History of the Lodge
St. Helena Lodge History
F. & A.M. No. 93 1856-1980
as recorded by John Wichels, PM
Masonry had its birth in California on April 17, 1850, when the Grand Lodge of California was formed. Members met on the third floor of a building in Sacramento that was referred to as “The Red House”, probably because it was so painted. A hardware store was on the first floor, and furnished rooms were on the second floor. Strange as it may seem to some, Benicia Lodge was in existence before the formation of California Grand Lodge. It had been chartered by the Grand Lodge of Missouri, but became subordinate to the California body after it’s organization in 1850. This creates a background for the history of St. Helena Lodge No. 93 or even Yount Lodge No. 12 of Napa, since one man figured so prominently in the creation of Napa County lodges.
George C. Yount was raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason in Benicia Lodge No. 5 in 1850. Within a year, he and other Masons took steps to organize a Lodge in Napa that was named Yount Lodge and assigned the number 12. Within five years, Yount then, with some other Masons, 14 in number, organized a Lodge in Yountville or Sebastopol as it was also known, and it was given the name of Camus Lodge No. 93. Caymus was the name of Yount’s Mexican Land Grant of 11,000 acres. This Lodge received its charter in May, 1856. The Acting Master under dispensation was Simon Rosenbaum. The first Master under Charter was J. J. May. Edward Evey was Senior Warden, and George Yount was Junior Warden. Yount had served as Treasurer of Yount Lodge while a member of that body. The first Secretary of Caymus Lodge was William Baldridge, and the first Tiler was Achilles Grigsby. Edward Evey was the first Master to complete a full term as Master, J.J. May having vacated his chair before the end of his term as Master. Caymus Lodge was located in Yountville for only ten years. Its membership did not increase to any great extent, beginning with 14 and “peaking” with 19, and by 1865 was down to 13. It was obvious that Yountville at the time was not the ideal place for a progressive Lodge.
During the early 1860’s, a motion had been presented to move the Lodge to St. Helena, as many of the members were residents of the upper valley and not of Yountville. This motion was defeated. One of the proponents of this move was Edward Evey. He then demitted. But in 1865, a move was made to organize a Lodge in St. Helena. On second thought, it was reasoned that, “Why organize a Lodge there when it would be much simpler to move Caymus Lodge to that location?” Edward Evey, now re-affiliated with Caymus Lodge, renewed his efforts for its re-location. A motion to the effect was approved, but somehow never reached Grand Lodge for the necessary dispensation, whereupon Edward Evey moved that the Secretary be “ordered” to apply for such a dispensation, and in August, 1865, the Lodge met in St. Helena, as their second location. Their meeting hall was on the southeastern corner of Hunt Avenue and Main Street, and was the hall of the Sons of Temperance, at the time owned by David Hudson. The Lodge met at this place for four months, paid Hudson $15, and then moved to Mathew Calderwood’s Hall, on the site of the St. Helena Star’s present building. Calderwood was paid $120.00 per year. Lodge was held in this place until 1874 when it moved to the Carver Building just south of Goodman’s Store. The second floor served as a Lodge Hall until 1893 when the Lodge moved into the Richie Block and occupied space on the second floor, and has met here to the present time.
The dues were recorded as being 50 cents per month plus 25 cents Grand Lodge fees. Lodge dues have been increased during the years from nine dollars to twelve, then, fifteen dollars and lastly, sixteen dollars as of 1980. Grand Lodge per capita tax is now levied against each Lodge directly.
The Masonic Hall in Yountville had been constructed on Gorge Yount’s property, apparently, with the understanding that it might become the lot of the Lodge. But when Yount passed away in 1865, no such transaction had been completed. Edward Evey and William Bald ridge were appointed as a committee to file a claim against the estate of George Yount for some monetary adjustment, at least for the building that the Lodge had erected at their expense. The records indicate that this committee was successful in their efforts. The Lodge received the sum of $80, which while it may appear to be very little, a board and batten house, white washed on the outside and papered on the interior, would probably have brought no more from any other person. This first Masonic Hall of Caymus Lodge was located on the northwest corner of Yount Street and Madison Street. A two story building was erected on this lot in the 1870’s by B. W. Arnold for a store. This building burned to the ground in 18888. Still later, Dick Wichels bought the lot and built a blacksmith shop on it. The name of the Lodge was changed from Caymus to St. Helena in August, 1867.
