Torrence’s History of Reno Lodge #13

Over near the western edge of Nevada is a purling, crystal stream which moves restlessly between verdant banks, twisting and winding under the branches of mighty trees that in many places line its banks; its waters have their source in the heart of the Sierra mountains through which it has cut a natural pass into “the land of the setting sun,” the Golden State of California.

During the pioneer days, and all through the “Gold Rush” of 1849, the emigrants treking their way across the burning plains, rejoiced to see the Truckee river as they emerged from off the desert, for it not only furnished them plenty of fine fresh water, but they knew that beyond the mountains which seemed to bar its course, lay the El Dorado whither they were bound, where lay romance, glamour, wealth and adventure, and where too, stretched the mighty waters of the Pacific Ocean.

But the rivers of Nevada do not reach the ocean, and are not navigable, but in the early history of our state, served rather, to direct travel to the “Promised Land” by the thread of green along their banks; sometimes the thread became wider, the valleys became broad, green meadows, one of which was destined to become the site of Reno, which had its destiny shaped for it, and lies along the banks of the Truckee river, and in pioneer days especially was invaluable as an oasis to the weary emigrant who, after weeks or maybe months of weary, heartbreaking travel westward from the Mississippi river, rested by the side of the inviting water before pursuing his course over the pass and summit of the mountains into the “Golden State.”

For years the tide of emigration swept on; it began in 1777 when a Franciscan monk entered Nevada from Sonora in search for a mission site, although his coming had no visible effect upon territorial expansion; for another fifty years the territory did not feel the pressure of a white man’s foot, but in 1827 a band of trappers led by Jedidiah Smith entered the territory from the north to follow the windings of the Humboldt and Walker rivers, and crossing the boundaries into California, were engulfed in the romance and promises of that state.

From then on, the trails were broadened by the passing of the white man who came, not only on horseback, but in many instances treking the weary, dusty, scorching miles on foot, or traveling the unending way in ox drawn covered wagons, following devious courses, which eventually brought him to his destination: the alluvial sands of California.

They came from the east, from the north, from the south, and in their coming blazed not one, but many trails. There were half a dozen routes across Nevada and the Sierras, some of which were extremely dangerous; the two that were the most popular were the so called middle routes, one, the Carson route to the American river, and the second, the Truckee route which, though higher, was the most practical. It branched from the Oregon Trail and Snake river one hundred miles below Fort Hall, and turned southwest up a southern tributary of the Snake river, over to the head waters of the Humboldt. From Humboldt sink the road led west to the Truckee, up Truckee pass; after passing Donner lake, then down the west slope of the American river and Bear river of California, to Sutters Fort on the Sacramento.

The founding of Reno involves a period in the history of the west beginning with the invasion of what is now Washoe county by a party of emigrants hastening to the newly discovered gold strike on Marshall creek. For several years there was no settlement along the Overland Trail, nearer to Washoe, than the one at the great bend of the Humboldt river where Winnemucca now stands. In 1852 a Mormon convert by the name of Jameson, entered the Truckee Valley, and established a station where Glendale was located in later years; in 1857 Chas. C. Gates and John F. Stone located at what was called Stone and Gates Crossing. Nine other settlers followed them, and took up land in the valley, and settlements were made at Huffakers, Hunters Crossing and Crystal Peak.

In 1859 a settlement was made where Reno now stands. It was on the south bank of the Truckee river, on the site of the first Riverside Hotel, and was made by C. W. Fuller, who took up land and erected one or two small buildings; later, he constructed a toll bridge across the river, and put up a building which he used as a wayside inn. During the year 1863, a rancher from Honey Lake Valley, a Mr. M. C. Lake, bought the holdings of Fuller, acquiring about 140 acres of land, on which the town of Reno was afterwards built.

This transfer included the toll bridge and all buildings, among which was the one designated as “The Inn.” The site was afterwards known as Lake’s Crossing, and became a mecca toward which travel gravitated in its trek to California. The old inn, or tavern, continued to be a popular caravansary until 1869 when it was destroyed by fire, and was replaced by a more imposing and commodious structure which was known as the “Lake House” and was opened on New Year’s day 1870; later it was renamed the Riverside, and remained an old landmark until the Riverside Hotel was completed in 1906.

