Today, the San Francisco Old Mint Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin tells part of the story of the “Granite Lady’s” corner stone 145 years ago.
The Daily Alta California newspaper on May 26, 1870 printed a detailed and lengthy article describing the ceremonial events of laying the corner stone of the new “Granite Lady.”
The following excerpt provides insight into the pomp and circumstance of the ceremony.
THE NEW U.S. BRANCH MINT
LAYING OF THE CORNER STONE
About 6,000 people assembled yesterday at the site of the new United States Branch Mint building, on the southeast corner of Mission and Fifth streets, to witness the imposing ceremony of laying the corner stone.
At the northeast corner of the structure the debris had been cleared away and seats erected for the accommodation of about three thousand spectators. These were all occupied, except those reserved for the Masons, by women and children and their escorts, for full an hour before the procession arrived.
Over the entire ground covered by the foundation, lines had been stretched on which were hung the flags of many nations. Conspicuous among them was a large “Star Spangled Banner” which was waving over the main entrance.
Platforms were erected on the foundation at the northeast corner, on which were seats for the Grand Lodge and officers, Grand Chapter, Knights Templar, invited guests and members of the press. Everything was arranged to afford a good view for a large number of spectators, but the crowd was so much larger than anticipated that hundreds were unable to get in seeing distance.
At the Temple…
Laying the Stone.
After all the arrangements had been completed, and the densely packed crowd had become quiet, the Twelfth Infantry Band played “The Prayer” from “Moses in Egypt,” followed by “Come, Holy Spirit.”
William Hill, Grand Chaplain, then stepped forward to the stone and offered a fervent prayer.
After a chant by the Masonic Choir, Gen. O. H. LaGrange, Superintendent of the U. S. Branch Mint, addressing the Grand Master, said:
“Most Worshipful Grand Master: It is most fitting that your ancient and honorable Order, founded as it is upon immutable and eternal principles, shall establish the foundations of this building.
“Within these walls, through the countless years of a prosperous future, our beneficient Government will exercise one of its attributes of sovereignty by stamping marks of value on the glittering product of the earliest and we trust one of the most permanent industries of our favored Coast.
“On behalf, sir, of that Government, which will continue to ennoble and to bless posterity long after these blocks of solid granite shall have crumbled into dust, I now invite you to lay this corner stone, and by request of the Worthy Architect, present to you the working tool of your office.”
Gen. La Grange then presented the Grand Master with a large silver trowel.
The Invitation Accepted.
Leonidas E. Pratt, Grand Master, accepted the invitation on behalf of the Grand Lodge. He referred to the ancient customs of the Masonic Fraternity, to the fact that they were lovers of the liberal arts and sciences, and that it was peculiarly proper for the ancient Craft to lay the corner stone of this magnificent edifice.
Grand Master Pratt said:
“Brother Senior Grand Warden: It has been the custom among the Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons, from time immemorial, to assemble for the purpose of laying the foundation stones of public buildings, when required so to do by those having authority. The Grand Lodge of the State of California having been invited by the Superintendent of Construction of this edifice to lay the corner stone thereof, has, by my order, been here convened, and it is my will and pleasure that it do now assist me in the performance of that pleasing duty.
The Grand Master said: “Brother Grand Treasurer: It has ever been the custom of the Craft upon occasions like the present, to deposit within a cavity in the I stone placed at the northeast corner of the edifice, certain memorials of the period at which it was erected; so that if, in the lapse of ages, the fury of the elements, the violence of man; or the slow but certain ravages of time, should lay bare its foundations, an enduring record may be found by succeeding generations, to bear testimony to untiring unending industry of the Free and Accepted Masons. Has such a deposit now been prepared?”
James Laidley, Grand Treasurer, responded: “It has, Most Worshipful Grand Master, and the various articles of which it is composed are safely enclosed within the casket now before you.”
Grand Master—”Brother Grand Secretary: You will read the record of the contents of the casket.”
Alexander G. Abell, Grand Secretary, then read the following:
Contents or Gasket.
