After carefully disassembling the oldest building in downtown Reno, construction workers unearthed the granite Masonic Lodge No. 13 cornerstone first placed in the ground in 1872. Inside that cornerstone, Reno Lodge No. 13 Freemasons placed a small lead time capsule full of 19th-century treasures.

The Whitney Peak Hotel’s parent company, after several years attempting to save the Masonic Lodge/Mercantile building, plan to build a new long-stay hotel in place of the lodge and Old Reno Casino behind the current hotel. The hotel will be a 5-story building with 60 rooms. Construction will start soon.

At a time capsule reveal, Managing Partner Niki Gross told a crowd of about 150 people that the Freemasons would lay the new cornerstone. Gross said they would discuss ways to possible install a 2019 time capsule in the new cornerstone.

The new hotel’s lobby would pay homage to the Freemasons and the artifacts found inside the time capsule. Architects plan to build the hotel around items saved from the Masonic building, such as bricks, timber and doors.

Masonic Hall/Mercantile Building foundation remains after disassembly.
The remains of the Masonic Hall/Mercantile Building and the Old Reno Casino. In the northwest corner was a cornerstone filled with treasures from the 19th century. Photo by Mike Higdon
A construction worker points to the location where the Masonic Lodge cornerstone was found. Photo provided by Whitney Peak Hotel

All Masonic buildings have special cornerstones and many of them include time capsules. There is a special ceremony to placing the cornerstone and, if necessary, unearthing them in the future.

The construction workers from Group West and Penhall found the 1872 cornerstone in early February during the building’s disassembly. Freemasons in Reno knew about the cornerstone and Whitney Peak Hotel General Manager Eric Olson, who is also a Freemason, helped ensure its preservation.

Many of these time capsule items survived the last 147 years, though others were destroyed or damaged by water (lead boxes are not water tight). The time capsule was loaded with newspaper editions from the day of its placement, coinage and currency from around the world and Freemason artifacts. It also had personal items not originally included on the official list, such as a harmonica and arrowheads.

The paper items, such as the newspapers, suffered a lot of water damage, while the coins took on rust and collected debris from the other items. But Whitney Peak Hotel attempted to rescue what they could for a grand reveal.

On Valentine’s Day, Catherine Magee, archeologist and Nevada Historical Society President, helped take apart the time capsule and preserve the artifacts within.

The granite cornerstone had a hand-chiseled hole cut into it where the lead box time capsule was placed inside. Photo by Mike Higdon

Here’s the original list of time capsule items according to “Reno Lodge No. 13 F. & A.M. 1869-1969” history book.

  1. Set of Masonic studs
  2. Specimen of Horn Silver from Eberhardt mine
  3. Carson Dollar
  4. Names of Grand Officers, Grand Lodge of Nevada, F. & A.M.
  5. Names of Officers and members of Reno Lodge Number 13, F. & A.M.
  6. Proceedings of Grand Lodge of Nevada, F. & A.M. for 1872
  7. Names of State Officers of the State of Nevada
  8. Names of Washoe County Officers of that date
  9. Name of Building Contractor, Builder and Architect
  10. Copy of Nevada State Journal
  11. Copy of Reno Crescent
  12. Copy of Virginia Enterprise
  13. Copy of Virginia Chronicle
  14. Copy of Carson Register
  15. Copy of Carson Appeal
  16. Copy of Gold Hill News
  17. Copy of Sacramento Union
  18. Copy of San Francisco Bulletin
  19. Copy of San Francisco Examiner
  20. Copy of San Francisco Post
  21. Copy of San Francisco Chronicle
  22. English quarter shilling
  23. Fractional currency
  24. Foreign coins
  25. English Half Sovereign
  26. Set of sleeve buttons and studs
  27. Mexican Real, 1828
  28. Mexican dollar
  29. Corkscrew
  30. McCoy’s Masonic Manual
  31. San Francisco Dollar, 1872
  32. Silver Specimen
  33. Half and Quarter Gold Dollars
  34. Bylaws of Reno Lodge No. 13
  35. Piece of wood from Sutter’s Mill at Coloma, Calif.
  36. Specimen of quartz taken from the tail race of Sutter’s drill
  37. Copy of Masonic Mirror
  38. Names of Members of California Legislature, 1871-72
  39. Two three-cent pieces and several other American and foreign coins
  40. Constitution of the Grand Lodge F. & A.M. of Nevada
  41. Copy of the bylaws of Douglas Lodge No. 12, F. & A.M.

At an April 16 event, Mayor Hillary Schieve presided over an unveiling ceremony where current Freemasons spoke about the meaning of the cornerstone’s unearthing. Nathan Digangi, Worshipful Master of Reno Lodge 13, spoke about the importance of the find.

Worshipful Master of Reno Lodge 13 introduces the Masonic Lodge cornerstone time capsule at Whitney Peak Hotel’s Cargo Concert Hall April 16, 2019.

“This unveiling of such a significant part of our history presents a unique opportunity for our members and the community to learn more about the people who lived during that time,” he said. “After meditating over the singularity of this occasion, I am encouraged to remind you all to think about how the things you do today will last as long as the legacy of these artifacts and the story they reveal.

“As we develop a stronger identity for this much different, current next stage of Reno, it is important for perspective to know the people who have gone this way before us,” he continued. “Every time you cross the river and explore the great valleys of the Truckee Meadows, you are treading the paths of generations, including those who had the foresight to preserve these items for us today.”