The History of California’s 168th Masonic Lodge
By Hjalmar Nilsen
On June 28, 1863, seven Master Masons held a meeting in the San Mateo Courthouse, at Redwood City, to discuss the feasibility of organizing a Lodge in that county. This would be the first Masonic Lodge in San Mateo County. The seven Masons were Samuel Cook, Frederick E. Bartlett, Andrew Teague, Benjamin F. Gillum, John M. Allen, August Eikerenkotter, and Thomas Lathrop. Eikerenkotter was called to chair the meeting and Lathrop was appointed Secretary. The seven Master Masons unanimously voted to petition Grand Lodge for a dispensation. Master John B. Hewson of San Jose Lodge No. 10 was requested to inspect the building of Bay View Lodge No. 109 of Odd Fellows., to determine whether it was a suitable place for Masonic meetings. It was decided that the proposed Lodge should be named San Mateo. Bartlett was appointed its Master, Cook, Senior Warden, and Allen, Junior Warden. It appears, however, that none of them was competent to sit in the Master’s Chair – not even Bartlett. They decided to pay him a salary to be proficient as the Master of the Lodge, and we have to assume he was a quick learner, because they received their dispensation from Grand Master Belcher, August 28, and held the first meeting September 1, 1863 – presumably in the Odd Fellows Hall in Redwood City.
Lathrop, after serving a year as Secretary in 1863-4, continued four consecutive terms as Master starting in 1865, and in 1875 he added a fifth term. He also served as Treasurer of the Lodge in 1869, ‘70, and ’71.
Let’s look at San Mateo County at the time when the Lodge opened:
San Mateo County was formed in 1856 after San Francisco County, one of the state’s 18 original counties was divided. This would leave a new county where The Mexican Land Grants of 1835 had left a few residents owning vast expansions of land.
The population of San Mateo County in 1870 was 727, according to a census that year. In May 1861, the construction of a railroad to link San Francisco with San Jose began. The track was completed in January 1864 and the first service through San Mateo County, with a stop in Redwood City, was on October 17, 1863.
Redwood City was incorporated in 1867, the first city to do so in San Mateo County, and it had been the county seat since the county was formed in 1856. The land, which is now Redwood City, had been part of the Rancho de las Pulgas estate, granted to the Arguello family in 1835 by the Mexican government. Simon M. Mezes was allowed to buy a part of the estate in 1854 and he sold some of the land to people already squatting along the banks of Redwood Creek and named the settlement, Mezesville. Though the city did not keep that name, Mezes Park still exists.
The brethren of San Mateo Lodge do not appear to have been overburdened with work at the start. William A. Clark, the first candidate initiated, was raised December 29, just eighteen days before inauguration of the first scheduled railroad service on the Peninsula. The Lodge appears to have got through the next ten months in good shape and received its charter October 13, 1864.
Between 1864 and 1866, the membership jumped from 25 to 36. In the following years, it appears that the Lodge leased the hall of the Odd Fellows. An entry in the minutes of March 22, 1864 shows the brethren voting to “rent the room in rear of the Odd Fellows Hall at a rental fee of $10 a month”. In May, they voted to pay William Callaghan 75 cents a meeting for his services as Steward. Other Lodges were on record as paying their Masters, but San Mateo Lodge was one of the few that showed similar consideration for its Stewards.
San Mateo Lodge unquestionably did its share of relief work. In October 1869, it approved the action of the Master and Junior Warden, in the name of the Lodge, to relieve several non-affiliated brothers. It also lent large amounts of money to the brethren, and when one brother died before he could repay his loan, the Lodge voted to donate the amount due to his widow. In 1872, it lent $232.50 to Covenant Ark Lodge No. 10, The Order of the Adoptive Rite, an early relative of the Order of the Eastern Star.
A prominent citizen and member of San Mateo Lodge #168 was Philander Chamberlain, native of Ohio and Civil War veteran, who came to California in 1868. He became a member of San Mateo Lodge in 1869 and remained a member till his death November 30, 1928, fifty-nine years later. He served ten terms as Master between 1874 and 1901, chaplain from 1921 to 1927, and is said to have cheerfully filled every other office in the Lodge whenever needed.