The character and reputation of the members of St. Helena Lodge was recognized by the citizens of the community and Count in which these men resided. Evidence of such respect is manifested by their election to public office and, thus, to public trust. Elected to County Sheriff were Ralph Ellis and Henry Harris; Assessor of the County, Henry Meacham, a St. Helena merchant’ County Clerk, D. Shakespear; County Supervisor, Edward Evey, Joseph Mecklinberg, William Baldridge, Achilles Grigsby, Henry Harris, Bismark Bruck, and Marshall Sears; Justice of the Peace, Edward Evey, H. L. Chinn, Wallace Everett and J. J. May; and District Attorney, Theodore A. Bell who was a candidate for Governor of California in 1910.
In more recent years, there were members who served the community at the school and local government level: Tom Street, Principal, St. Helena Elementary School; Richard Roche, Superintendent of Schools; Frank L. Wood, Elwood Me, Tony Ten-Broach, and Edward R. Palmer, Jr., St. Helena School Board; H. L. “Doc” Byrd and Frank Ogletree, City Council; Marshall Sears, Mayor and City Council; Leroy Neil and E. A. “Buck” Erickson, Forest Rangers; Don Hall, Resident Game Warden; Cecil Aguirre, Fire Chief; John Mitchell, City Engineer;’ Lowell Palmer, Judge of he St. Helena District Court and Andy Angel, Chief of Police. There were no doubt others, in the past, who served in public trust, at the local level.
The meeting nights for Stated Meetings were changed five times. The original by-laws indicated Saturday night on or before the first full moon of the month. However, the records indicate that the Lodge was meeting on the fourth Saturday night of the month. Then they met as the by-laws required, on Saturday on or before the full moon of the month. Then it was changed to the second Saturday of the month, then to the second Friday night, and at last to the second Thursday night. In recent years, a motion had been made to change to the first Monday night, but failed of adoption.
St. Helena Lodge (Caymus Lodge) has had the honor of having two of its Past Masters serve as Grand Lodge Officers: George Yount served nine years as Grand Bible Bearer, and Dunsdill B. Carver served as Grand Marshal. The first 50 year Charter Member was William Baldridge. He had never served as Master, but for the first ten years of the life of the Lodge, he was the beneficiary of his estate, such as it was. The second Charter Member to receive a 50 year recognition, though at the time he was a member of Yount Lodge, was Achilles Grigsby, who was the first Tiler of St. Helena Lodge (Caymus at that time). Two St. Helena (both past Masters) missed, by eleven months of being 75 year members, John H. Steves and William J. Clayton.
The Grand Lodge made a special occasion in the presentation of a 75 year button to Brother Clayton in 1932, eleven months in advance. Clayton at the time was a member of Clear Lake Lodge.
During the 125 years of St. Helena Lodge’s existence, many Masters have served the Lodge beyond the call of duty or normal service. Twelve brothers served as Master for two terms; four served three times; two served four terms, one served five terms, one served seven times and Dunsdill B. Carver had been elected twelve times as Master, and died in the last term. He had been a Master Mason for 26 years and during 25 of those years he occupied some station in the Lodge.
Outstanding service and devotion to the Lodge was exemplified by other officers of the Lodge. Among the Secretaries that served, it is recorded that John H. Allison, Jr. attended to this task for 17 years; John A. Mitchell, 10 years, Charles Vann, 10 years, Harvey Money, 14 years, and Edward Bonhote, almost 25 years. John H. Steves served as Treasurer for 43 years, and Raymond Lewelling, in excess of 20 years. Those who guarded the door as Tiler took the prize. James McGee served 30 years, Louis (Ludwig) Beck served more than 37 years, and the present Tiler, Edwin L. Paulson, has been at that station for 44 years. A total of 11 years of service has been divided between only three Brethren of St. Helena Lodge.
It should e noted that these Brethren served in additional stations during their Masonic life, an example worth of all imitation. When the various Masters completed their first tour through the chairs, they did not hang up their jewels and announce that they had fulfilled their obligations, but they were ready to assume other responsibilities. This attitude was also implied, if not expressed, by those other officers who continued to serve year after year. This same attitude was accepted by Brethren who never hesitated to fill in a vacant chair when such conditions existed, which was not an unusual event. It was because of this spirit among the members of the Lodge that St. Helena Lodge has existed for 125 years.
