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Washington Lodge No. 20, the fourth Lodge organized in the City of Sacramento, could be well described as an embodiment of courage and optimism.


It came into existence at anything but a propitious time. Its sister Lodges -- Tehama, Jennings, and Sutter -- were in dire straits. Tehama and Jennings were staggering under a huge relief debt, their load of sick and destitute increasing with every wave of migration into the gold country. Jennings could not stave off the inevitable much longer, and Sutter, which had lost its hall in flames, was already done for.

Then, too, their troubles were by no means alleviated by the periodic overflowings of the Sacramento River. Twice in early 1850 alone the whole town, save for a bot of high ground near Tenth Street, was inundated by floods that caused untold damage and misery. Many a brother knew what it was to see most of his household belongings, and even whole buildings, float off toward San Francisco on swirling muddy waters. And these were nothing compared with the ever-present dread of cholera.

Nevertheless, twenty (20) Master Masons, presided over by Jesse M. Morrill, met in the business office of Joel Ball, on February 19, 1852, for the purpose of organizing another Lodge, to be known as Washington Lodge.

They drew up and signed a petition for dispensation, recommended by Tehama Lodge, and presented it to Deputy Grand Master B. D. Hyam, who granted it two days later.

Charles Duncombe was Master; Jesse M. Morrill, Senior Warden; and Jeb L. Thompson, Junior Warden.


On May 5, 1852, they received their charter, as Washington Lodge No. 20.

On May 13, 1852. Nathaniel Greene Curtis was elected the first regular Worshipful Master of Washington Lodge No. 20 under the charter. He was re-elected Worshipful Master of the same in 1853-1854 and 1857.

Brother Curtis also served as Grand Master of Masons of California in 1857-1858-1859-1860. He laid the cornerstone of the State Capitol in Sacramento, and also the one of the Masonic Temple in San Francisco.

This Worshipful Brother remained a member of Washington Lodge No. 20 for a period of 45 years, 4 months, and 21 days, until passing to the Eternal Orient on July 12th, 1897, aged 71 years, 5 months, and 4 days, mourned by his family and the entire State of California.

To learn more about Nathaniel Greene Curtis, click here.

One of the earliest noticeable characteristics of Washington Lodge was the general levelheadedness and solid business methods of its guiding spirits.

As early as the second meeting under dispensation, they concerned themselves not only with obtaining just a meeting place but with obtaining a meeting place of their own. Therefore, they appointed Joel Ball, J.A. Bullard, and Nathaniel Greene Curtis on a committee to confer with the various Masonic and Odd Fellows Lodges of the city on purchasing "a suitable lot on which to build a Masons and Odd Fellows Hall." Moreover, they carried this same practicality into their charitable works. The charity box was on the altar at every meeting, "if not for a specific purpose," as Ingram observed, "then for raising funds for general relief." But there was no handing out of relief to every Tom, Dick, or Harry claiming Masonic Affiliation. The brethren of Washington Lodge first made sure he was worthy of it.

In May 1853, when Washington Lodge sent its first returns to Grand Lodge, it had 39 Master Masons on its roll. Thus, it missed by 1 the doubling its original number of members. A year later, it more than doubled its 1853 figure, having 94 Master Masons.

Many additions were by affiliation, among them Governor John Bigler, member of Tehama Lodge No. 3. Most of the 1854 gains were from initiations.



History tells us that James Wilson Marshall startled a nation with his findings in the sands of the south fork of the American River in January 1848. Marshall's action catapulted a flow of immigration to the golden state. Thousands of families arrived in California caring for nothing more than to feed their insatiable hunger for the rich bonanza - gold.

Sacramento, starting point for the northern mines, was the destination of the gold-seekers. Census figures tell the story. In the brief two-year span from April 1, 1849, the population of approximately 150 inhabitants, boomed to a teeming 11,000 in search of fortune.

The desire for a fraternal association en route to the gold fields resulted in the issuance of many dispensations and charters for traveling lodges. The Eastern Grand Lodges made this possible so that the Masonic Order would flourish - keeping the work active in the journey and later on at the permanent establishments.