In October 1905, came the most important event in Lodge’s history since organization. It changed its name from San Mateo Lodge to Redwood City Lodge. After Hayward Lodge No. 226 had moved inland from Half Moon Bay to the City of San Mateo in 1900, there had been too much confusion. Hayward Lodge got San Mateo’s Mail, and nobody seemed to know the right name of either.
The next great event came on April 12, 1923, when Redwood City Lodge dedicated its own Hall, with Grand Master William A. Sherman officiating. In 1921 they had purchased the property next door to the Odd Fellows Hall, where they had been meeting since the start. The building was the old Alhambra Theater, an important piece of San Mateo County history. The former theater once attracted the likes of Wyatt Earp and opera lovers from around the state. They remodeled the building to match the façade of the Odd Fellows Hall and the ground level became shops.
By this time, it had grown from the seven brothers attending its first preliminary meeting prior to organization, to a strong, flourishing body of 217 members.
No Lodge between San Francisco and San Jose reflects the growth and development of the San Mateo Peninsula better than San Carlos Lodge No. 690. Fred Drake, who was the first candidate raised in Yerba Buena Lodge of Oakland, plotted the townsite of San Carlos and marketed it until some 10,000 people made it their home.
Several Masons from around the Bay Area moved to San Carlos, among them Edward Rutledge Burton, of Golden West Lodge of San Francisco, who served as San Carlos mayor in 1948 and 1949 and Russell Benjamin Fodrea of Sun Garden Lodge in Fresno. None was more interested in establishing a Masonic Lodge in San Carlos than Fodrea. It is said that he could “spot” a Master Mason as far as he could see one, and have his name, Lodge, and address within an hour of his arrival in town. With the growing number of Masons in San Carlos, they hit upon the idea of establishing a Masonic Club there. This took place in the fall of 1937. The club started off with 16 members, but soon had 68, with brethren from fourteen different states besides California, and from one country in South America. The San Carlos Masonic Club flourished and produced more real Masonic activities than many established Lodges. As time went by, they turned their thoughts toward opening a Lodge; and by the spring of 1946, they had completed all arrangements to do so. On May 10, at the recommendation of Redwood City Lodge No. 168, they received a dispensation from Grand Master Brouillet for a Lodge to be known as San Carlos Lodge. It was instituted in the Redwood City Masonic Temple, with Fred Prince as Master, Brice Ohio Wheeler as Senior Warden, and Robert Tyler Pratt as Junior Warden. The following October 17, it received its charter. Six days later Grand Master John R. Moore constituted it as California’s 690th Lodge.
San Carlos Lodge met in the Masonic Temple at Redwood City till September 1948, when they moved into our present meeting place, the brand-new Arroyo Fraternal Hall.
To show what an excellent Masonic town San Carlos was, the Masonic Club did not pass from existence with the chartering of the Lodge. It was still flourishing for many years afterwards, as the Masonic Club and the Lodge moved forward together, finding plenty of work for both to do.
On October 17, 1989 the Bay Area was rattled by a major earthquake and the Redwood City Masonic Temple suffered key damage and due to the cost of the retrofit, the Lodge decided to sell the building.
The Redwood City Lodge suddenly had a dire need for a place to meet and what would suite better than the Hall of their old friends in San Carlos. They met separately until 1999, when the Brethren of both Lodges started negotiations to merge and name the united Lodge, Peninsula Lodge #168.
The first meeting of the combined Lodge was on January 11, 2000. The officers of the new Lodge were chosen equally from both Lodges, where every other officer was either from Redwood City or San Carlos, with James Dillaman as the first Master of the combined Lodge.
All though all mergers go through some rough patches in the beginning, Peninsula Lodge #168 has in the years since, displayed continued growth with presently a total membership of 118, compared to the start of 168th Lodge in California, with the original 7 members.