In 1860 came the news of a gold discovery in Washoe, which was spread broadcast over the country, and a backward rush from California brought to the slopes of Sun Peak mountain, a frenzied, gold mad throng of men and women in search of fortune, and Virginia City came into existence. Sharing its financial and industrial gain with the nearby settlements in Washoe county, its benefits rapidly spread to Reno, and in resultant enterprise, Reno grew; already its destiny was foretold which would eventually merit the name, ‘The biggest little city on earth,” a name applied to it more than half a century later, when the influx of capital and people, and the consequent expansion of its territorial area, its educational, social, civic, commercial, industrial and religious prerequisites and advantages, made of it a western center of art, intelligence, and financial solidarity, and entitled it worthily, to a place among the outstanding cities of the west.

With the excitement and bustle incident to the discovery of rich mineral deposits in Washoe county, Reno was vitally affected, for it soon became a thoroughfare through which travel to the new strike wended its way. As a result, many paused in the town, impressed not only by its surroundings, but lured by the promise of future advantages, and awake to the possibilities it offered for individual betterment, should the strike in the mountains prove a false alarm, and so the result was, that while hundreds hastened to the wind swept slopes of the mountains, many remained in Reno, to share its destiny, and to become valuable acquisitions to the embryonic city.

Among those who had thus cast their lot with the older residents of the town, were many Masons, hailing from many jurisdictions throughout the country. It is inexplicable, but nevertheless true, that over ten years passed from the settlement of Reno in 1859, until the sojourning brethren in Reno were moved by fraternal impulses to organize a lodge of Masons in the town. During the interim, Masonic light had been so diffused, that twelve lodges had come into existence within the state. Nevada had been admitted into the Union, the war between the north and the south had been fought and won, and in 1865 the Grand Lodge Free and Accepted Masons had been born. Indifference to the principles of the order cannot, in any way, be attributed to failure to promote a lodge in the city of their adoption, for the brethren had always taken an active part in Masonic developments in other parts of the country, extending their activities not only to visitations to the lodges at Carson, Washoe City, Gold Hill, and Virginia City, but even as far as Aurora, and cross country to mingle with the brethren in Austin on one or two occasions, as has been claimed by old, old members of the craft, before they passed into the Great Beyond, long ago.

It has been said, and undoubtedly with reason, that for several years prior to the organization of a lodge of Masons in Reno, that it was customary for the brethren in different sections of Reno, to gather at the home of one of the brothers, to informally discuss Masonic matters, and plan for future activities. No records were kept of these meetings, and only “by word of mouth” were their transactions made known to the brethren who were not present on those occasions. Whether or not these meetings were held, and we have no reason to doubt their authenticity, it is nevertheless true that Masonic influences and activities had been at work for months prior to the latter weeks of 1868, when a number of brethren arranged for a meeting November 16, 1868, to outline plans for organizing a Masonic lodge in the town, and a petition was drafted and addressed to Most Worshipful George W. Hopkins, Grand Master, asking permission to establish a lodge under dispensation. A request was also made to Carson City Lodge No. One, and Washoe City Lodge No. Two, to organize a lodge in territory adjacent to their charters. The names of twenty-four sojourning brethren were affixed to these petitions, and requests.

Pending favorable action by the Grand Lodge, a meeting was later held to arrange for the reception of the Grand Lodge messenger who would deliver the coveted document, and to provide for a satisfactory hall for future activities of the lodge, should the prayer of the petitioners be granted. To this end, a housing committee was appointed, with authority to rent or lease a suitable hall, could one be found available.

The days numbered into weeks, and two months passed before action was had on the petition of the Reno brethren, but on January 14, 1869, the request was granted, and a dispensation was issued, naming James B. Kelly worshipful master; M. Borowsky, senior warden, and Geo. Geisen, junior warden. Eight days later, the first meeting of the brethren was held in Alhambra Hall, a frame building located at the north end of Virginia street bridge, and in this hall meetings were held until other more suitable quarters were secured. It is interesting, not only to members of the craft, but to outsiders as well, to know that Alhambra Hall was built originally by M. C. Lake to be used as a grist mill, but was never devoted to that purpose. The basement was used as a school room until the Riverside school house was built, then a hotel was lodged in the basement. On the first floor was the hall, and the half story above was used as a lodging house. The building was a popular meeting place for the people of Reno. In it, the first Christmas tree in Reno was made the occasion for an elaborate entertainment, and it became the resort and meeting place not only of fraternal organizations, but of political, social and civic societies as well.

