Mar 1, 2011 - Famous Masons    No Comments

History of Freemasonry in California: California’s First Mason

Before the Grand Lodge of California came into existence in 1850, the first Masons began arriving in the area. While there were many Masons who came to California, first Master Mason to arrive and settle in the area permanently was Brother Abel Sterrns.

Nicknamed “Cara de Caballo” (“Horse Face”) for his “long-jawed countenance,” Brother Stearns was born in Lunenburg, Massachusetts. He was raised to Master Mason, as far as records indicate, in Salem, MA. He moved from Salem to colonial Mexico, where he became a naturalized citizen.

He moved from Mexico first to Monterey, California and began building. His first large-scale building was a three-story flour mill on North Spring Street, completed in 1831. After it’s construction, he then settled in permanently in the Pueblo de Los Angeles in 1833, where he obtained a concession to build a shipping/storage warehouse in what is now San Pedro. He expanded his business to include the first stagecoach route between San Pedro Bay and the Pueblo de Los Angeles.

In 1841, Brother Sterns married Arcadia Bandini, of the wealthy Bandini family who owned Rancho Jurupa – what is now the tracts of land known as San Bernardino and Riverside county.

Based on his business acumen, he quickly became one of the the most influential citizens of Los Angeles. Not content with being ‘just’ a business owner, Brother Abel became one of California’s larger land owners, purchasing Rancho Los Alamitos, a 28,000 acre parcel between Los Angeles and the harbor. Due to the misfortunes of drought, he lost 50,000 head of cattle and the land that he’d mortgaged to keep the rancho going. in 1864.

Another notable event that preceded the California Gold Rush and involved Abel, was that in 1842 is was the first person to make a shipment of California Gold to the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia. Shipped in 1842, 1,834 ounces of placer gold was safely deposited in the mint on July 8, 1843.

Between 1848 and 1850, under American military rule, Abel represented Los Angeles. In 1849 he was a delegate to the California Constitutional Convention, again representing Los Angeles. His political career went on to include the offices of California State Assemblyman, Los Angeles County Supervisor and even Los Angeles City Councilman.

By 1860, Abel Sterns was one of the most important and influential land owners in California, owning Rancho La Habra, Rancho Los Coyotes, Rancho San Juan Cajon de Santa Ana, Rancho Las Bolsas, Rancho La Bolsa Chica, Rancho Jurupa and Rancho Sepulveda (La Sierra). In 1868, he formed a real estate partnership known as the Robinson Trust and put 177,796 acres into the Trust (which included all but one of his Ranchos). By this time, cattle ranches were on the way out in California, and in it’s place agriculture was springing up. The Ranchos were divided up into 40-acre parcels for farms and ranches.

By 1870, the lands had all been sold, and Abel was well on his way towards amassing yet another fortune. But before he could realize his fortune, Brother Abel Sterns passed away on August 23, 1871 in the Grand Hotel in San Francisco, California. He was 82. He is interred at the Calvary Cemetery, Los Angeles. Brother Sterns lived a rich and full life as a Mason, worthy of all imitation.

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