THE STORY of this antique Masonic Hall began in Quartzburg, California, which is now an extinct gold mining town a few miles northeast of Hornitos. On January 12, 1856, a new lodge of Freemasonry was instituted, and on May 8th of that year it received its charter to operate as Quartzburg Lodge No. 98, F.&A.M. The lodge began operation with twenty-five members, and was established as a moon-lodge, which was common throughout the Mother Lode, whereby its meetings were set by the dates of the full moon to allow for nighttime travel. In 1920, the lodge suspended that status and fixed its meetings monthly on the second Saturday.
In 1858, the Masons relocated their lodge to Hornitas, which was becoming the mining district's business center, and the following year it purchased a two-story adobe building across from Domingo Ghiradelli's Store. The ground floor was occupied by the American Bakery, and the lodge met on the second floor. The brethren resolved not to return to Quartzburg, and in 1860, changed their lodge name to Hornitas Lodge No. 98, F.&A.M., taking the town spelling of that time. The lodge met above the bakery for fourteen years until 1873 when the building burned to the ground. The lodge quickly recovered with purchases of Masonic furniture and paraphernalia, and rented the I.O.O.F. Hall until a new hall could be acquired.
The Fashion Saloon was purchased by the lodge in August 1873 for $220, and renovated it for a Masonic Hall, and which remains its present building. Sometime in early 1875, the Masons began holding regular meetings, and are now in their 135th consecutive year since occupancy. The building was built in 1855 by Italian stonemasons who operated throughout the Mother Lode, and is classified an unreinforced masonry building because its walls have no metal support. It is only 21 ft. wide, 33 ft. long and 15 ft. high at the cornice, and was raised with schist rock walls 22" thick. All rock, granite, and brick materials came from local sources. The building had previously operated as a photography studio, a jewelry and watch store, and tailor shop.
During the lodge's 154 years of operation, it has had many members who have extraordinarily contributed to its success; however, there are three brethren who had particular dedication.
Samuel W. Carr (1824-1894) was born in Kentucky and was a great nephew of President Thomas Jefferson. He held numerous officer stations for 36 consecutive years from lodge chartering to his death. He was particularly known for his work as secretary, and was the oldest surviving charter member to remain of the lodge roll.
Frank N. Solari (1881-1970) was born in Indian Gulch just a few miles from Hornitos. He served the lodge for 64 consecutive years in various officer stations. In those years he serviced as treasurer for 43 consecutive years - the longest tenure in the same office.
William I. Adams (1831-1921) was born in England. He was very active in Hornitos as an attorney, notary public, coroner, wagon-maker, blacksmith, and brick manufacturer. From 1871-1901 he served as worshipful master for 30 consecutive years an unsurpassed record in California Freemasonry. He then continued as secretary for 20 consecutive years until his death in 1921. A marble and quartz monument outside the northeast corner of the hall commemorates his service to his community and Freemasonry.
In 1906, the lodge celebrated its Centennial and was presented a 1880s era pump organ, which is still played on special occasions.
A basement was excavated in 1926, and employed in that project was the use of dynamite. Lodge records indicated that damage was done to the lodge room floor, walls, and roof - apparently by blasted rock! Because the building had operated as a saloon and the earth beneath not having been 'worked', there was enough gold recovered in the soil to pay for the job. In 1928, the lodge converted to electricity and began to enjoy 'modern' conveniences. For over 78 years, Hornitos Lodge has served meals in its small dining room to its members, Masonic dignitaries, visitors, fire crews, and school children, and which continues to be a hallmark of its hospitality.
In 1992, the lodge buried a time capsule on lodge property. It was filled with numerous items donated by the brethren, and will be opened after the passage of one hundred years that future generations of Freemasons may enjoy a treasure box of their heritage.
The lodge was certified an official state historical building in 1994. It became Mariposa County's first California Point of Historical Interest. The lodge hall was recognized for several Masonic and structural characteristics:
It is the smallest and oldest ground floor Masonic Hall in the state;
It is the oldest remaining single-story building in the state built in the 1850s that is currently used for a Masonic Hall.
It is the last standing edifice of its type in Mariposa County that is structurally and materially intact.
Beginning in 2003, the lodge restored its lodge room to an appearance representative of the 1880s. The project took six months of volunteer member labor, and everything was painted, polished, and repaired.
The project concluded with the President of the Temple Association installing the last brass screw in the lodge room threshold. In 2004, the lodge renovated its basement dining room with new paint, furniture, and a stove. To complete the property renovation, the lodge will repair the outside rock walls in 2005.
On May 13, 2006, the lodge will celebrate its Sesquicentennial with special activities that will be open to the public. At that time a special history book will be published to cover the lodge's 150 years of operation.
The lodge has several traditions that are still observed:
Dinners at stated meetings (est. 1928),
Western wear for officers (est. 1950),
St. Patrick's Day corned beef & cabbage dinner (est. 1976),
History talks by the lodge historian (est. 1983),
Traveling lapel pins for officers (est. 1985),
A past master's gift of $75.00 (est. 1986),
A social hour at Manuela's Saloon (est. 1993),
Toasting to deceased brethren (est. 2000).
Hornitos Lodge has survived several resettlements, fires, loss of property, and minimal membership to become the only surviving fraternal organization in the Hornitos mining district. Its historical lodge hall is a reminder of the homesteaders, miners, tradesmen, citizens, officials, and emigrants who passed over its threshold as all brothers and fellows have done before them. Masons and Hornitos residents are equally proud of this truly historic building that endures as an architectural remnant of town history, the Gold Rush, establishment of Freemasonry, and the settlement of early California.
The Hornitos Masonic Lodge is a place where gentlemen can meet in fraternal companionship and enjoy old-time Masonry and present-day activities. It has an special reputation for the excellence of its ritual work, for the historic quality of its lodge room, but above all - for the hospitality of its brethren.