treasurer; S. E. Ettinger, Secretary; L. B. Frankel, Senior Deacon; Sol Neal, Junior Deacon; M. Frankenheimer and Hugh McLeod, Stewards; J. Lockwood, (not a member) Tyler.
There was wild activity on the slopes of Sun Peak Mountain, and in the gulches and canyons which radiated from its wind swept sides. Claims were located in all directions, by a motley aggregation of prospectors, most of them inexperienced miners; they had no knowledge of geology, and cursing, threw away the heavy blue black deposit which clogged their rockers and exhausted their quicksilver, but which was the real secret of the Comstock Lode, the source of the wealth which made the district famous.
To this environment the gold-mad throng continued to stampede, hailing from every section of the land. With them swept into this maelstrom of Humanity, came many Masons, who in the order of things, were eventually enrolled with the membership of Silver City, Gold Hill, and Virginia City lodges. It is said that at the peak of its membership, Amity Lodge had an enrollment of 194 members, but its existence and progress was always more or less hampered by the proximity of the lodges at Gold Hill and Virginia City.
However, the brethren were constant and energetic, which is attested by their effort and determination to carry on with an ever increasing membership, the growth of the lodge being steady, and lodge activities never waning. With a corps of competent officers elected annually to guide its destinies, it has continued to remain as one of the prominent and dominant units of Masonry in the state. Although it suffered a loss of membership with the decline of the metal industry on the Comstock, it has maintained its one time prestige, and is today a forceful factor in Masonic circles.
In the meanwhile, a fourth group of brethren in Virginia City, had felt a Masonic urge, and were ambitious to establish another unit of Masonry in the camp. Headed by Brother W. A. Van Bokkelen, in the late weeks of 1863 a meeting was called to outline plans to organize a new lodge in territory dominated by the brethren of Virginia City, No. 162, Silver Star No. 165 at Gold Hill, and Amity No. 163 at Silver City, many brethren of which are said to have been present at the meeting at the request of Brother Van Bokkelen, and to have voiced their approval of a fourth lodge being established in territory adjacent to their charters. With their approval obtained, and the assurance of fraternal support, the new group was impelled to make application to the Grand Lodge of California to organize under dispensation. Accompanying their application, was a personal letter from Bro. Van Bokkelen directed to the Most Worshipful William C. Belcher, Grand Master of California Masons, requesting that the new lodge be designated by the name “Escurial” and stating that the name had been suggested to him when reading in Prescott’s History of Spain a description of Escurial Palace. This name was deemed singularly appropriate for the new lodge, since the Spanish palace had been; built high in the mountains (Pyrenees) and was located in the vicinity of many mines, and that the name, and its appropriate application to the new lodge had found instant and popular favor with the brethren.
The delay incident to action by the Grand Lodge of California upon this application, was negligible, for, on January 22, 1864, official approval was given, and a dispensation was issued to the petitioning brethren, authorizing them to organize Escurial Lodge under dispensation.
At the 15th annual communication of the Grand Lodge of California, on October 13, 1864, Grand Master Wm. C. Belcher authorized that a charter be issued to the following officers and members of Escurial Lodge, U. D.: Geo. W. Hopkins, Worshipful Master; Wm. A. Van Bokkelen, Senior Warden; Columbus Walker, Junior Warden; Roderick C. Chappel, Treasurer; Erasmus W. Haines, Secretary; Charles V. Anthony, Chaplain; Ellis C. Morton, Senior Deacon; Basil V. Barry, Junior Deacon; John O’Brian, Marshal; Leonard W. Ferris, and Daniel N. Powers, Stewards; Julius Lockwood (of Virginia City Lodge No. 162) Tyler.
Master Masons as follows: Robert Baxter, George W. Birdsell, John C. Bloomer, Chas. B. Brooks, Ovid Chauvel, Clark Churchill, Charles M· Cornell, Josiah Earl, Robert Eichler, Edwin T. Estes, John Fleming, Benj. L. Higbee, Wm. H. Jenkins, Geo. D. Keeny, Alex E. Kennedy, Stephen D. Merchant, Frank A. Parks, Thomas Parker, John V. B. Perry. Thos. H. Pinkerton, David C. Ross, Geo. E. Scammon, Philip Stoner, James Wheeler. Entered Apprentice, John Faull.
Brother Geo. W. Hopkins became Grand Master of Nevada Masons in 1868 and 1869; Bro. Wm. A. Van Bokkelen served as Grand Master of Nevada in 1872, and as Grand Secretary F. & A. M. of Nevada Masons from 1867 to 1870 inclusive.
