Torrence’s History of Vegas Lodge #32

It is a far cry from the conquest of Mexico and the overthrow of the Aztec king Montezuma, to the invasion of the territory through which the Colorado river winds its tortuous course, and the blazing of the old trails by the first Spanish explorers in that territory lying adjacent to what is now western California, northern Arizona, and New Mexico, and traversing in part the territory in which is located Las Vegas.

However, with the completion of his campaign of bloodshed, pillage and conquest, the tiny army of Cortez is said to have divided and under other leadership, set out for the north and east to locate new settlements reputed to be fabulously rich, which they aimed to pillage, conquer and place under the dominion of the church of Rome, and the flag of Spain.

These explorers are said to have penetrated the country as far north as what is now the Grand Canyon of the Colorado, after which they returned to Mexico and eventually embarked for Spain. They are said to have been the only white men to invade this territory until sometime between 1775 and 1777, when the Franciscan Fathers entered southern California, established their missions north along the coast, and eventually sent their emissaries across the California border into what is now Arizona and New Mexico, blazing a trail which has been called “The Spanish Trail.”

One of the most venturesome of this band, one Francisco Garces, in his wanderings, was directed by friendly Indians to two large springs far to the east, which they said fed a creek flowing through a meadow about seven miles long and two miles wide. Having eventually reached the spot, the priest made camp, remaining in the place for several weeks, and giving to the location the name, “Las Vegas,” which in our language is interpreted to mean “the meadows.”

With the departure of Garces to California, for many years there was practically no travel along the old Spanish Trail; however, some time during the fall of 1847, an expedition under the direction of Captain Jeff Hunt was sent out from Salt Lake City by the presidency of The Mormon Church, its destination being southern California.

This expedition is said to have passed over the route known as The Spanish Trail, and followed a southwesterly course, emerging at what is now San Bernardino and continuing to the present site of Los Angeles. It was during this trek that the party camped at the site of the two springs, named by Garces as “Las Vegas,” and one of the points in the desert where good water was found.

Later, another expedition came out from Salt Lake City in an endeavor to locate a mail route to San Bernardino; this trail also wound its erratic course by the way of “the Meadows”; among this party was one William Bringhurst, who, attracted by the extent and fertility of the meadows, conceived the idea of locating a settlement at this point, at some future time, believing it would become the mecca toward which future travelers would gravitate, who braved the dangers and perils of the desert in their cross-country march to the “golden hills and valleys of southern California.”

Eventually Bringhurst returned to Salt Lake City, and placed before the Presidency of the Mormon Church the feasibility of establishing a Mormon settlement at Las Vegas springs. That the Mormon leader was impressed with the representations of his churchman is evident, for at the general conference of the church in April, 1855, Bringhurst was authorized to lead a delegation of missionaries to carry the Mormon doctrine into the desert, and effect a settlement at Las Vegas springs.

The expedition set out for their new location May 10, 1855, and after an uneventful though severe journey, arrived at their destination June 10, 1855.

By the middle of the following summer a trading post had been established, the southern flow of emigration had increased, and Las Vegas was heralded as the outstanding settlement along the Spanish Trail: An oasis in the desert toward which would journey empire builders, through which would pass embryonic masters who were to establish a new regime and inaugurate a new era in that territory already designated as “The land of the setting sun, some of whom would sway the policies and destinies of the political and financial world.

In 1857, following the perpetration of the Mountain Meadow massacre, public sentiment against the Mormons for this atrocious crime so inflamed the country, that the “follower of the Prophet” deemed it prudent to recall his people to Zion, and as a result, there was a hurried exodus from every settlement of the Saints along the old Spanish Trail, and Las Vegas settlement was evacuated.

With the departure of the Mormons, soon all traces of the settlement disappeared; the buildings erected for dwellings or trading purposes fell into decay, and within the space of a few years scarcely a trace was left of what promised to become a thrifty community. But the springs remained, yielding their crystal flow to the thirsty, feverish traveler, wending his way over the pitiless desert trail.

For years there was no further attempt made to effect a settlement at Las Vegas springs; occasionally a party of trappers or an emigrant train made camp at the site, and having recuperated tired bodies, and allowed their horses and cattle to feed upon the luxuriant native grass which covered the meadows, moved on to find new adventures and brave the dangers of the trail which stretched before them into the unknown, mysterious west.

