Masons donate stone arch to jail museum
Cold as bones, nine roughly hewn granite blocks lay in the dust, shaded by pines at the Sierra Mountains Cemetery in Truckee on a recent morning.
Carved by Masonic craftsmen at the dawn of the 20th century, the chiselled stones once were part of the entry arch to the Truckee Masonic Lodge.
Now, they were ready for transport to a final resting place at the Old Historic Jail in Truckee.
“We want to re-erect the arch at the old jail,” said Truckee Masonic Lodge member Joe Aguera.
Fourteen of the 100-year-old granite blocks are already in place at the jail museum, cemented into two columns in early August. Aguera said the remaining stones will form the curve of the arch atop the two columns.
“It’s a part of our history ” the only remaining part of the old Masonic Lodge,” said Master of the Lodge Gary Miner. “To be able to erect the arch is like seeing the past ” the old jail is the perfect place to view the history of Truckee.”
According to Miner, Truckee’s Masonic Lodge Number 200 is one of the oldest in California. The lodge donated the arch as a historic artifact to the Truckee Donner Historical Society, whose members and volunteers run the jail’s historical museum.
“Our mission is preserving Truckee’s history and that [arch] is a historic artifact,” said Judy Dunlap, president of the historical society.
Once it is completed in the jail’s courtyard on Jibboom Street, the centennial arch will be just 63 yards from the spot where in 1904 it was erected on Truckee’s Commercial Row, Aguera said.
According to the Truckee Donner Historical Society Web site, the Masonic Lodge once stood at the present location of Sweets Handmade Candies. Also housed in the old building were the Sierra Sun newspaper and Truckee’s first movie theater.
Masonic Lodge meetings were held upstairs.
The building was destroyed by a propane blast in 1993. The 23 arch stones survived the explosion and were nearly discarded in a local landfill. An active member of Truckee’s Masonic Lodge, Pat Shane, saved the granite blocks, storing them for more than 10 years.
Acting on a tip in 2002, Aguera contacted Shane’s son, Kelly Shane, and acquired the stones with the intent to re-erect the arch someday. He and others drew up final plans in 2005.
“When I looked at those plans, I thought ‘what a nightmare,'” Aguera sighed.
Aguera persevered and enlisted the help of masonry contractor Brian Moore, construction worker Jared Bailey, landscape supplier Brian Marsh and Randy Mezger, an excavator. Though the plan looked daunting, Aguera, fellow Mason Don Willoughby and the team worked through August, drilling, cementing and gluing, to reconstruct a piece of Truckee history. Aguera estimated the team will have donated at least 250 hours by the project’s completion.
“I tell ‘ya, it was two steps forward, one step back,” Aguera said.
Each of the 23 stones weighs about 250 pounds and measures roughly 17 inches by a foot wide. The nine remaining stones are now in their final stages of assemblage.
The top stone in the arch, known as the keystone, is etched with the lodge’s symbol of a square and compass, and will be assembled with the other eight stones this week at the cemetery. Once the epoxy dries, the 3,000-pound granite half-circle will be transported by truck a half mile down Jibboom Street to the jail courtyard and joined to the columns.
A dedication ceremony will be scheduled at a later date.
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