In the meanwhile, it had become necessary to acquire suitable quarters in which to house the new lodge, and arrangements were made with Virginia City lodge No. 162 whereby Escurial Lodge was to occupy the same quarters, share the necessary running expenses, and enjoy all the privileges that Virginia City lodge enjoyed, and eventually to reimburse Virginia City lodge for one half of all expenses incurred in promoting and acquiring the building. This arrangement proved mutually agreeable, and for years the two 1odges dwelt together in fraternal peace and harmony. When the lodges in Nevada resolved to divorce themselves from the California jurisdiction and establish a Grand Lodge of Nevada Masons, was at the joint invitation of Virginia and Escurial lodges that the eight lodges then operating on Nevada soil met in Virginia City January 15, 1865, and organized the Grand Lodge of Nevada at which Grand Session Virginia lodges became Virginia No. 3, Escurial became No. 7, and Silver Star No. 5.
It has been said that the prosperity and promotion of Virginia City might readily be reflected in the growth of Masonry on the Comstock, for by the end of 1869, Virginia Lodge had 142 members enrolled. Escurial followed with 138 and Silver Star at Gold Hill 123. By the spring of 1875 Virginia boasted of 185, Escurial showed 153 and Silver City 188, and their finances were in a flourishing condition. Then followed a period of disastrous fires, which almost completely wrecked both Virginia and Escurial lodges. On May 19, 1875, a large section of the business district of the city was wiped out, and the building occupied by the Masonic brethren was leveled. Permission was obtained to occupy the Odd Fellows’ Hall, and plans started to raise money to erect a new temple. Work was begun and the Grand Lodge invited to lay the corner stone on October 12, but on September 3 another fire swept over the town destroying the Odd Fellows’ Hall, and all the books, records and regalia saved from the fire of May 19 of both Virginia and Escurial lodges were a total loss. However, the brethren were not discouraged, and work was rushed on the new Temple in process of erection in another part of the city. On October 12, the special Communication of the Grand Lodge was held according to previous plans, the ceremonies being attended by the combined membership of the four lodges in the district, besides many visiting brethren from other sections of the state. The impressiveness of the occasion was heightened by the attendance of De Witt Commandery, Knights Templar, which participated in the ceremonies in full uniform.
It must be remembered that after the fire of May 19, all the records and papers of the Grand Lodge which were saved from the flames, and they were pitifully few, were stored in a brick building owned by Past Grand Master J. C. Currie. Fortunately, this building was not in the line of fire of September 3, and after the ceremonies attendant upon the laying of the corner stone of the new temple on October 12, it was decided as soon as the building was completed, to remove the remaining records of the Grand Lodge to the completed structure, and also to make it permanent headquarters for De Witt Commandery, Knights Templar, and a storage place for their magnificent uniforms, said to have cost between $200 and $300 apiece. These plans, however, failed to mature, for on October 26, barely two weeks from the date of laying the corner stone of the new temple, a fire, known to posterity as the Great Fire of 1875, ravished the city, entailing a loss of approximately $11,000,000 and the framework and foundation of the new temple were destroyed. In this fire the Currie building, containing what was left of the Grand Lodge records, was also consumed with its entire contents. Not a shred nor a leaf of the records of the Grand Lodge remained. However, the jewels presented to Virginia lodge by Past Grand Master W. H. Howard when that lodge was instituted, were found among the cooling embers when the conflagration had subsided. These jewels are now in possession of Carson Valley lodge.
The embers of this destructive blaze were scarcely cool before the Masons of Virginia City were again planning to erect a new temple. Though discouraged, and their lodge finances exhausted, their spirits were not broken and their indomitable pride would not permit the acceptance of fraternal or financial aid from other Masonic lodges either within or without the state. Very shortly their enterprise and determination was visibly manifested in the framework promoted through their own finances, of a new temple which this time became a reality and was ready for occupancy the following June when the Annual Communication of the Grand Lodge was to be held, but which owing to lack of reports from local lodges of the state and from the Grand Bodies of other jurisdictions, originals of which had been consumed in the fire of October 26, the Grand Lodge session was called off, and the Grand Lodge of Nevada did not convene until November, 1876.