However, the value of the territory immediately adjacent to Las Vegas springs could not always remain an unknown quantity, neither would it remain unsettled indefinitely, and eventually the ground was taken up and converted into ranch property, and for many years the old “Stewart ranch,” as it was known, became a landmark toward which desert travel journeyed, where hospitality is said to have been generously extended, and where the weary traveler was always welcome.

Eventually, when the Los Angeles-Salt Lake railroad extended its rails from the city of Salt Lake to the coast, the springs were selected as a site at which that road would establish its shops for the operation and maintenance of its roadway and equipment, in addition to becoming a division point, and in May, 1905, the company purchased 1800 acres of the old Stewart ranch, thus acquiring the spring. An auction sale was arranged to dispose of building sites and locations in a new townsite known as “Clark’s Las Vegas Townsite”. A large platform was erected near what is now the freight depot, and to this point most of the residents of the district gathered for the sale. Bidding was opened May 15, 1905, and continued with a constant struggle between persistent bidders for choice and favorable locations until the afternoon of May 16. It is said that this was the largest sale of lots at auction ever held in the west at one time; 1200 lots were sold at an aggregate price of $265,000.00.

On the morning of the 17th the actual business of erecting homes and business houses began. Lumber, cement, plaster, brick and hardware were hauled onto the area, and before long several buildings had been staked out and were well under way. The growth of the little city was rapid, and in less than 30 days the sagebrush had given way to well-ordered and laid out streets, flanked with residences in process of construction, while substantial business houses were rapidly being built in what was to become the business district of the new settlement.

The opening of Clark’s Las Vegas townsite was the occasion of some interesting developments, one of which was the eventual establishment of a Masonic lodge in the district. It has been said that Masonry was almost an outgrowth of the soil in the new townsite. When it came nobody knows, but Masons were there when the crowd gathered to purchase and settle in the new district, and from that time forward, Masonic history began its lofty career near the rushing tide of the Colorado river in Las Vegas district.

It is only natural to assume, that among this flood of humanity which surged toward this oasis in the desert, lured by the commercial and industrial possibilities offered, the Masons who had gathered here, with the ebb of the tide, were impelled to group themselves into a body whereby Masonic light might be diffused, and it was only a natural assumption that the establishment of a Masonic lodge in Las Vegas would make for law, order and morality, as it had always done in other newly established districts; for with the tide, had drifted those of the underworld, some of whom were not regarded, nor wished for as citizens, and in other sections of the country where this element had held sway and into which communities Masonry had been introduced, the influences of the craft, and the standing of its membership united to eventually rid these communities of their undesirables. Nor was Las Vegas an exception to the rule, for it must be remembered that the Masons who had gravitated into this thirsty, arid section of the country were men of outstanding moral and constructive abilities, well qualified to guide the destinies of a people who had gathered to establish a new community and to develop its resources, some of whom were to occupy places of honor and positions of responsibility in municipal, county and state affairs. Soon the members of this small group who had found Masonic light in other jurisdictions, were augmented by other arrivals, and Masonic representation here was sufficient to warrant the brethren to ask for authority to establish a lodge under dispensation. It has become Masonic tradition in Las Vegas lodge that as early as July, 1905, these brethren had endeavored to formulate plans whereby Masonry in the district might become a reality in the establishment of an active lodge, but owing to the fact that the town was in process of becoming established, and the population was more or less of a transient character, it was deemed advisable to await more favorable conditions before applying for a dispensation. The delay incident to this decision lapsed into months, and the spring of 1907 was at hand before further action was taken, at which time fifteen resident Masons of Las Vegas, most of whom are said to have been living in the district before the promoting of Clark’s townsite, made application to the Grand Lodge of Nevada for a dispensation. The movement was headed by Brother John S. Park, with the assistance and support of Brothers E. W. Griffith and William R. Thomas, all of whom, by virtue of their service in the order were qualified to guide the fraternal barque upon the uncharted sea of Masonry in the district. Associated with them were A. N. Pauff, Waiter R. Bracken, Henry M. Lillas,Roy C. Thomas, Benjamin F. Boggs,Rev. J.W. Bain, Charles F. Towner, Frank A. Buol and E. T. Maxwell, all of whom were intimately associated with the professional and commercial activities of the town, and who at one time or other had been actively engaged in Masonic service in other jurisdictions. The application for dispensation was addressed to Most Worshipful Robert Lewers, Grand Master of Nevada Masons. With the granting of the dispensation, Brother John S. Park was named Worshipful Master, Edw. Griffith Senior Warden, and William R. Thomas, Junior Warden.