According to available historical records the first known meeting of the fraternity in Sacramento was held on a September evening in 1849 when, as a result of notices being posted in conspicuous places, approximately 100 Masons met in the second story of McNulty's unfinished building, on the north side of K Street between 5th and 6th Streets.

It was during this initial meeting that an attempt was made to organize a Masonic Relief Association but shortly afterward it was learned that Caleb Fenner had in his possession a charter from the Grand Lodge of Connecticut, authorizing the formation of Connecticut Lodge No. 75 in California. The plan for organizing a relief association was temporarily abandoned and preparations were made for forming a Lodge.

The third story, or attic, of a building known as the Red House, was selected as a proper meeting place. It was rented by the fraternity and appropriately furnished. The building itself was a state of erection on the southwest corner of 5th and J Streets, the site of the present-day Travelers Hotel. Passerby in those days noted the street address: 126 J Street.

This Temple was described as follows:  "The second story was kept as a lodging house and beds were let at $ 5 per night. Masonry being a progressive and moral science taught by degrees only; To ascend where the craft were to receive their wages was found to be occupied by those who from their sex and morals, were ineligible to receive the degrees of Masonry; thus the Lodge found it necessary to vacate and find other quarters.”

On January 8, 1850, Sacramento Masons assembled for the purpose of opening and organizing a Masonic Lodge and Connecticut Lodge No. 75 came into being.  The charter issued by the Grand Lodge of Connecticut and dated January 31, 1849, named Caleb Fenner as the first Worshipful Master, but at its first election, after the organization of the lodge, John A. Tutt was chosen Worshipful Master as Caleb Fenner, though present, apparently did not wish that honor.
Two months later, in March 1850, there was an unsuccessful attempt to form a Grand Lodge of the State of California.  But supporters of this idea did not give up.  


A notice dated April 5 and published in the April 6, 1850 issue of the Placer Times, and in other publications of the same day served as a forerunner of a Masonic Assembly held on April 17, 1850, in the attic of the afore-mentioned Red House


Representatives of California Lodge No. 13, San Francisco, Connecticut Lodge No. 75, Sacramento, Western Star No. 98, Benton City, New Jersey Lodge, U. D., Sacramento, and Benicia Lodge, U. D., Benicia, assembled for the purpose of considering the propriety of establishing a Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons in California.
The temporary organization was called to order by Charles Gilman, representing California Lodge No. 13 of San Francisco.  Brother Gilman had been Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of New Hampshire in 1830 and of the Grand Lodge of Maryland for seven years (1842-1848).  On motion, he appointed a committee on credentials.  


This committee, after due deliberation, recognized California Lodge No. 13 (now California Lodge No. 1), Western Star Lodge No. 98 (now Western Star Lodge No. 2), and Connecticut Lodge No. 75 (now Tehama Lodge No. 3) as being legally constituted and chartered Lodges of Free and Accepted Masons. Representatives of these Lodges were then duly authorized and qualified to organize and constitute a Grand Lodge of the State of California.

During the sessions of April 18, 1850, Past Grand Marshal Charles Gilman also presided and the organization of the Grand Lodge was completed and the following officers were elected:

Jonathan D. Stevenson, Grand Master; John A. Tutt, Deputy Grand Master; Caleb Fenner, Senior Grand Warden; Saschel Woods, Junior Grand Warden; and John H. Gihon, Grand Secretary.

Brother Gilman, after refusing the distinct honor of becoming First Grand Marshal of California, then installed the Grand Master, who in turn installed his own Deputy Grand Master and Grand Secretary. Fenner and Woods were not present at these installations and therefore were not installed at that time.


Keep in mind the fact that the Grand Lodge of California was formed and in existence before California itself became a state.


Prior to 1888 many Masonic Lodges in California met on or near the nights of a full moon and were known as Moon Lodges. In those days the principal means of transportation was on horses or by walking. Remember there were no flashlights, only lanterns, kerosene, candle, and carbide, which were expensive and inefficient.  Washington Lodge in the early days was a Moon Lodge.  In 1950 there were only three Moon Lodges remaining, Mariposa #24, Georgetown #25, and Harmony #164 located in Sierra City.

