Deep Roots

Western Star Lodge in Shasta…

There’s a no.2 in its title, but the Western Star Lodge in Shasta is No. 1, as in the first, among Masonic lodges in the Golden State.

The original charter for Western Star Lodge No. 98, Free and Accepted Masons, was granted on May 10, 1848, two years before California became the 31st state in the union, and its first meeting was held Oct. 30, 1848. Those dates are significant for a couple of reasons: First, the state’s second lodge, San Francisco’s California Lodge No. 13, held its first meeting two weeks later, on Nov. 15, 1848; more importantly, this summer, the Western Star Lodge will celebrate its 175th anniversary.

Officially, the lodge will be celebrating its demisemiseptcentennial, which is the term engraved on a plaque that will be unveiled at the July 1 ceremony, says Ryan McCloskey, a senior deacon at Western Star who is helping to organize the celebration.

The gathering at the historic brick lodge building will pay tribute to Western Star Lodge’s deep roots, including a visit from the grand master of the Grand Lodge of Missouri. It was Missouri’s grand master who, in 1848, granted Western Star’s charter to Saschel Woods. Woods brought the charter – the 98th issued by the Missouri Grand Lodge – west on a wagon train headed by Peter Lassen, who was keen to establish a Masonic lodge on his Mexican land-grant property near present-day Vina.

The new lodge took root in what was called Benton City, in what is now Tehama County. Meanwhile, efforts to establish a California Grand Lodge finally bore fruit in the spring of 1850. The trouble, or confusion, occurred when the new Grand Lodge began assigning numbers for the lodges within its purview.

California Lodge No. 13, based on erroneous information about its first meeting date, was given number one and Western Star Lodge No. 98 – despite being the first to meet and organize – received number two. “Just politics,” McCloskey surmises with a wry chuckle.

In 1851, Western Star was granted permission by the California Grand Lodge to relocate to Shasta, then the seat of the newly formed Shasta County. (Shasta County was one of the original 27 counties of the new state of California.)

A fire in 1853 destroyed the Western Star’s meeting room, along with the bulk of Shasta’s business district, and for the next 18 months, lodge business was conducted in Dr. Benjamin Shurtleff’s home.

On Dec. 27, 1854 (St. John’s Day, a significant holiday for many Freemasons), Western Star took up residence on the second floor of “Norton & Tucker’s fireproof brick building” and has remained there to this day. The Lodge purchased the remainder of the building in the late 1850s.

A vault built in 1928 to preserve relics and historical items of value has been converted into a display area and lodge members routinely conduct public tours, McCloskey says. “It’s quite grand and holds the most beautiful relics from the past, many given to us from San Francisco after the earthquake.”

Prized possessions include the original warrant issued for Joaquin Miller, the “poet of the Sierras,” on a charge of stealing a horse, saddle and other items. Other treasures include Peter Lassen’s pipe and the first Masonic charter brought to California.

In more recent times, the Western Star Lodge was a popular destination for its monthly all-you-can-eat breakfasts “and we’re hoping to reinstate that,” McCloskey says. The public breakfasts were canceled when the COVID-19 pandemic started. Freemasonry itself dates back to medieval times and is believed to be based on the stonemason guilds that built the grand cathedrals and churches in Europe. McCloskey says its traditions can be traced to the building of King Solomon’s temple. According to Christopher Hodapp, author of the

“Freemasons for Dummies” blog, “King Solomon was considered to be the wisest and most just man in history, and the temple he had built to God was said to be the holiest place on Earth. Modern Freemasons likewise use the tools, traditions and terminology of those Biblical stonemasons as allegories for building Temples in the hearts of men, using Solomon as our ideal example of wisdom, justice and faith.”

For McCloskey, it’s pretty straightforward: “We do our best to be pillars of our community and support others the best we can.” •

About Jon Lewis

Jon Lewis is a Redding-based writer with 37 years of experience. A longtime San Francisco Giants fan, his interests include golf, fishing and sharing stories about people, places and things. He can be reached at [email protected]

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