The story of Masonry in Virginia City would be incomplete without reference to the meeting held on Mt. Davidson Sept. 8, 1875, following a fire which destroyed the I. O. O. F. building in which the Masonic brethren had been meeting since the fire of May 19, 1875, when the Masonic building was burned to the ground; there was no available hall in town after the fire of Sept. 8th, and since it was desired to hold a meeting to devise plans to carry on the work of erecting a new temple, it was suggested to Grand Master Robert W. Bollen that a meeting be held near the top of Mt. Davidson.
Brother Albert Hires, worshipful master of Virginia Lodge No. 3, when informed of the suggestion, asked: “What shall be done to transact the business of the lodge and provide for the destitute, if that meeting is held at the top of the mountain ?” He was told, “Call the lodge together on the mountain, waiving all signs and ceremonies.” He accordingly issued a call to the brethren to foregather near the top of Mt. Davidson, at the foot of the granite peak which surmounts the summit.
The area selected was a natural amphitheatre surrounded by high crags. In preparing the plot for the meeting, rough boulders had been selected as stations for the Worshipful Master and Wardens, and the enclosure was lined with rough rocks which served as seats for the brethren.
An altar was built of native rock in the center of the improvised lodge room, before which the brethren might approach the East. From a flag pole erected in years gone by, the white flag of Masonry emblazoned with the square and compass and letter G, floated in the breeze. Grand Master Robert W. Bollen was invited to preside over the meeting. Prayer was offered by Rev. I. D. Hammond, a member of the Craft, and Masonic odes were rendered by the local quartette, consisting of Bros. E. I. Passmore, Geo N. Eels, O. L. Foster, and Geo. W. Dorwin. A line of sentinels, distinguished by white bands worn around their arms were stationed around the mountain to prevent intrusion of the curious.
Grand Master Bollen delivered an inspiring address welcoming the local and visiting brethren, stating the object of the meeting, and outlining a campaign which would advance the moral, spiritual and educational uplift of the district and state. Ways and means were discussed to finance and for finishing the new Temple in process of building, and arrangements made for the laying of the corner stone Oct. 12th. Following the Grand Master, Brother Chas. DeLong, Robert H. Taylor, Rollen M. Daggett, and Past Grand Masters John C. Currie and George Hopkins delivered interesting talks, and a number of selections were rendered by the lodge quartette. The meeting was closed and the brethren began the long trek down the steep mountain side.
Historical accounts of the meeting written by brethren who attended, state that 342 members and visitors were present representing every Masonic jurisdiction in America. The meeting was given wide publicity not only in Masonic publications, but accounts of the gathering were printed in many of the leading newspapers of the nation.
It has been maintained that the meeting on Mt. Davidson was the only one of its kind held in America up to that time. While there had been Masonic gatherings in the open, notably one held by the brethren near the settlement of Ragtown, Nevada, and another said to have been promoted by Eureka lodge No. 16, these were more of a recreational nature, promoted more for their novelty, rather than for any actual necessity, and were attended exclusively by local members.
“Mt. Davidson will be known among the craft as ‘The Mountain of the Lord’ and the grandest altar of Freemasonry built by the Supreme Architect. Its solid base girded with bands of gold and silver, and sparkling with gems of crystal quartz; its altar cloth in winter the purest snowy mantle spread on it by heaven itself, while the blazing sun, the silver moon, and the glittering stars, shall be its greater and lesser lights, to shine upon it as long as the earth shall be used as a Trestle Board by the Craft.” (From “50 Years of Masonry in California.” Edwin A. Sherman, 33 Degree.)
By 1880 Virginia City had seen its best days. The story of the Comstock had been largely written, and evil days drew nigh. Ore production was on the wane, and the glory of the bonanza days had passed. The prestige the district had once commanded was gone. The glamour and romance, the prodigality and lavishness of the “sixties,” when silver was King, had disappeared; they existed in memory only, and the exodus began. From a thriving inland city which flaunted its metropolitan and cosmopolitan airs, whose population at the peak of its prosperity numbered far into the thousands, it had dwindled until but a few hundred remained.
The prosperity and progress of Masonry in the Comstock was naturally reflected in the discovery and development of the bonanza mines of the district. With but a few score enrolled on the membership rosters of the three lodges in the district when the Grand lodge was organized January 15, 1865, the craft expanded and grew until twenty years later when ore production began its decline, there were approximately 500 members enrolled in Virginia City. But the end was inevitable, and, as the fortunes of the district and city declined, so, likewise did Masonry suffer and so too, did its once proud membership disperse. Many of the brethren returning to the place from which they came, demitting to the lodges where first they found Masonic light.