In the meantime, plans were also started to acquire and furnish suitable quarters in which to hold their meetings, and to spread Masonic light. As a result of these endeavors, quarters were found on the second Boor of the First State Bank located on the north side of Fremont Street, and furnished comfortably; in which this embryonic unit of Masonry might hold forth. In this connection it is interesting to note the activities of Brother John S. Park, the first master of the lodge. May I quote from a letter received from Past Grand Master W. S. Park under date of January 13, 1937. Brother Park says: “My father organized the brethren here and established Vegas Lodge 32. He was its first master, and was connected with the bank here and through his efforts the bank constructed a two story building 110 by 40 feet. The street floor was used as a grocery store, the upstairs was constructed primarily for the use of the lodge. There was a stage in the building and in the early days was used as an opera house.”

The building was offered the lodge for $18,000.00 when completed – no down payment, and the bank guaranteed that it would pay out in eight years. The offer was declined. The property is now (1944 – ed.) worth about $50,000.00. Continuing Brother Park says: “it may be of interest to note that Brother William Mundy was the first candidate initiated an entered apprentice, and I was the first candidate raised in Vegas lodge.” At an informal meeting in this building early in 1907 the following named brethren were tentatively named to officer the lodge under the dispensation: John S. Park, W. M.; Edw. W. Griffith, S. W.; Walter R. Thomas, J. W.; A. N. Pauff, Secretary; Walter R. Bracken, Treasurer; Henry M. Lillas, S. D.; Roy C. Thomas, J. D.; Benjamin F. Boggs, Tyler; Rev. J. W. Rain, Chaplain. It was also planned to celebrate the receipt of the dispensation with an appropriate program, but due to a misunderstanding of the committee appointed to take charge of the entertainment, the intention of the committee failed of accomplishment, and the officers named were installed into office by Brother Walter E. Brown, who had been duly authorized to institute and install its officers. Later Grand Master Robert Lewers spent some time with the lodge on different occasions, and it was on one of these visitations that Vegas lodge was presented its charter, and constituted a regular unit of the constituent lodges of Nevada.

In the Grand lodge proceedings of 1908 held in Reno June 9, 1908, appears the following statement in the report of Grand Master Lewers: “At Las Vegas, I had the pleasure of meeting all the officers of Vegas lodge U. D. at a delightful dinner given by Brother John S. Park, the very capable master. It was a satisfaction to find that the brethren asking the dispensation were all men of high standing in their community. Brother John S. Park has been instrumental in building a fine hall for the use of the brethren. I earnestly recommend that a charter be given this lodge.”

In compliance with this recommendation, the following resolution was introduced and adopted at the Grand Lodge communication held in Reno in June, 1908, viz: “Resolved, That a charter be granted to Vegas Lodge No. 32, situated at the town of Las Vegas, Lincoln county, Nevada.” J. C. Doughty, F. C. Springmeyer, G. Seibert, Committee on Charters.

That the judgment of Grand Master Lewers had been sound in granting the brethren at Las Vegas a dispensation to organize a lodge of Masons, and that the committee on charters had also been wise in recommending the issuance of a charter to these brethren, and that the new lodge had been busy since its institution is evidenced by the numerical returns by lodges appearing in the 1908 proceedings, which reflected that, since the date of its dispensation, fourteen members had been raised to the sublime degree of Mason, and new applications were under investigation.

With the passing of the months, Vegas lodge continued to give a good account of itself, showing advancement, not only numerically, but by reason of the unselfish, consistent and devoted service of its members, inspiring confidence in the minds of the profane, and exciting admiration in those who contemplated seeking admission within its ranks, with the result that many petitions crossed the secretary’s desk, the trestle board was filled with work, and the membership roster reflected the names of many of the substantial citizens of the community.

During the early fall of 1914, a communication was received from Searchlight lodge No. 31, stating that due to a decline in the ore production of the mines, and a consequent exodus from the town of many of its citizens, among whom were a large majority of Masons belonging to the local lodge, it had become almost impossible to open a lodge of Masons in a proper manner, also that the town seemed doomed to whole, or at least partial oblivion. To this end Searchlight lodge was asking permission to merge their charter with that of Vegas. To this request the brethren of Vegas Lodge assented, and permission having been obtained from Most Worshipful Theo J. Steinmetz, G. M. of Nevada Masons, to merge with Vegas lodge, on October 15 the transfer was made, and the following brethren were united by this transfer with Vegas Lodge No. 32, viz: Walter M. Brown, W. A. Perkins, R. J. Stone, H. A. Walbrecht, Austin M. Smith, Edgar W. Smith, Wm. Schroff, Lloyd H. Walbrecht, R. W. Smith, E. C. Burlingame, Wallace W. Blair, H. A. Dunseath, Henry C. Detmers, Frank E. Dewey, J. L. Foreman, L. H. French, L. W. Godin, Charles R. Huff, Gustav Haverly, E. F. Jeans, John W. Ring, L. J. Raiser, Charles W. Lund, G. D. Mortimer, R. P. McGhan, F. E. McGhan, A. D. McGhan.