Immediately after taking up their abode as a future Masonic unit of Reno, in the Alhambra hall, the dispensation was delivered, the new lodge was instituted, and its elective and appointive officers were installed, and the lodge proceeded upon its course. It operated under the dispensation issued Jan. 14, 1869, until the convening of the Grand Lodge in Virginia City the following year, when all necessary records, papers and documents were presented to the charters committee, and being found in order, it was recommended that a charter be granted it. With the issuance of which, Reno lodge U. D. became Reno Lodge No. 13 on Nevada registry.

In the meanwhile, it had become necessary to find a new location in which to hold their meetings, and after diligent inquiry, a meeting place was arranged for in Chambers Hall, where the new charter was delivered and lodged, and where the new officers were duly installed when the lodge was constituted. Chambers Hall in time proved inadequate to fill the needs of its Masonic tenants, and the question of finding another, more modern hall, or in lieu thereof, building a home of their own, confronted the brethren. Finally, after much discussion and planning, it was decided to erect a building devoted exclusively to the fraternity, and a building committee was drafted to select a favorable location, and devise a financial setup to bring their plans to fruition.

The site selected by the building committee was found on the corner of Commercial Row and Sierra Street, and a bond issue of $20,000 was authorized by the lodge to finance the building. On this site, the Masonic building was erected, and on October 1, 1872, the Grand Lodge assembled to lay the corner stone, the impressive ceremony being performed by Most Worshipful W. A. Van Rokkelen and other grand lodge officers.

When the new Masonic temple was promoted, Reno lodge had but 53 members, and they were having a serious time to exist, financially; a levy of $2.50 per month was made on the entire membership, to meet their overhead expenses, and pay off the loan on the building. But the brethren were not discouraged, for they knew that if persistent, they would eventually emerge from under the burden of debt. In addition to taking care of a considerable amount of work appearing on the Trestle Board, they had assisted in laying the corner stones of the Masonic temples at Washoe City, Genoa, Gold Hill, and their own building on Commercial Row.

On March 2, 1879, a fire which destroyed nearly one hundred buildings swept the business and residential district of Reno, and spread until almost the whole town was razed. The temple on Commercial Street was not destroyed, as the fire started back of it, and traveled east. This fire gave the city another impetus for growth, since more, and better buildings took the place of those which were consumed by the fire.

This prosperity of the city was reflected in the growth of Reno Lodge, whose membership continued to steadily increase. The finances of the lodge were also improved, and the indebtedness on their building gradually reduced.

In 1884, a proposed amendment to the Constitution of the Grand Lodge changed the meeting place of that body from Virginia City, to “SUCH PLACE AS THE GRAND LODGE MAY DETERMINE”, and the next annual commmunication was scheduled to be held in Reno, with Reno Lodge No. 13 as host, and so, in June, 1885, Reno was honored for the first time by entertaining the Grand Lodge.

On September 12, 1885, the Grand Lodge, assisted by the members of Reno Lodge No. 13, officiated at the laying of the corner stone of the University of Nevada. The corner-stone was laid by Most Worshipful Michael A. Murphy, in the presence of a large gathering of citizens of Reno, and large delegations of visiting brethren.

The passing years were kind to the lodge, and it became the strongest fraternal institution in the city. So rapid had been its increase in membership that it had all but outgrown its quarters on Sierra street. During the years 1903-1904, the demand for a temple of ample proportions to serve as a permanent home for the Grand Lodge of Nevada, and a sanctuary for the Commandery, the Consistory, and other Masonic bodies was deemed advisable, and necessary. After much discussion and a vast amount of planning, the project was finally launched with the forming of a Masonic Association Company, the purpose of which was to formulate plans for the raising of funds to finance the new temple. To this end the various Masonic bodies of Reno subscribed for stock in the association, Reno Lodge subscribing for a generous amount, and the Grand Lodge of Nevada acquiring a controlling interest.

