A time capsule was stashed away in the cornerstone of a Masonic lodge in Reno from the year 1872.
What was inside this artifact?
Leaders of the Freemasons and local experts joined Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve last month to unveil the
materials from inside the lead box. The time capsule was hidden in what was recently the oldest
standing commercial building in the city founded four years after Nevada was granted statehood in
Inside they discovered silver dollars minted in Carson City and San Francisco, and a piece of wood from
Sutter’s Mill where the discovery of gold sparked the California Gold Rush. Other items inside were a
quartz specimen from the drill at Sutter’s Mill, a harmonica, a business card from the Young Men’s
Christian Association (YMCA) offering “spirited refreshments” for 25 cents, and an edition of the Virginia
Enterprise in nearby Virginia City. Virginia City is where Samuel Clemens, also known as Mark Twain,
started his newspaper career during the 1860s before becoming a world-renowned author.
The Reno Masonic Lodge is historical in and of itself, and was built along the railroad tracks when
Ulysses S. Grant was president shortly after the Comstock Lode of golf and silver was struck in Virginia
City. The cornerstone of the building was laid on October 15, 1872, a block west of where is now the
famous Reno arch. Just a year later, Jacob Davis had a small tailor shop just a block away and patented
the first pair of copper-riveted jeans with Levi Straus & Co.
“These materials have been sealed in this time capsule for 147 years,” said Catherine Magee, the director
of the Nevada Historical Society and art conservator who lead the excavation of the time capsule. “Reno
was a tough little commercial town,” she said. “This lot was on the bustling corner of Commercial Row
across from the railroad platform.”
The developer of the Whitney Peak Hotel found the cornerstone back in February when deconstructing
the building and salvaging original wood and bricks for a future expansion. Some of the papers in the
box were waterlogged, but they will soon be restored and able to read pages from the Nevada State
Journal, Reno Crescent, Carson Appeal, Sacramento Union, San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner.
Besides the 1872 dollars, the capsule also had a Mexican dollar, an English quarter shilling, two
American 3-cent pieces, and a silver specimen from a mine in White Pine County near the Utah line, the
Constitution of the Masonic Grand Lodge and the names of all the officers of the state of Nevada and
Washoe County, along with members of the California Legislature 1871 – 1872.
Mason are part of a fraternal organization that traces its origins back to stonemason guilds in the middle
ages. Stephen Robison is the grand master of the Masons in Nevada and said that they’ve been laying
U.S. cornerstones for 300 years. They are now mostly symbolic, but they once were the first stone that
was critical to ensure a building be level, set squarely with parallel and perpendicular walls.
Fun fact: The cornerstone for the U.S. Capitol was laid in 1793 by one of the most famous Freemasons,
President George Washington.
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