In the far and distant past, charity was not an idle virtue. For example, a Charter Member passed away, leaving a widow and children. The Lodge, with the widow’s approval, appropriated a sum of money, for the purpose of meeting the expense of a business school education for the eldest daughter so that after graduation, she might assist in the support of not only herself, but also the family. Brother Demmick suffered a loss because of a fire in his blacksmith shop, and the Lodge extended funds for repairs so that he might continue in his trade and thus support his family.
Some of the unsung heroes should be mentioned. Brother Baldridge has already been mentioned as one who, when he died, left his estate to the Lodge. Brother McMahan willed $500 to the Lodge, “to be used for charity”. Brother Louis Beck and his wife Carrie willed their house and lot to the Masonic Lodge and the Odd Fellows. The Masons then acquired the Odd Fellows’ share. The Lodge later sold the property for $25,000, which was applied to the purchase of the Richie Block, in which the Lodge has held their meetings since 1893. In the meanwhile, the Lodge had acquired a lot on which to erect their own Temple. Plans had been drawn for the building. Contributions had been pledged. But the project never got beyond that state. The lot was disposed of and the funds were later used for the acquisition of a Temple. This lot was also disposed of and the funds thus derived were applied to retire the loan on the Richie Block, and the necessary improvements. The members of the Lodge now enjoy ownership of their own Temple, and much is owed to those few, whose generosity should set an example to others as outstanding service and devotion to Masonry.
Social activities were more in evidence during the earlier years of the Lodge. The hardwood floor of the banquet hall had been placed through the efforts of the Easter Star and the men of the Lodge for dancing. A player piano had been acquired for $545.00. On may 23, 1943, members of the Lodge, with ladies of the Eastern Star, participated in a 50the Wedding Anniversary in honor of Brother Al Bell and his wife, with 160 in attendance. This was but one of many such gatherings at the Temple in the past.
In commemoration of the Centennial Anniversary of the Grand Lodge in 1950, Past Grand Master, Leon Whitsell, wrote four volumes entitled “100 Years of Masonry in California”. Past Master Percy S. King, Sr., of Napa was commissioned to gather material for the history of the Napa County Lodges. This is what he said of St. Helena Lodge: “Thirteen Brethren, in the little country village which was then St. Helena (1865), set themselves to the duty of spreading the teachings of Masonry, and formed the nucleus whence has grown the splendid Lodge which on may 9, 1931, celebrated it’s Diamond Jubilee. Since that time it has claimed and held a leading place in the social and fraternal life of the town. It has numbered in its membership the bankers, doctors, clergymen, educations, businessmen as well as the sturdy tillers of the soil. Its members have had a large part in the up-building of the town and have been ever foremost in the promotion of its institutions. Among the prominent church members, the school boards, town trustees and officers, Chambers of Commerce and all bodies devoted to civic welfare, the Masons have always been found, doing tier share for the moral, the education and the material welfare of the community. It was the first fraternal institution in the town and has always been foremost. Its record and its achievements are well worth the pride of its members and Masonry in general.”
When the Lodge moved to St. Helena, its membership was thirteen. One year later, it was increased to 24. Ten years later, it was 47. It “peaked’ at 78 in 1886. It dropped to 65 in the 1890’s, but in 1908, it increased to 88. One hundred and nine names appeared on the roster in 1846, and this number was exceeded in 1969 when the membership was 126, and now approaches 130. St. Helena Lodge came into existence within five years after the organization of Grand Lodge, and since that time, it has witnessed five major wars. It felt, no doubt, the effects of several periods of recession and one tragic period of depression (1930’s). It existed during the period when candlelight and kerosene (‘coal oil”) were used for lighting the Hall, then gas, and at last electricity. Its members attended Lodge after having walked, ridden in the saddle or carts, buggies, or wagons, and finally, in automobiles, but, because they did attend Lodge and some assumed responsibilities in Officers chairs, St. Helena Lodge No. 93 is still in existence after 125 years. Of 656 California Lodges, it ranks 57th in seniority.
Thus ends the history as presented on the occasion of the mortgage burning and 125th Anniversary ceremony held on July 12, 1980.