Many, of course, remained loyal to the lodge of their adoption in Virginia City and continued their membership for perhaps years, before affiliating elsewhere. Many crossed into California and eventually demitted to lodges in the Golden State, while some remained loyal to the district and to their lodges. To them remains the credit and honor of keeping the Masonic fires burning. Though the brethren remained steadfast and loyal, they could not always continue to stem the tide of discouragement caused by the gradual loss of membership and eventual depletion of their treasuries. Virginia lodge No. 3, the first lodge to be organized on the Comstock, continued until May 14, 1915, when in despair it surrendered its charter.
Silver Star Lodge No. 5 of Gold Hill fought a losing battle until 1919, when it too succumbed to the inevitable, and consolidated with Escurial No. 7.
Valley No. 9 of Dayton, the first lodge in the state to be granted a charter by the Grand Lodge of Nevada (October 12, 1865) maintained its existence until 1926, when it to realized the impossibility of regaining its prestige and one time numerical strength and merged with Amity No. 4.
Second Mountain Top Meeting
An anniversary of the meeting held on Mt. Davidson September 8, 1875, and sponsored by the Grand Lodge of Nevada, though under the auspices of Virginia Lodge No. 3 and Escurial Lodge No. 7, was called for September 11, 1932. It was a replica, so far as possible, of the meeting held on the same spot 57 years before, honoring the pioneers of Nevada Masonry, perpetuating their memory and commemorating the unique meeting of more than a half century gone by.
It was the second meeting held on this Masonically revered spot, and like the meeting held in 1875, was attended by more than 300 members of the order. Nineteen Masonic jurisdictions of the United States were represented, 17 California cities alone sending delegations. Among the distinguished guests present was ex-governor of Nevada, R. K. Colcord, the oldest living Mason in Nevada, who was then 94 years old. Attending was W. R. VanBokkelen of Oakland, California, son of Past Grand Master W. A. Van Bokkelen, who served as Grand Master in 1872, and who was a distinguished guest at the meeting of September 8, 1875. An host of dignitaries representing high officials of the state, besides many of the living Past Grand Masters of Nevada were present. An interesting exhibit was the original jewels of Virginia lodge No. 3, made of Ophir bullion and presented to that lodge by Past Grand Master W. H. Howard of the California jurisdiction, at the institution of Virginia lodge in 1863, which are now in possession of Carson Valley lodge No. 33 of Gardnerville, Nevada. Included in the exhibit was a photograph of Jno. C. Currie, Past Grand Master of Nevada Masons, who was responsible for the organization of Amity Lodge No. 4 of Silver City. There was also a photograph of the stone altar used by Virginia lodge No. 3 at the first meeting on the mountain September 8, 1875.
The only known surviving member of the craft who attended the meeting in 1875 was William Sutherland, 84 years of age, who was prevented from attending by reason of infirmities due to his advanced years. Bro. Sutherland, a printer by profession, was a member the “Territorial Enterprise” staff, a leading publication of Virginia City at the time of the meeting of 1875, and set up a five-column story of the event. So great was the demand for copies, that the type was removed from the forms, and the account printed on paper sheets, handkerchiefs and strips of satin. His past and present activities in Masonry were given due mention at this second meeting and the session paused in its deliberations to send him greetings.
Grand Master Robert H. Parker officiated at the gathering and in a stirring address reviewed the activities and accomplishments of the pioneer Masons of Nevada, extolled their virtues and lauded their stability, integrity and courage.
A portion of the program was given over to the recognition Washington bicentennial observance, Judge Edw. A. Ducker, Past Grand Master of Nevada Masons, and a member of Nevada State Supreme Court, spoke on “Washington, the Man,” while former District Judge George A. Ballard, a Past Master of Escurial lodge No. 7 spoke on “Washington, the Mason.”
During the meeting the Scottish Rite Male Quartette, composed of J. L. Mathews, C. D. Jameson, August Frohlich, Charles Carter, and Tate Williams, rendered several beautiful selections.
The serving of refreshments at the close of the meeting brought to a conclusion one of the most outstanding assemblages in the history of the state.
