Torrence’s History of Eureka Lodge #16

“Westward the course of empire takes its way.” Across the trackless wastes, and over the mountain pass came bands of hardy, sturdy pioneers to build an empire; and so our mighty west was peopled, its hidden resources developed, and it became a factor in the march of the nation.

Into this ceaseless march of tireless men came Masonry to plant its everlasting principles in the hearts of coming generations, who attracted by its virtues, charmed with its philosophy and lured by its fellowship, would unite with that vast army whose fraternal principles encircle the earth. From time almost immemorial, men have lauded and extolled our ancient institution. The Masonic annals of our own Grand Lodge contain the proud record of men who have stood just and upright in the social, civic, educational and domestic affairs of the state, while to Masonry they have given their all, thus creating in the hearts of their fellow men a respect and adoration which shall stand in its influence as an everlasting monument, which time cannot efface, nor hatred nor malice destroy.

In years gone by the history of individual lodges has been most ably prepared and written into our Grand Lodge records by one whose grasp of Masonic lore and history, far exceeds our own. In the main, he has written of Masonic influences, history and events, which dealt with the establishment of our institution in that territory adjacent to, and for a time considered a part of the Grand Domain of California. This record, aside from its historical value, reads as a romance; a romance of the square, plumb and level, inscribed upon the lives and imbedded in the hearts of sturdy men, who were not only Master Masons, but masters of their passions, as well as masters of men. For out of chaos and confusion, out of discord and inharmony, out of hatred and passion, which ruled the west, they created order, peace, harmony and fellowship.

And so, in presenting my feeble efforts to this Grand Body, it is my purpose to record those incidents prominent in Masonic history, which had their rise and their perpetuity in what is now Eastern Nevada.

I have found in a frantic search for data bearing upon Masonic incidents in this section of Nevada, that ordinarily the early secretaries of our constituent lodges were not as careful in recording prominent and Pertinent facts relating to incidents and transactions which occurred in their lodge rooms, as the occasion demanded. In some cases, only a reference has been made to some important event embodying Masonic transactions; an important visitation, a noted visitor, the acquiring of lodge property, participation in events of a public or private nature, the passing of some brother prominent in fraternal and civic circles, should, I believe, receive more than a passing mention. It is true that the generation in which those transactions took place were undoubtedly familiar with the life or action of such persons or events, for the history of that fraternal or civic transaction was fresh in the minds of the brethren, and the public of that day needed no enlightenment on such events, but coming generations could not easily lift the curtain from the past, and so, much of interest relative to past Masonic transactions has been lost to posterity. At times we are at a loss to know how to tell fact from fiction, how to distinguish history from tradition, when there are no authentic records upon which to build our story.

But in line with that old, yet trite saying, “History is tradition, looking backwards,” my recording pen now writer the magic word EUREKA, while fancy takes me to that spot in Nevada, where towering hills and rock bound canyons throughout countless ages past, Kuarded the “ecret of their hidden wealth, until the spade and pick of the white man revealed the yellow flow of gold, and the satin sheen of silver; and far upon the horizon, and through the canyons and over mountain passes came the struggling hordes, to wrest this treasure from old mother earth, and seek new lodes and fissures, “where fabled treasure lay.”

The history of Eureka is closely allied with that of Austin, for Eureka county was at one time a part of Lander county, of which Austin is the county seat. The Separation came in 1870 after the rush to the treasure hills around Eureka had brought hundreds of people to the eastern part of the county. We are told that the first discovery of treasure in this district occurred in 1863, in the northern part of the district, and were traced in the great outcroppings of the “Cortez Giant” mine, and extended through to Mount Tenebo.

The discovery which gave Eureka its name, and was instrumental in exploring and developing that district, and which resulted in the finding of rich bodies of ore, occurred September 19, 1863. The find was made by a party of prospectors from Austin, headed by W. O. Arnold. With him were Moses Wilson, W. R. Tannehill, G. T. Tannehiil, and I. S. Scotts. They were near the site of what is said to be New York Canyon, when one of the men picked up a peculiar looking piece of rock highly mineralized. From its hardness they knew the mineral was not lead. A crude test convinced them it must be silver, and one of the men, more excited than the rest, cried out “Eureka.” And so their camp was christened.

With the influx of men and women, the town took form; the canvas tent gave way to the rude shack, to be in turn replaced by buildings of a more substantial nature. Rough trails became well ordered streets, and commodious business houses were reared upon a main thoroughfare. In time a well appointed school house was erected, and the first church in the city was built by the Methodists. By this time Ruby Hill had come into existence, a town of some fifteen hundred people, with well ordered streets, business houses and neat residences. Eureka was now a thriving little city of more than six thousand people and five smelters. Its bullion product in 1869 amounted to about $100,000.00. (In the year 1876, according to the Eureka Sentinel, it produced gold $827,985.78, silver $1,452,459.20, lead $602,306.28, fine bullion $1,120,3%.49, a total of $4,003,147.75, on an estimated capital investment of $1,500,000.00.) In 1878 the production was $6,981,706.40. It is estimated that more than $30,000,000 was taken out before the decline began in 1890. Since that time production has steadily decreased, and today the production is negligible, most of the mines having long since been abandoned.

