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End of an era

Dwindling membership dooms Grange

By Fran Gonzalez | Jul 21, 2018
Photo by: Fran Gonzalez The Brooks Harvest Home Grange 52, shown here June 25, originally was a Quaker meeting house. With membership in decline, it soon will be up for sale.

Brooks — The white paint is peeling but the building is straight and true and, overall, in good shape considering its age —196 — yet despite members' efforts, Brooks Harvest Home Grange will disband.

The Grange, on Route 7 just past the intersection in the center of town, currently has only seven active members. At a July 9 meeting, the group decided to "turn in their chapter."

Grange Overseer Gerri Randall travels an hour from Hudson to attend meetings in Brooks and said older members have either passed away or are sick and can attend only sporadically.

There are times when there are fewer than seven members, the number required to hold a meeting, she said.

Randall said she travels the long distance to "to try and keep their Grange open."

The Garland Grange is a shorter ride, she said, and she hopes it can accommodate her, but she must first apply to be accepted into a new Grange.

According to State Grange Communications Director Walter Boomsma, there are certain bylaws and policies local Granges need to adhere to before disposing of the property.

"It’s probably most accurate to say that the closing of a Grange requires a fairly specific procedure," Boomsma said. "That procedure does in fact 'limit' the local Grange’s options but exists only to ensure that all interests are considered and protected.

"...This policy protects The Grange from a relatively small group of members making a strategic decision without some degree of oversight," he said.

On the other hand, Boomsma said, there is some "flexibility." He's heard of situations when a Grange closed and the hall was offered to the community or a local historical society.

Early on there were discussions about the possibility of Brooks Historical Society acquiring the building for $1, Randall said, "but the historical society doesn't have that many members, either."

Maine State Grange Master Sherry Harriman declared in an email to Harvest Home Grangers that the building must be sold at fair market value and an appraisal done of the property, leaving no room for flexibility in this case.

She said there are about 15 other Granges in the state "considering this difficult decision at this time."

Randall explained that "the Brooks Harvest Home Grange No. 52 means it was the 52nd Grange organized in the state of Maine."

Originally built by Quakers, the building served as a meeting house until 1919, when it was sold for $500.

The Quakers sold the building and surrounding property, comprising an adjacent cemetery, and all of the furniture including the original wooden pews, which are still in service.

Grange Steward and Youth Director Terry LaCombe said a recent $20,000 gift was used to level and fix the foundation, replace the furnace, roof, oil tank and outdated electrical service.

"All bills are current," LaCombe said.

A few years ago, a crew of Grange members and friends scraped and painted the building and refurbished its sign.

Unfortunately, the paint did not hold up well, Randall said.

By comparison, the inside of the building is neat, orderly and well taken care of. The main room is painted a light yellow with plenty of light that streams in through oversized windows. On one wall ribbons and awards from past challenges are displayed.

A stage at one end overlooks the large, open room, and another room off to the right has a kitchen that accommodates several tables.

The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, or The Grange, was founded in 1867, two years after the American Civil War ended, as a way of unifying farmers in the wake of railroad transportation regulations.

The formation of cooperative plans gave farmers more market power in their transactions with dealers, buyers and service organizations.

The Grange was also forward-thinking for its time, allowing women the right to vote in 1867, more than 50 years before the U.S. Constitution was changed in 1920 to grant women the right to vote in federal and state elections.

Many Granges across the country have suffered similar fates from an aging membership base. Luring younger community members, and finding the right mix to retain them, can be challenging.

Portland Press Herald reported a few communities, including Montville, North Blue Hill and Whitefield, have had a resurgence of inductees in recent years, but "they are in the minority."

Brooks Harvest Home Grange will soon be put up for sale, LaCombe said, adding "The building is still property of The Maine State Grange."

"(I) will continue as a Granger, Maine State Grange youth director, and will continue as a Granger in Waldo and Penobscot County Pomona," LaCombe said. "Being a fourth-generation Granger, it is very sad."

Recent updates to the Harvest Grange in Brooks include a new roof, electrical service, foundation and furnace. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
Ribbons and awards are displayed on a bulletin board inside the Harvest Home Grange in Brooks June 25. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
The Brooks Harvest Home Grange interior, shown here June 25, is neat and orderly with a stage on one end and a kitchen and tables in a room to the right. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
Leaders of The Harvest Home Grange in Brooks have decided to disband and soon will put the building up for sale. Photograph taken June 25. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
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Comments (1)
Posted by: Virgil Fowles Jr | Jul 21, 2018 05:41

Well, another Grange bites the sad.  My fathers family were all Granger's altho most of them lived in Belfast.  Our Grange was Equity (now falling down) on Route 3. When my parents bought an old farm in Montivlle, shortly before the Hippie invasion, they and the newcomers tried in vein to keep the Grange in Center Montville open and were successfull and it thrived for a number of years.  When I later moved to Montville from Belfast after selling our store, Grange was again on a downward spirel. Long story short my friend Paul Doolan and I, and others got it booming again for a short period of time, but to no avail.  Like most Granges of the era its only land was just about what the building sat on.  It had no running water and NO parking. A land owner across the street had offered us the right to drill a well, but with low membership and no money we could not afford it.  Eventually it came down to just the two of us showing up for meetings...He was the Master and I was the Secretary.  We got enough members to attend a meeting and we voted to give the building to the town, which we succeeded in doing (the red tape of doing this was mess).Last I knew it was the Center Montville Community building.  Several Montville & Freedom folks were interested in forming another Grange for Montville, and the State Grange gave them  Grandview Grange in Northport...(not even close) as it was one of the newest Grange building in the State.  We know what happened to that.  I hope there is still a Grange that is functioning in the area...I have always thought that maybe it could have a function it today's society, it didn't just have to be about farming'


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