The rich history of the Masonic Mining District has been preserved courtesy of the Mono County Historical Society. Below is a condensed version from their 2004 Newsletter worth sharing on the vibrant history of Masonic. The ghost town may be quickly disappearing, but the history will always remain alive.
Masonic Mining District
Sitting tucked far away at 8000 elevation is The Masonic Mining District in Northern Mono County. It is 12 miles northeast of Bridgeport and just 1-1/2 miles west of Nevada. In the summer of 1860, prospectors discovered promising gold ore in the area. The new district was named Masonic because a majority of the workers were Masons.
In 1900, Joseph Green, a 16-year-old boy from Bodie, found rich gold samples in the middle of the Masonic gulch and staked his claim as the Jump Up Joe Mine. Not having sufficient capital to develop the property, Green soon sold the mine to veteran Bodie miner Warren Loose in 1901.
On July 4, 1902, mining partners John Stuart Phillips, Caleb Dorsey and John M. Bryan located a rich quartz ledge on the southern edge of the district, which developed into the Pittsburg-Liberty Mine (named for Phillips’ home town and for the holiday). Legend has it that Phillips was pushed down a shaft and died. His broken body was found and to this day they say it was the ghosts of Masonic who pushed him.
The Masonic Mining District covered an area of about 6 by 12 miles. The desire to strike it rich resulted in the working of more than 40 claims during the mining peak, besides the Pittsburg-Liberty and the Jump Up Joe.
In 1905, workers at the Pittsburg-Liberty discovered a two foot-wide vein of high grade ore assayed at $200 per ton.
In 1906, the Bridgeport Chronicle-Union newspaper ran advertisements for men to work the mines, noting the high daily wages of $4.00 to $4.50 per eight hour shifts.
In September of 1907, the Pittsburg-Liberty opened a 10-stamp mill with 50 men on the payroll. The mill was a big operation and made the shipping of ore by team and wagon unnecessary. It included a dynamo, electric lights and 30 foot diameter water tank. About 30-35 tons of ore was treated daily. On October 1, 1908, a new cyanide plant began operation, which worked the tailings. Total mill production was about $700,000. In 1913, a cable and bucket aerial tramway was installed that brought the ore about a half-mile across the gulch from the mine.
By 1904, new roads to Masonic from Bridgeport and Bodie allowed passenger and freight traffic. Lumber for buildings came from Mono Mills in Mono Lake. It was first transported to Bodie on the Bodie & Benton Railroad and then hauled to Masonic in 6-horse wagon teams a distance of 48 miles. By 1906, a passenger stage line was operating between Masonic and Wellington, Nevada.
Until 1904, prospectors lived in crude shelters and makeshift caves. The first solid structure was a cabin built for Mr. & Mrs. H. H. Carpenter in what became Middle Town. Made of aspen logs, it had a floor of one-inch boards and a glass-paneled door, a rarity in gold camps.
The district at this time contained several hundred residents and it was a matter of time before other towns were established. A settlement about a half-mile north was called Middle Town and another half-mile north was later known as Lower Town. All three became known as “Masonic” and each began with a boarding house or small hotel. Local springs provided good water, and telephone service was installed in 1905.
By the end of 1907, Lower Town boasted a hotel and two saloons. The Jeffry Hotel and one saloon were operated by Mr. & Mrs. John Jeffry, the owners of the Occidental Hotel in Bodie. The other saloon was owned by Bridgeport resident Ed Murphey.
Middle Town merchants included a livery stable, Butcher Shop, a hotel/boarding house and General Store.
The Masonic Pioneer newspaper was first printed on November 8, 1905. The Pioneer lasted only 2-3 years before it folded, but Masonic news continued to be printed in the Bridgeport paper.
Even though the camp population grew to about 1000 people, there were no churches, fraternal organizations, or brothels in the district, but Dances were popular, as reported in September 12, 1908 paper. The district was proud of its quiet and diligent work ethic.
The Pittsburg-Liberty and the Jump Up Joe mines were reportedly the only consistent bullion producers. Other Masonic claims continued to show promise but in 1911, a decline began. The ore generally followed no pattern. Rich pockets were worked and exhausted in a relatively short time. Production totals were vague, because a majority of the claims were worked by so many private interests.
The only school in Masonic operated from 1911 in Middle Town to 1929.
The peak of mining activity occurred between 1906 & 1911. Masonic was considered at the time to be the premiere ore producer on the California-Nevada border. The Southern Pacific Railroad briefly considered running a line between Aurora, Bodie, and Masonic.
Between 1920 & 1929, there were occasional discoveries of new ore veins in the Masonic gulch. Only 12 registered voters were living in Masonic in 1924. By the mid 1950’s there was no one living in the old camp. Only remnants of the old mill and several buildings remain now.
We, the DeLucia’s, went to Masonic in early Fall of 2012. There’s not that much that remains so we are glad we were able to see it while it’s still there.