A LOOK BACK INTO CALIFORNIA MASONIC HISTORY
The history of California Lodge No. 1, established on November 15, 1849, with Levi Stowell as first Master, tells us a lot about the conditions in which the Brethren met in the early days of Masonry in California. The first Lodge Room in San Francisco was in the fourth floor, or attic, of a building, about 28 feet wide and forty feet long. Owing to the slope of the roof, the sides of the Lodge room were very low, leaving only about four feet between the floor and the rafters. The Brethren sat on benches along the sides, and whenever a Brother got up to speak, he had to move forward three or four steps so that he could stand upright. Since there was no lath or plaster, walls and ceilings were lined with chintz, made for the China trade.
Illumination was provided by candles set in tin sconces or wall brackets in the East and West. Only the Master and Wardens had chairs, and the Master's lectern was an up-ended packing box. The altar was another backing box, covered with the Stars-and-Stripes, and on which rested the Holy Bible. The altar lights were made of candles set into a rude handmade candelabrum, its base just a piece of old board.
The Secretary's and Treasurer's desks were lit by candles held by nails to 4-inch-square pieces of board. However, by 1860 conditions had improved by a move to a new hall, which was occupied jointly with the Odd Fellows, and was occasionally used as a Synagogue.
Over the years, the Lodge met in more than seven different places, including an undertaker's chapel after the earthquake of 1906. Woodbridge Lodge No. 131's history tells us of other trials and tribulations that some of the early Masonic Lodges faced. The first hall, paid for with subscribed funds, was a small two-story structure on the banks of the Mokelumne River, about 50 yards back from the town's main street.
Its upper floor was used by the Masonic Lodge, the Odd Fellows, Granges, and one or two other organizations. The lower floor served as a public school and Community Church. But often, during spring flood season, its foundations were under three or four feet of water. Finally, in 1883 the building had to be abandoned for a new two-story brick edifice. But even then, in the high flood of 1904, the foundations of the Lodge Hall sank into the water-soaked ground, causing the upper walls to crack wide open. It was eventually pulled together by long steel rods and turnbuckles.
Compiled from 100 Years of Freemasonry in California.