Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Washoe Once An Active Lodge

Photo of Washoe Lodge #2, courtesy of the University of Nevada Reno. Identification: UNRS-P1991-44-12; Ca. 1863-1888; Collection name W.A. Kornmayer; Collection number, NRS-P1991-44.

by Glenn Franco Simmons

Washoe City and the surrounding valley were once known for significant economic and agricultural industriousness.

Within the social milieu of the new decade of the 1860s that saw significant economic changes — before Nevada statehood — were Freemasons who wanted to create a Masonic Lodge in search of that brotherly fraternity that an active lodge can further cement.

"The urge for Masonic intercourse in Washoe City was felt by the sojourning brethren, resulting in the establishment of a lodge under California registry," stated the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Mason of Nevada on its website*. ( "It is inconceivable, but it is nevertheless true, that but small attention was paid by the officers of the Grand Lodge of California, to the organization of Washoe lodge, No. 157 chartered under California register in July 1862."

If I correctly understand the Washoe Lodge's history, it was charted as a Nevada Lodge in 1863, ceasing to be a California-affiliated lodge.

This photo was been cropped on the left to provide a more concise view. Photograph of Washoe City (ghost town) in 1943. The buildings on the right and in the center appear to be in the University of Nevada Reno-confirmed photo of Washoe Lodge #2. Note the three windows in the central building. Courtesy of UNR. Photographer: Gus Bundy. From the UNR Gus Bundy Collection. Image ID: UNRS-P1985-08-01125. Collection ID: UNRS-P1985-08.

"It is interesting to note, that at that time Washoe Lodge had an enrollment of 36 members," according to the Nevada Masons.

"Not an unusual numerical list it is true, but among its number were those who were nevertheless sincere and devoted brethren, through whose instrumentalities the lodge grew and spread its Masonic light; men who figured prominently in municipal, county and state affairs, and brought fame and honor to themselves and the section from which they hailed; some of whom afterward crossed over into California, becoming identified with its commercial, industrial, political and social life, adding luster to the honor roll of that state. 

"For, the Masons who pioneered the way in Washoe Lodge were men of outstanding merit and integrity; they took a leading part not only in Masonic affairs, but in public life as well; some of them attained not only public honor, but also became wealthy."

The Nevada Masons' website mentions a few prominent men, so if you want to learn more about them, I strongly suggest you visit the website.

The Lodge cannot be separated from Washoe Valley's and Washoe City's golden days, as noted by the Masons:

"The history of Washoe Lodge begins in the winter of 1860-61, and is cast in that period of glamour and excitement, attendant upon the discovery and development of The Comstock Lode, dating from Jan. 28, 1859, when James Finney, or 'Old Virginia,' made a rich strike in Gold Hill, and Henry Comstock, Patrick McLaughlin, Peter O’Reilly, Emanuel Penrod and Kentuck Osborne came into the picture, and Sandy Bowers and his wife Eilley Orrum, rose to opulence, whose reckless extravagance and final relapse into almost poverty, is a story of human pity and interest." 

In colorful writing, the Nevada Masons' website notes the synergy between the growth of Masonry in Nevada and The Comstock Lode:

"The story of the blue-black clay, secret of the wealth of the Comstock, at first cursed by the miners and thrown upon the dump as worthless — but afterward by an accident found to contain $1,595 in silver, and $4,790 in gold values per ton — precipitat{ed} a 'rush,' the scenes and excitement of which no pen could hope to portray, for they are deep-dyed with the richest color of comedy, pathos and tragedy, acts of heroism, self-denial, intrigue, shame and honor, but inextricably interwoven into the history of Washoe County.

"For when the great discovery was made on Mt. Davidson, or Sun Peak Mountain, Washoe Valley leaped into prominence for it had fuel and timber for building, plenty of water and fine rich land for farming; and from it the Comstock could be and was supplied. It soon assumed importance and following the necessary location surveys made in the spring of 1861, Washoe City came into being, began to grow and for the next five or six years, enjoyed a substantial and steady expansion."

In 1866, Washoe City became the county seat of Washoe County; however, it's a distinction that would be short-lived:

"With the coming of the V. & T. Railway, {Washoe City's} decline commenced," the Nevada Masons note. "Reno wanted the county seat, and on Aug. 5, 1868, a petition signed by 750 residents of Reno was sent to the county commissioners asking for the removal of the county seat to Reno. This petition was denied, but another was framed and sent in February 1870. Washoe City made a protest, and sent William Webster and William Boardman to plead their case, while Thomas E. Hayden appeared for Reno. The petition was withdrawn, but another was soon presented."

A special election was held on June 14, 1870 to settle the matter.

"Reno won by a vote of 544 to 362," according to the Nevada Masons. "Washoe then applied to the courts for redress, resulting in a bill being sent to the Legislature, which was passed, declaring Reno to be the county seat on and after April 3, 1871. It was the doom of the valley city; an early exodus of many of the residents followed, business became stagnant and, while for the next 18 years or more, a settlement continued to exist on the old site of the town, yet its progressive spirit was broken, and one by one its citizens departed to other fields."

Washoe City slowly declined. I've found several photos that may or may not be Washoe Lodge No. 2; however, there is one from the University of Nevada Reno that clearly states it is the site of the lodge. From that photo, it appears that others may also show that building. Any suggestions and/or corrections would be appreciated.

There are many misconceptions about Free & Accepted Masons, so I refer readers to an excellent rebuttal to common fallacies regarding Freemasonry that the Grand Lodge of Virginia published: "Myths of Freemasonry."

* Quotes from the Nevada Masons' website have been edited for AP Style.

Masons are free to use photos I've personally taken however they want, commercially or noncommercially.

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