As might be supposed, this industry gave employment to many men in many diverse channels. Aside from the men employed in and around the mines, many found employment in the stores and saloons, while a great number found profit in teaming, great quantities of produce, timber, iron, oil and other commodities being hauled in from all points of the compass. Teamsters made their trips overland to Hamilton, Eberhardt, Austin, Fallen, and as far south as Pioche, hauling out and bringing in supplies from other points far away. Lead ore was hauled out in large quantities, this before the coming of the railroad. It is said that at one time the Richmond Lead Mines controlled the lead market of the world, and had over 17,000 tons stored at their mines in Eureka. This vast amount of metal, each bar weighing 200 pounds, was so heavy that the mass displaced over two feet of solid earth where it was piled.

And so Eureka flourished, gambling and prodigal spending was the order of the day, while vice in its various forms could always he founcl and bought for gold. Every other door on the main street, we are told, was a saloon where in many cases, the bar maids were employed as only a blind for other immoral purposes. It was a typical frontier mining camp, with the usual complement of rough characters and an occasional gun man. Its mixed population comprised men from almost every rank and station in life, and was composed of almost every nationality.

Into this heterogeneous mass of people, made up of gold mad, temperamental men and women, as well as scions of cultured and refined families, were found many Masons, whom as they met in the busy marts of that growing mining town, cautiously greeted one another as members of the craft. They often foregathered in the rough cabin or the more comfortable homes of one another, to discuss in low tones their experiences as members of the fraternity, or to rehearse the fundamentals of the order, or to exchange those choice confidences relating to the craft which Masons are prone to discuss.

The morals of the town were also aired, and the crying need for the inauguration of necessary reforms was stressed, while the desire to create order out of this wicked confusion, the hope that a new era might dawn which would bring with it a desire among the better classes to unite in launching a law and order campaign, was expressed. With the arrival of other Masons in the town and district, who soon made themselves known, it was realized that a sufficient number were at hand to make a creditable showing, and to attract notice to their possible demands. It was therefore determined to organize a Masonic lodge, not only that they might enjoy the privileges of fellowship that such an organization would bring, but that the moral influence upon the town might work for good. Application was therefore made for the necessary permission to organize, a petition being formally prepared and signed by the resident brethren of Eureka, and addressed to “The Worshipful Master, Wardens, and Brethren of White Pine Lodge No. 14, Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Nevada,” setting forth the ability and desire of the brethren to establish a lodge in Eureka, and asking their “recommendation of a petition to the Most Worshipful George Robinson, Grand Master of Masons in Nevada, for a dispensation empowering them to form, open, and hold a lodge at the town of Eureka aforesaid, to be called Eureka Lodge. Dated at Eureka this 17th day of February, A. L. 5872.” This petition bears the signatures of F. H. Harmon, Henry Hilp, David E. Railey, James Prettey, Evan Jones, Herman Vorberg, Jas. A Cowden, Alex Kilpatrick, D. C. Sherlock, James McMartin, Philip A. McMillan, Charles W. Rooth, Daniel R. Immel, M. R. Chamblin, Wm. T. Soorkwoltl, Chas. I. Hamlin, David Henry Hall, M. Freederberg, and John Gillispie. The petition was granted by White Pine Lodge No. 14, who released their jurisdiction with the recommendation to the Grand Master that the brethren of Eureka be authorized to organize,and on April 5, 1872, Most Worshipful George Robinson, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Nevada, issued a dispensation for “a Lodge of Master Masons to be organized at Eureka, Eureka County, Nevada.”

At the following annual communication of the Grand Lodge, which met September 19, 1872, a charter was issued, granting Eureka Lodge No. 16 all the tights and privileges of Masonry is one of the constituent lodges of the Nevada domain. The name of forty-two Master Masons is said to have appeared upon the report to the Grand Secretary, a splendid record for Masonry in a town where sectarian influence was strong, and where the rougher element had held sway since the first rich strike had opened up a new treasure trove in Eastern Nevada.

The first meetihgs of the new lodge were held in an old building known as Barley Mill, which was occupied for about one year, when quarters were acquired in the Eureka Farmers & Loan Bank Building, a new room having been erected for that purpose above the banking rooms. Settled in comfortable quarters, the lodge grew in numbers as well as in influence, and with the coming of the year 1879, 110 active members were found enrolled.

Then disaster came in the shape of a destructive fire, and on the 19th day of April, 1879, the entire east side of the main thoroughfare was destroyed. Among the numerous buildings burned was that of the bank in which our brethren met. The destruction was complete, records, regalia, jewels, lodge furniture, all went up in smoke. Not a vestige remained of the once comfortable quarters and their cherished and valuable appointments. One authority states that the loss on this building was more than $20,000.00, with only $5,000.00 insurance. The greatest loss to the brethren was their records, and may I say, that this loss has alway, been more or less of a handicap to Eureka lodge.