President’s Message. Annual reports of Members of the Cabinet. Report of Supervising Architect of Treasury Department, 1869. Annual Report of the Director of Mint, Philadelphia. Governor’s Message for the State of California, 1869. Reports of State Officers. Reports of the Board of Regents of the State of California. Minutes of the proceedings of the Legislative Assembly of the District of San Francisco, from March 12, 1849, to June 4, 1849; and a record of the proceedings of the Ayuntamiento or Town Council of San Francisco. Report of the Board of Five Commissioners and Chief Engineer, for 1867, 1868 and 1869. Municipal Reports of San Francisco for 1868 and 1869. Proceedings of the M W. Grand Lodge of F. and A. Masons of State of California, 1869. Proceedings Grand Chapter, R. A. M., of California, 1870. Proceedings Grand Commandery K. T. of California. 1870. Constitution and Bylaws of the Society of California Pioneers Report of the Committee of the Board of Directors of the Society of California Pioneers. Copies of the last State Register, City Directory and San Francisco Almanac. One of each denomination of the several coins of the United States of America, all struck off at the San Francisco Branch Mint in the year 1870. A copy of each newspaper and periodical published in the city of San Francisco. Views of San Francisco at different periods since 1849.
Sundry maps of the city of San Francisco and the State of California.
Photographic views of some of the principal buildings in San Francisco.
A piece from the first iron bar rolled in San Francisco from ores produced on the Pacific Coast.
Samples of, silk, red, white and blue, from the silk of which the flags were made for the United States and State of California, from silk raised in California and manufactured by Joseph Neuman, Esq.
A piece of Continental paper money, dated 1776, valued at $800.
Names of persons connected with the erection of the new Branch Mint in San Francisco: …
Grand Master—”Brother Grand Treasurer: You will now deposit the casket in the cavity beneath the corner stone; and may the Great Architect of the Universe, in His wisdom, grant that ages upon ages shall pass away ere it again be seen of men.”
The Grand Treasurer then placed the box in the excavation in the stone, and the choir sang the following ode:
Place we now the Corner Stone
True and trusty, brothers own
Let us bring with hearts sincere,
Hands to help and voice to cheer.
Prov’d by the Grand Master’s hand,
Long may this foundation stand!
May its superstructure rise
In grace and beauty ‘neath the skies!
The principal architect of the building. Win. C. P. Stebbins, then distributed the working tools to the Grand Officers, who placed themselves around the stone— the Grand Master at the East, the Deputy Grand Master at the North, the Senior Grand Warden at the West, and the Junior Grand Warden at the South. The stone was lowered, by aid of a derrick, to its place on the foundation; bring stopped in its descent three times, at each of which the Craft, all standing, gave the “Public Grand Honors.”
The Grand Master then directed the Grand Officers to test the stone with the square, level and plum, which was accomplished, and the work reported as being done “in a manner creditable to our Ancient Craft.”
Three blows were then given the stone with a gavel, by the Grand Master, who said: “The Craftsmen having faithfully and skillfully performed their duty, I declare this foundation stone to be well formed, true, and trusty. May the edifice which is to rest upon it, long exist to be devoted to the uses for which it has been destined; and may it be completed by the workmen in peace, love, and harmony— they suffering no contention among themselves except that noble and fraternal one, as to who best can work and best agree.”
The corn, wine and oil were then poured upon the stone, after which the Grand Master said:
“May the All-Bounteous Author of Creation lend aid to those who have conceived and thus for carried on this goodly enterpriser; may he protect the workmen employed on this building from every accident and long preserve it for the important uses which it is destined to subserve; and may He grant to us all an ever-bountiful supply of the Corn of Nourishment, the Wine of Refreshment, and the Oil of Joy”
The working tools were then returned to the Chief Architect who was addressed as follows by the Grand Master:
“Brother Principal Architect: Relying upon your skill in our noble art, I now confide to you these implements of 0perative Masonry. May this undertaking be speedily accomplished; may there be no envy, discord, or confusion among the workmen; and may you perform the important duties with which you have been charged, not only to the satisfaction of those who have entrusted you with their fulfillment, but in such manner as shall secure the approbation of your own conscience, and redound to the honor of our Ancient Craft.”
The San Francisco Old Mint Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin shows against a view of the branch mint’s coining room, circa 1882-85.