Tehama #3 has been called the " Mother of Lodges” in Sacramento. In the first 15 years of its existence, it recommended dispensations for four Lodges -- they were Sutter #6, April 1850; Washington #20, February 1852;  Concord #117, February 1857, and Elk Grove #173, 1964.


In 1849 and 1850, Sacramento was described as a Lazarus-house, defined as an institution of derelicts, diseased beggars and from the bible the brother of Mary and Martha whom Jesus raised from the dead.  


Sacramento had hundreds of sick and dying, needing relief. Most had cholera from drinking contaminated water on the overland journey to California. Several Brethren exemplified the tenets of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth


They were Dr. Morse of Essex, Vermont graduate of New York College of Medicine 1844, came to Sacramento in 1849;  Brother J. D. B. Stillman organizer of Masons and Oddfellows Hospital at Sutters Fort;  Brother Albert Maver Winn President of Masons and Oddfellows Relief Association. Col. Winn was commissioned Colonel of the 1st Regular Mississippi Militia. 


These Brothers were men of means and dug deep in their pockets and gave much of their time. Brother Winn was later commissioned a Brigadier General by Governor Peter H. Burnett and reappointed by Governor Bigler. General Winn submitted a bill to the Legislature for reimbursement of $14,000, which was denied. Winn’s actual expenditures came to $21,500. 


Think of it in terms of about 50 times that much in today's dollars. Governor Bigler, a member of Washington No. 20, was very active in relief work during the crisis and was also very active in local and State politics, elected Governor in 1851 and serving two terms.  Bigler was a charter member of Tehama #3 but let his dues lapse and was suspended.  He quickly set things aright and became a member of Washington Lodge until his death.



Frequently in a burst of enthusiasm, many a Secretary will refer to his own Lodge as a Mother of Lodges.  No Secretary had any more right to do so than that of Washington Lodge No. 20.  A casual survey of Washington Lodge's minutes will show it recommending dispensation for no less than nine Lodges in and around Sacramento from 1852 to 1864, and one in Virginia City, NV.  (The recommendation for the Virginia City Lodge was probably the cause of the old-time rumor that an early Sacramento Lodge assumed the prerogative of Grand Lodge and issued a dispensation to a lodge in Nevada.  It was dated January 1, 1863.)


In 1930, Charles Ingram making a digest of our Lodges minutes for Grand Lodge History Committee, observed: This Lodge was the Mother Lodge of perhaps a score (20), of Lodges in all directions from Sacramento.  In 1872 we refused to recommend several unaffiliated brothers of Sacramento who wished to open a lodge to be known as Industrial Lodge.


Our minutes have little to say about the Civil War aside from an allusion or two to the public enemy.  There were some strong feelings one way and another, and it is known one of the most distinguished of Masons was denied a high state appointment, as late as 1883, for alleged pro-Southern sentiment during the war.  The only time the Lodge itself officially went on record was May 4, 1865, when it passed a long rhetoric-filled resolution condemning the assassination of Lincoln.  It was perhaps the strongest resolution of its kind passed by any Lodge in the State.


Another thing noticeably absent from the records of Washington Lodge No. 20 in the early years is the naive humor found in the minutes of other less erudite Lodges of mining and agricultural districts. The word "erudite" means "deeply learned, polished, or taught." Its use is probably affirmed by a large number of the brethren at the time being in law and other Learned professions."


Selections by the Social Media Committee from
50 Years of Masonry In California and One Hundred Years of Freemasonry in California 

published by Grand Lodge, Free & Accepted Masons of California

and The First 100 Years of Sacramento Lodge No. 40 by Walter E. Stoddard, PM

"Tell me and I forget,

teach me and I may remember,

involve me and I learn."

Benjamin Franklin

Freemason, Author, Printer, Political Theorist, Politician, Postmaster, Scientist, Inventor, Civic Activist, Statesman, and Diplomat

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