The brethren were not discouraged; with perseverance and determination, they continued to carry on. New quarters were acquired in a new building built by the firm of Foley & Rickard. The lease of this hall was made jointly by the Masons, the Odd Fellows, and the Knights of Pythias, at a rental of $300.00 per month, each order hearing an equal proportion of the rent. With the gradual decline of mining activities, starting in 1890, this rental proved burdensome, for lodge membership had also fallen off until the lodge was then less than fifty per cent of its former numerical strength. It was therefore decided to acquire their own building. In this enterprise the I. O. O. F. lodge joined. A building, located in the heart of town, was purchased, for which $2,000.00 was paid. This was known as the old Whitten building, previously used as a variety theatre, and operated by a woman and her daughter, said to be of questionable character. This theatre was known as the Sprague Theatre, and was a popular place of amusement during the halcyon days of Eureka. The old iron door which opened into the entry room of the basement is still intact, and bears the sign in old fashioned ornamental letters, “Sprague Theatre, Down Stairs, Daily Entertainments.”

With necessary repairs and alterations made, and with newly installed furniture and fittings, the lodge moved into its newly acquired quarters, and here, activities of both fraternities have waxed and waned for more than forty years, The lodge room is unique, in that it is located below the level of the street. Its furnishing are mellow with age, its faded blue carpet gives evidence to the tread of countless feet; its canopied stations tell of a bygone splendor and prosperity, and have witnessed, not only the conferring of many degrees, but the presence of many Masonic dignitaries at splendid Masonic as well as social functions.

Today, but few remain as member, of that once prosperous lodge, but these few are faithful; faithful to the tenets of Masonry, faithful in attendance, faithful to memories which the old lodge room inspires, loyal and true to past traditions, proud of their membership in this lodge which is famous in the annals of Masonic history in Nevada.

The old activity of Eureka is no more, the scarred hills and tunneled mountains look down upon a scene wherein the devastating hand of time has levied its toll. What in many cases were once fine homes, are today neglected buildings, falling to decay. The old main street is there, but many of its once proud business houses are vacant, and show the wear of years. Those which are still occupied, look out upon a scene of inactivity and quietude.

Gone are the hurrying feet of yore; gone are the joyful voices of the past; gone is the hum of industry. The glory of this one time thriving mining camp has passed, and Eureka is fast becoming another “ghost city of the west”. The old town may come back, a rich find in territory unexplored, a new shaft or slope driven to lower levels may reveal undreamed of wealth, or with the return of silver to its own as a world commodity, the tide may turn and once more old working be made to yield their fabled wealth.

But the romance which once surrounded that old time mining camp will return no more, for modern customs and practices have replaced the old. The gilded palaces of vice, the picturesque gambler, the dreaded gun man, are memories only, their day is past, their race is run.

But the influences of our Masonic craft still linger. Though in numbers Eureka lodge is sadly depleted, there yet remains to them the priceless heritage of fellowship, of which no man can rob them nor any condition relieve them, and as long as the members remain faithful votaries to its age old principles, as long as they believe in its philogophy, and as long as they practice and observe its moral teachings, the benign insucnce of Masonry will linger in that district like the perfume of some rare exotic flower, or the cadence of a beautiful song. The story of Eureka Lodge would be incomplete without reference to its most outstanding character, Brother Alexander Fraser, who died April 9th, 1934. Brother Fraser was a native of Aberdeen, Scotland, where he first saw the light of day in the year 1848. When but a small child he came to America and settled in Grass Valley, California, where he resided until 1873, when he removed to Eureka, Nevada, to engage in mining. It was in 1893 while superintendent of the Dunderburg Mine, that a premature explosion of dynamite totally blinded him.

With characteristic determination he made the most of his unfortunate condition, and set himself to master the art of finger reading, and although forty-three years of age at the time of his accident, mastered five systems, including the Braille. He was unusually well read on many subjects and current topics, a deep thinker, and a profound philosopher. Brother Fraser served one term in the State Legislature, where he gave a good account of his stewardship, and was a member of the Eureka Board of County Commissioners for fifteen years, serving faithfully and well the interests of his county.

He joined Eureka Lodge No. 16 in 1879. In 1886 he was elected Master of the lodge serving for one term. In 1918-1919 he was again chosen Master, likewise in 1922, 1923, 1924, and 1926. He made himself proficient in lodge usages, was well versed in the lectures and monitorial parts, and conducted the duties of his office in a most fficient and capable manner.

He was also a member of the Scottish and York Rites, and at the time of his death was the oldest member of the Knights Commander, Court of Honor.

He was a man of sterling worth and fixed integrity, unassuming and humble, but of lofty ideals and great loyalty to his fellowmen. His knowledge of Masonic history and tradition was extensive; he was probably one of the best informed Masons in the west and he never tired of reciting Masonic lore or listening to those who spoke authoritatively on the subject. His retentive memory always served him well and those who heard him give the third degree lecture will never forget his masterly delivery, nor the sincerity of his emotions as he warmed to his subject, while the soft modulations of his voice lingered long in memory.

Of him it may well be said, “He was a Man and a Mason”.