Wm. W. Stewart, for many years United States Senator from Nevada. Nathaniel Ball, engaged in banking business at Gold Hill, and prominent in Masonry. Wm. B. Hickok, a mill owner and active in Masonic circles. C. N. Noteware, Grand Secretary of Grand Lodge, and first Secretary of State of Nevada. Wm. H. Howard, a Past Grand Master from California, and a citizen by adoption and choice of Virginia City. Samuel A. Chapin, prominent attorney in Virginia City. Charles W. Tozer of Gold Hill, Francis W. Kennedy of Silver City, an active member of the legal fraternity. Henry C. Blasdel, first governor of Nevada, and an active Mason. H. O. Holmes, John Skae, John W. Mackay, one of the bonanza kings, and a one time member of Escurial Lodge No. 7. These were some of the prominent men and Masons whose lives were closely linked with the destinies of the Comstock, and whose social, civic and fraternal activities wrote into the record of that unusual district, pages of dramatic and intensive history and assisted in weaving around the Comstock the romance and glamour that has always centered around its development and existence.
Perhaps one of the best known and most beloved Masons in Virginia City was J. W. Locklin, known to both young and old of the one time premier mining camp, as “Cap” Locklin, which title he gained through his selection as captain of local militia Battery H of Virginia City, in the boom days of the Comstock. He was a member of Escurial lodge No. 7, which he joined in the early days of that organization. He at once became active in its affairs, and for his zeal and enthusiasm in Masonry was advanced through every chair in the lodge. He was a tireless worker, not only in the lodge of his adoption, but was also a frequent attendant at the meetings of other Masonic lodges in his district. Unless sickness or pressing business prevented, he was always in attendance at Grand Lodge sessions, where his advice and counsel could be depended upon. Bro. Locklin remained an active member of Escurial Lodge No. 7 until his death which occurred in San Francisco, California, January 11, 1938. At the time of his passing he was 84 years of age.
Noteworthy among Masonic bodies operating in Virginia City, was Pythagoras Lodge of Perfection No. 1, A. & A. S. R., instituted on September 21, 1867. Seven years later, a short time before the Supreme session of 1874, Silver Lodge was established. Capitular Masonry was also launched in Virginia City in September 1867. All these bodies prospered, and during the affluent days of the Comstock, were active and dominant factors in Masonic activities.
Mention must likewise be made of the organization and perpetuation of De Witt Clinton Commandery, Knights Templar, one of the two mounted commanderies then in existence in America. Their beautiful uniforms and trappings were most attractive, and the troop, mounted on black horses, were an inspiring and spectacular sight when upon Masonic occasions they appeared in public. Miraculously, during the great fire of 1875 in Virginia City, the uniforms and trappings of this Commandery escaped destruction. With the erection of the Masonic Temple in Reno, the Commandery was transferred to new quarters, and at present is a prosperous and thriving unit of the York Rite of America.
Mention has been made in this article of the organization of the Grand Lodge of Nevada in Virginia City, January 15, 1865. With but few exceptions this famous camp continued to be the meeting place of the annual Grand Lodge communications up until the building and dedication of the fine Masonic Temple in Reno in 1914 More than one third of the annual communications held by the Grand Lodge to 1938, were held in Virginia City. During the days of affluence in this remarkable district, the meeting of the Grand Lodge, F. & A. M., was an event visioned with delightful anticipation by Masonic delegations who were selected to attend. It was also an occasion heralded with delight by the residents of the city who vied with one another to make the gathering of “the Masons” delightful and interesting.
Many years have passed since the Masons of Virginia City were hosts at a Grand Lodge session, and with the years, have come great changes to what was once the greatest mining camp upon the western continent. The canyon streets which once re-echoed to the sound of industry and the voice of merriment, which once took on metropolitan and cosmopolitan airs, which saw the production of untold millions in wealth, which gave birth to civic, social, fraternal and military units, which became the pride and admiration of the district – these old avenues are still marked by the same devious course they took in the days when silver was King, and the Comstock was a synonym for wealth, compared to which the riches of Croesus were as a penny. But, gone are the days of romance and glamour which surrounded the busy marts and treasure shafts of the old bonanza mines, gone are the days when speculation was rife and fortunes changed hands every day. Gone too, are the remarkable men who brought fame and honor to this district, who built and established societies and organizations which were noteworthy because of the foundations upon which they were erected. And of these, those dedicated to the practice of fellowship were by no means the least, and among which Masonry looms grand and inspiring. The many hundred Masons who found sanctuary in the lodges in Virginia City district left their imprint upon the lives, destinies, and character of the residents of the old mining camp. The recollection of their virtues, their goodness and their integrity, shall linger to exert its influence long after the old town has crumbled to decay and the excitement and glamour of its halcyon days are but fanciful memories.