The bulletin board at the Farmington Grange boasts a number of notices about community events and requests for donations, most of which are now outdated after the hall closed because of COVID-29 precautions in March. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

For more than a century the Farmington Grange has been a pillar of service and social support for its surrounding community. Now, struggling to pay its bills, the Grange is asking its community to return the kindness.

Grange Master Bonnie Clark looks out from the porch of the Farmington Grange #12 in West Farmington Friday morning. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

It is not alone as granges across Maine have had to cancel fundraisers and postpone events to comply with state-ordered closures and social distancing measures.

During a typical summer, Grange Master Bonnie Clark would begin preparations for the food booth she runs at the Farmington Fair, amidst scheduling hall rentals for various events, contra dances and fundraisers. Due to stay-at-home mandates established in late March, social gatherings were canceled until further notice and the Grange, located on Bridge Street, had to close its doors.

Though the hall is back open for regular rental use, after enduring four months of lost revenue, members of the Farmington Grange fear permanent closure. 

“Basically any grange or benevolent society that has a hall is pretty much in the same situation,” Clark told the Sun Journal. “With the cancellation of the Farmington Fair and without renters we have no way to pay for our insurance, which is around $3,000” each year.

The Grange building was originally a Baptist church, and was donated to the Farmington Grange Chapter #12 in 1938.

In a written statement sent to local media early this week, Clark said that the lack of income led members to the conclusion “that they may no longer be able to keep their hall open this winter or even another year.” She hopes people will support the Grange through donations, or help members find people to rent its hall.

The Androscoggin Grange hall in Greene was built in 1894 as the popularity of granges in Maine was rapidly climbing. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

As granges across Maine try to return to normalcy, scheduling modified member meetings with social distance protocols in place, many hope to resume fundraising activity in the fall, with little certainty. 

One of the many items hanging on the wall at Farmington Grange #12. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The Danville Junction Grange in Auburn will be holding its second meeting of the summer in  August to brainstorm fundraising ideas to help pay for improvements to the historic building. 

Karen Gagne, Grange master of Danville Junction, said members are hoping to run an outdoor public yard sale in September and replace the bean suppers on the first Saturday of the month with premade meals of chicken pie for pickup. 

The Grange hall, on Grange Street, was built in 1898. In 2016, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“Like everyone else, the operating funds are not coming in and we are trying to be creative in ways that we can raise dollars to maintain the building,” Gagne said. “We’re waiting and listening for what protocols might be to determine how to move forward in a positive light. We want to do it the right way first.” 

Steven Verrill, master of Excelsior Grange on Harris Hill Road in Poland, said the hall has lost around $500 in rentals in recent months. 

Exterior of Farmington Grange #12 in West Farmington. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“All these granges are community centers where they do community service. If they close down the hall, it will be sold to the highest bidder,” Verrill said. “We’re just kind of treading water right now.” 

The Poland Grange was the fifth chapter opened in Maine, organized in 1874. Fire destroyed the first hall. The current hall was built in 1914 and, in 2016, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Verrill said his Grange received a grant to put on a bicentennial celebration this summer, but it will have to be postponed until next year. 

The Norway Grange, on Whitman Street, is hoping to replace its indoor meals with a quasi drive-thru. 

Christine Hebert, master of the Norway Grange, said community members have been reaching out, asking for breakfasts and suppers to start back up. Hebert is also in the process of collecting material for an outdoor ticket auction to raise funds. 

As they wait on approval for those functions, Hebert and her members have teamed up with Community Food Matters to use the kitchen to prepare meals for local food pantries, starting next Saturday. 

The stage at the Farmington Grange in West Farmington. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Not only do Grange-sponsored fundraisers pay for building fees and membership dues, they raise money primarily for charitable foundations. 

But, there are some granges that have decided to hold off resuming all activity until the number of COVID-19 cases statewide dwindle. 

Nancy Farrington, treasurer of the Mystic Valley Grange in East Dixfield, said her members are between the ages of 60 and 92 years and are taking the virus very seriously. They have been wearing masks and practicing social distancing in their own daily lives while keeping in touch with one another virtually. 

Farrington has been storing donations in her home and at the Grange building for an auction which members hope to hold next year. The Mystic Valley Grange is continuing to make donations as much as possible to its regular organizations, including House in the Woods, Home for Little Wanderers, local food pantries, and the East Dixfield Fire Department.

“We ask that everyone do the best they can to try to resolve this citizens’ pandemic because we can’t expect others to do it all for us,” said Farrington. “Every individual has a responsibility and we’re hoping more and more people will do what they can to prevent the spread.”

According to the history of granges in Maine, written by State Grange Historian Stanley Howe, the Grange is an outgrowth of what had been called Maine’s Farmer’s Clubs, organized in the 1850s and focused on agricultural and household issues in rural Maine.

Signatures from many of the casts from plays and productions over the years can be seen backstage at the Farmington Grange in West Farmington. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The Grange, known officially as the Patrons of Husbandry, was formally organized in 1867 in Washington, D.C., and arrived in Maine in 1873, according to Howe’s research. The following year, the Maine State Grange opened its doors in Lewiston and, by the end of 1875, there were 64 granges and approximately 2,000 members. The following year, it had grown to over 228 granges with about 12,000 members.

According to Howe, by 1907, Maine’s per capita grange membership was larger than any other state.

Over time, he wrote, with the decline in farming and other demographic and cultural changes, membership started to fade after 1960.

Although a large number of granges have closed, many remain active, continuing their service and support for Maine’s rural communities. The number of granges has dropped to about 180 and membership is now approximately 8,000, according to the Maine State Grange site.

Grange Master Bonnie Clark looks at wood carving celebrating the gift of the facility, a former Baptist church, to the Grange in 1938 on the wall of the Farmington Grange in West Farmington on Friday morning. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo


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