While the membership of Vegas lodge was increased numerically by the transfer of these members, yet it must be remembered that at the time the charters were united, the membership of Searchlight lodge had been scattered far and wide, and it had been contended that the lodge could not be opened in a proper manner, for the lack of a constitutional quorum; it follows therefore that the transfer of the charter to Vegas lodge brought no material increase in attendance to the latter, its numerical strength only being increased.

The question has often been raised whether the addition of a scattered membership adds materially to the prosperity of any lodge, for unless all members can enjoy real participation in the activities of their lodge, interest wanes, and in time the lodge is faced with the necessity of seeing the newly acquired members drop out one by one, by reason of suspension for non-payment of dues, or through these members demitting to other jurisdictions; it was largely so in the case of the brethren who were transferred from Searchlight to Vegas lodge.

Quoting from a letter received from Brother W. M. Mundy under date of September 30, 1936, who in furnishing the names of the membership transferring from Searchlight lodge, makes the following comment : “Of these twenty-seven members who became members of Vegas lodge No. 32, to date but one brother, William Schroff, remains a member of Vegas lodge in good standing; the others are dead, have demitted, or have been suspended for non-payment of dues, and have disappeared from our ken.”

From the organization of Vegas lodge in 1907 until 1911, the brethren held their meetings in a building erected by the First State Bank, previously referred to. The second story was devoted to the use of Masonry and is dear to the heart of many Masons in the southern part of the state who received their degrees in this quaint lodge room, which is said to have been approximately twenty by twenty four feet in size, the entrance to which was up a stairway through a trap door which when lowered became the door of the preparation room.

Early in 1911 the lodge moved to the second door of a newly completed building at the corner of First and Fremont streets which later burned down; not, however, until the lodge had again moved to the second floor of a frame building known as Economy Hall, owned by Adolph Levy. Here the lodge was quartered until about 1915. In the meantime, Judge Thomas, of Las Vegas, had erected the Mesquite building at the southeast corner of First and Fremont streets, designing part of the second story as a Masonic lodge room. In 1915 the lodge moved from Economy Hall and established itself in Mesquite Building. The lodge room was located in the southeast corner of the second floor and consisted of an auditorium and two antechambers. Here it was able to maintain exclusive quarters, and in this building, built of cement blocks and located in the heart of the business district, it continued to expand and thrive.

“For many years there was a desire to erect a lodge-owned temple, but the time was never propitious; finally, during the year 1935, more definite plans were advanced, and the project actually started. On September 2 of that year, Brother Bud Barrett outlined a building program. The matter was discussed at the regular meeting of the month and it was decided that the trustees of the lodge be instructed to take the necessary steps to arrange for the sale of a bond issue, not to exceed twenty thousand dollars, bearing five per cent interest, for the purpose of erecting a Masonic temple; these bonds were to be guaranteed by the lodge at such time as Fifty-one per cent of the membership favored the proposition.

At this same meeting it was voted that the trustees be empowered to purchase a site for building the temple.

On November 4, 1935, Brother C. D. Breeze was employed as attorney to arrange the legalities of buying and building. On May 16, 1936, the corner stone was laid by Vegas lodge acting under dispensation from the Grand Lodge of Nevada.

The lots purchased as the site of the temple are those designated as Lots 7, 8, 9, 14 Block 29, Vegas townsite, and are located on Third street between Carson and Bridger. On September 6, 1935, it was voted to enter into negotiations with Mr. A. C. Delkin, administrator of the estate of James H. Ladd for the purchase of these lots, the amount paid for same being $2,808.28. This property adjoins the land held by the American Legion which at one time had attempted to secure 25 feet of the property now owned by the lodge.

Details of the new building may be summarized as follows: Architect, Orville Clark, Los Angeles, California; contractor, Brother C. W. Jorgensen of the Vegas lodge. The architecture employed in the building embraces the Spanish type; the construction is of cement blocks, pitched tile roof. The building houses eighteen rooms, including the lodge auditorium, banquet room, kitchen, lounge, ladies’ and gentlemen’s rest rooms, tyler’s room, examination room, furnace and utility rooms.

