Lodge #16 of Auburn, California was founded on “GOLD.”
The spark, which started the rush of men to the
gold fields, was John Marshall, who was building
a sawmill 50 miles east, on the South Fork of the
American River. He found gold on the American River
on January 24, 1848 at the site, which would later
be named Coloma. Marshall, an employee of John Suffer,
was pledged to keep the discovery a secret.
Word slowly leaked out and on March 15, 1848
the Monterey newspaper Californian reported “Gold
Mine Found.” The story was soon picked up
by the San Francisco newspaper, “The California
Star,” and excitement began to grow. This
confirmation of the gold rumors of 1577 when Captain
Francis Drake beached his frigate in a California
bay were reported as a reality, when in August
1848, the news of gold in California reached the
New York press. The rush was on!
By December 1848, the port cities along the nation’s
eastern seaboard were swarming with eager would-be
miners who dropped everything to journey to California.
The first arrivals knew very little about gold
mining, but in the beginning the virgin territory
yielded its treasure easily. Mining tools usually
consisted of a knife, a shovel, and a bowl or
pan, which had sloping edges. Nuggets were pried
from the crevices of rocks, and dirt shoveled
from the creeks and rivers was swirled in the
pans to recover the wealth. Crime was virtually
non-existent and respect for one another ran high.
It was not unusual for a merchant to trust a stranger
to pay for goods “sometime.”
It was towards the end of 1850, the year California
became a state, gold was becoming more difficult
to find. More and more men crowded the mining
country, which was becoming overpopulated. This
was about the time when a less desirable element
started to arrive.
The early arrivals up to 1851 were described
as dressed in worn out hats, clothing and shoes
and panned for gold in the harsh realities of
a bleak environment, working long hours in search
of riches. They were men between the ages of 30
and 40. They were clean — not withstanding
their rags. They were reported as handsome men
with an air, which at once gave the idea that
they had been used to polite society.
We know that many of these men were Master Masons
who sought each other’s company, and also
for their own collective security.
A group of miners, mostly Masons, were working
their way up the American River. On one bar
a miner came up with a pan of nuggets and cried
out,, “EUREKA,” which means, “I
it.” That bar is known today as Eureka Bar.
Across the river a little town sprang up known
Several Masons took time out from their labors
and applied for a dispensation to establish a
Masonic lodge at Eureka Bar. Deputy Grand Master
John A. Tuff issued a dispensation with the name
of Eureka to Brother R. Aken, naming him Worshipful
Master; Brother Lisbon Applegate, Senior Warden;
and Brother Robert Bollen, Junior Warden.
They held their first meeting Under Dispensation
on the 1 2th day of July 1851 at Eagle City which
is now known as Michigan Bluff.
At the second meeting of the Lodge on the 1 7th
of July the hall committee reported and it was
voted that the Lodge erect a building opposite
Eureka Bar at the mouth of the race known as Horseshoe
From July 12th to September 23rd there were twenty-seven
meetings, and considerable Masonic business such
as initiations, passing and raising was transacted.
At the time most of the members were engaged in
driving a tunnel through Horseshoe Bend to divert
the water of the Middle Fork of the American River.
This venture proved a failure and Eagle City was
abandoned. Twenty-three members of the Lodge demitted,
leaving only sixteen to carry on the work. Brother
Lisbon Applegate, Senior Warden, gathered the
property of the Lodge and tendered it to the Grand
Lodge of California. The Grand Master refused
to accept it and ordered Brother Applegate to
find a suitable place to locate the Lodge.
In accordance with the Grand Master’s wishes,
Brother Applegate petitioned the Grand Lodge to
locate the Lodge at Auburn. On November 7, 1851,
the petition was granted and a charter issued
naming the Lodge, “Eureka Lodge #16”
with Brother R. Aken, Worshipful Master; Lisbon
Applegate, Senior Warden; R. W. Bollen, Junior
Warden; D.K. Neville, Treasurer; G.W. Applegate,
Secretary; Z. Faulkner, Senior Deacon; and J.E.
Jacobs, Junior Deacon.
The charter states the Lodge can meet “in
or near Auburn.” It is called a “roving”
charter. In those days such a charter was issued
because of the temporary nature of the settlements.
These charters are no longer issued.
The first meeting of the Lodge in Auburn was
held on November 9, 1851. At this meeting a committee
was appointed to secure and furnish a suitable
Lodge room, and on November 15th the new Lodge
room was dedicated for Masonic uses. This room
was located on the west side of Sacramento Street,
south of the American Hotel.
On April 15, 1853 a contract was let to erect
a two-story clapboard building on what is now
the northeast corner of the Court House grounds.
The upper story was to be used a s a Lodge room
and the ground floor as a school, it “there
should be a sufficient number of children to require
the use of it.” This building was completed
on June 24, 1853, and the occasion was celebrated
by a grand ball.
In May 1860 a contract was let to erect a new
Masonic Hall over a one story building on Commercial
Street. The new hall was completed and dedicated
on December 27, 1960. The cost of the hall was
$6,874.60. In order to pay this indebtedness and
carry on relief work of the Lodge, the new building
was mortgaged for $1,500.00 and the members voluntarily
taxed themselves $2.50 per month until they were
from of debt.
In 1861, the building committee reported that
they had sold the old hall, the two-story clapboard
building, for $400.00 and that it would be removed
and the lot sold to the County Supervisors for
$500.00 in County script, which was equal to about
$450.00 in cash.
About 1910 the question of a more spacious hall,
at a more central location, began to be agitated
among the Brethren and committee after committee
was appointed and dismissed until the discussion
was ended in the submission of an option from
the Auburn Investment Company, which was dated
July 24, 1913, for the purchase of a one-story
brick building and a lot 80x92 in the middle of
Auburn at a place called Central Square.
After much discussion it was voted by all Masonic
bodies and the Eastern Star, to purchase the property
for $17,000.00. The various bodies raised $6,5000.00
and a mortgage was placed for $10,500.00 to complete
the purchase price.
The building is 84 feet deep and 91 feet wide
in the front. The structure is internally divided
by a bearing wall 42 feet from the front. Full
span 42 foot modified Howe trusses constructed
of full length 8 inch by 9 inch members and full
2 inch by 8 inch rafters constitute the roof structure.
The original timbers were milled in the Dutch
Flat-Alta area and transported by rail to Auburn.
The walls are of low temperature or soft fired
brick. The front facade overlay is of sand molded
terra cotta from the Placer County firm of Gladding
McBean. There are segments of locally quarried
granite substructures in the front part. Five
large 8 foot by 8 foot windows with half circles
mounted above adorn the front.
This building has been the home of Eureka Lodge
#16 ever since construction was completed in about
1917. The building is the last remaining building
of the original Central Square in Auburn. All
of the other buildings were either destroyed by
fire or were torn down. In 1990, the building
was dedicated to the memory of a distinguished
Mason and member of the Auburn Community. The
building is now known as the John H. Robinson
Memorial Hall. In an effort to help preserve this
historic building, the Native Sons of the Golden
West dedicated it as a “Point of Historical
Significance” on September 12, 1998. The
building is one of Auburn’s finest examples
of the Beaux Arts style of architecture.
NOTE: Much of this history was obtained from
a presentation by Worshipful Patrick Plunkett,
PM of Eureka Lodge #16, at a ceremony celebrating
150 years of Masonry in Auburn. This event was
held on November 9, 2001 and was attended by Most
Worshipful C. Ray Whitaker and other members of
the Grand Lodge.