With these funds in hand, amounting to $95,000.00, work was started and plans were made to lay the corner-stone of the new building. The following correspondence in connection with this event, is of interest:

Reno Lodge No. 13, F. & A. M.
Reno, Nevada
August 29, 1905.

Chas. A. Beemer, Grand Master, Sparks, Nevada.

Most Worshipful Brother:

Reno Lodge No. 13, F. & A.M. cordially invites you to lay the corner stone of the Masonic Temple in Reno, on Saturday, Sept. 16, 1905.

Yours fraternally, Theo. J. Steinmetz, W. M· Attest: S. M. Jamison, Sect’y. Grand Lodge, F. & A· M. of Nevada

Office of the Grand Master
Sparks, Nev.
Sept. 1, 1905

Theo. J. Steinmetz,
W. M. Reno Lodge No. 13, F. & A. M.

Dear Brother:

The invitation of your lodge to lay the corner stone of the Masonic Temple in process of construction in Reno is hereby accepted, and I name two thirty o’clock p. m. as the hour of the day for the exercises to commence at the site of the building.

Yours fraternally, Chas. A. Reemer, Grand Master.

On the day and at the hour appointed, the Grand Lodge was formed by the Grand Marshal, W. M. David, with fully 400 members in the line of march and, headed by the Reno brass band, and escorted by DeWitt Clinton Commandery, No. 1, Knights Templar, proceeded to the site of the new temple, where fully one thousand persons had assembled, and where, with the impressive ceremony of the Masonic ritual, the corner stone was set in place, and consecrated with Masonic elements, by Most Worshipful Chas. A. Beemer, Grand Master.

The first meeting of Reno Lodge No. 13 in the new quarters was held December 8, 1906.

In 1907 the Grand Lodge of Nevada met in the Temple for the first time, as guests of Reno Lodge No. 13. Thereafter it became the accepted meeting place for the Grand Lodge to hold its annual communications, with the two lodges of the city of Reno acting as host. While it has convened from time to time at the invitation of other lodges in the state in other parts of Nevada, yet the temple in Reno since its completion, has been considered the logical place for holding Grand Lodge sessions, and if the question was stressed and brought to a vote of the membership of the constituent lodges of the jurisdiction, would very likely be the choice of the brethren for the holding of all annual communications, although in passing, there is to be remembered the many splendid gatherings of the Grand Lodge which have been held with various lodges of the state in the Masonic headquarters in the towns where they exist.

The history of Reno Lodge would be incomplete without reference to the influence it has wrought upon Masonry within the state, an influence wielded not only through its numerical strength, and the consequent widening scope of its prestige, but an influence directed by the standing and accomplishments of many of its leading members, those who have occupied high positions of trust and honor. within its ranks, some of whom have risen to fraternal heights and worn the Purple of the Order.

It would be impossible in this article to give to those brethren a resume of their activities, and the benefits their several administrations gave to the Order, that would he in keeping with their merit; but it is due them to record that they wrote their names high upon the scrolls of Masonry, and through their efforts brought fame and honor to themselves and the brethren, not only within the state, but throughout our great west, and though many have gone to “that Bourne from which no traveler has ever returned,” yet, “Their works do follow them” and their fraternal influence lives in the hearts and minds of their fellows, while their virtues and accomplishments will be remembered as the roll is called, among whom: Henry L. Fish, Frank Bell, I. M. McCormack, Robert Lewers, Alfred W. Holmes, Virgil M. Henderson, have passed to their reward, while there still remains to us (in 1944, when the book was written – ed.) W. V. Harris, F. H. Norcross, Henry W. Miles, Theo. j. Steinmetz, SiIas E. Ross, Robert H. Parker, all of whom served the Grand Lodge as Grand Masters of Nevada Masons, all of whom were distinguished for their Masonic zeal, integrity and observances of Masonic law and equity, all of whom are active and dominant personalities in the affairs of Reno Lodge No. 13, as well as in the activities of the Grand Lodge, and, it is safe to prophesy, that in the splendid future that lies before Reno Lodge No. 13, and Masonry within the state, they will continue to exert that same influence, and that same unbiased, impartial, unflagging type of cooperation that has characterized their years spent in the Order, aiding in the diffusion of fraternal light, and observing the old landmarks of Masonry.