During the negotiations and building of the temple, Brother Bud S. Barrett served as worshipful master; Wm. Mundy, Earl Davidson and Fred Callaghan as trustees; K. O. Knudson, chairman of the building committee.

Thus, after thirty years of existence, years of Masonic endeavor and struggle, the ambition of the brethren of Vegas lodge has been realized, and their hopes and aspirations have become a reality, while this magnificent temple rears its noble facade, a monument to the perseverance, enterprise, and determination of the brethren of this city, a temple in which the ancient landmarks of Masonry shall be observed; a temple where the principles of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth shall be practiced; an edifice wherein the brethren may find sanctuary, and where the profane, of their own free will and accord, shall seek fellowship with the tried and faithful.

In passing, it is of interest to note that in spite of the fact that the several buildings occupied by Vegas lodge before the present magnificent temple was erected are in districts considered more or less dangerous on account of fire hazards, Vegas lodge was never visited by fire; however, the office of Henry M. Lillas, who was at one time secretary of the lodge, was burned about the year 1921, and many of the lodge records which he kept in his office were destroyed, entailing a loss which has always been more or less of a handicap to the brethren.

For many years Vegas lodge, being the only Masonic unit in extreme southern Nevada, occupied a strong and dominant position among the constituent lodges of the state, exerting a strong influence among the social, civic and fraternal organizations of Las Vegas, in which city it has continued to hold a prominent place as a potent factor in directing the affairs of the southern metropolis.

With a sizeable population from which to draw its membership, and with a record established from the date of its organization for integrity, morality, and uprightness practiced by its members, in keeping with the landmarks of the fraternity, it has held fraternal sway, prospered, and is held in high esteem by the community and surrounding district.

With the decision of the United States government to construct a dam to harness the flow of the Colorado river, and with the selection of Black Canyon as a site for the project, a surge of humanity seeking profit or employment on the new work poured into Las Vegas, among whom were many Masons. It was presumed that this influx would have a stimulating effect upon the affairs of Vegas lodge, but with the establishment of government headquarters at Boulder city, there followed a withdrawal of many of the sojourning brethren, with the result that in a short time a petition framed by the resident brethren at Boulder City was addressed to the Worshipful Master, wardens and brethren of Vegas lodge No. 32, asking permission to organize a lodge of Masons in Boulder, in territory adjacent to, and under the jurisdiction of Vegas lodge. This petition was graciously received by the brethren of Vegas lodge, and favorably considered, and on March 12, 1932, accompanied by a fine delegation of the brethren from Vegas lodge, Past Grand Master W. S. Park, who had been deputized by the Grand lodge of Nevada to institute the new lodge and install its officers, journeyed to Boulder City and performed this Masonic service. Brother Park was also deputized to constitute the new lodge.

It would be interesting to follow the activities of the members of Vegas lodge from the time of its inception to the present, but to do so would demand months of intensive research work, so full have been the lives of these members; and so we can only allude in a collective way to the fine upstanding manner in which they have performed their Masonic service. Only refer casually, to the influence they have exerted upon the social, civic and municipal affairs of this southern metropolis. Only hint at their prominence in local, county and state affairs, but wholeheartedly commend their enthusiasm, their steadfastness, their integrity in every undertaking, both as citizens of a thriving community, and as members of a progressive, outstanding lodge.

Vegas lodge has been honored by the Grand lodge of Nevada in the selection of one of its prominent members to receive the highest honor the Grand Body can bestow; and, in 1919, after serving the Grand Lodge of the state with distinction and honor through the various chairs of that organization, Brother W. S. Park was decorated with the purple of the order and became Grand Master of Nevada Masons. His record in the Grand Lodge bears testimony to his proficiency, his Masonic enthusiasm and his executive ability for, as Grand Master of the Nevada jurisdiction, he won the regard and esteem of its entire membership, as well as the respect and admiration of the Grand Officers of other jurisdictions, with whom he came in contact in an official capacity. His retirement from office, while the occasion of regret among his constituents, was also the occasion for the revival of recollections of pleasant and profitable moments spent with their affable and courteous brother, during the hours of his official visitations as their Grand Master.

The passing years have not lessened the Masonic interest and activities of Brother Park. He continues (as of 1944 – ed.) an enthusiastic member of the Grand Body and a power in his own lodge.